It’s no secret that Japan has its own ideas of how to do pretty much everything. The culture is an interesting mix of ancient tradition, ceremony, modernization, and technological advancement. The centuries-old Imperial Palace and grounds, home to the sitting Emperor, is surrounded by the steel-and-glass cosmopolitan city of Tokyo. A complex, intricate, state-of-the-art public transportation system deposits Shinto worshipers almost at the entrance of the densely forested Meiji Shrine, a peaceful oasis for those who lead otherwise hectic lives. Conversely, a Japanese interpreter commutes 10K to a high tech assignment on a one-speed bicycle, on a humid, rainy morning.
For the global microelectronics industry, doing business in Japan has posed to be somewhat of a conundrum. Throughout the world, from automobiles to consumer electronics, Japanese brand names have become synonymous with high quality and superior performance. But to maintain the high standard that the country has become known for, most Japanese manufacturers prefer to work with Japanese suppliers, who understand the business ethic, culture, and infrastructure, and can communicate their needs to them. So how does a supplier of materials, processes, or equipment OUTSIDE Japan succeed in doing business in the Japanese market? Easy. Partner with a trading company who understands the business culture, infrastructure and requirements of the customers.
Canon Marketing Japan (CMJ) is one trading company that does this, and much more. An independent Japanese marketing arm of Canon Inc, this organization employs approximately 20,000 and consists of consumer equipment, industrial equipment, and business solutions units. Consumer equipment and business solutions exist to support Canon products. The industrial division deals in process equipment and handles other brands besides Canon. Semiconductor equipment falls in this category, and makes up approximately 3% of sales revenue of CMJ.
According to Takashi Sasagawa, of CMJ’s MEMS department of process equipment sales, the industrial group of CMJ is very unique because of its diverse product portfolio. Additionally, the organization sets itself apart from other trading companies because it provides its customers market feedback, software customization, and hardware modifications. The company has nationwide field support branches and software and hardware engineers.
“ We have many engineers at CMJ, so we can handle more than sales.” Explained Norio Yanai, also of the MEMS department. “For example, they can modify equipment for Japanese company specifications, such as special safety requirements. We manage the link between western companies and Japanese customers.” As a result, CMJ offers its customers a robust MEMS and 3D product portfolio that includes:
- Tegal Corporation’s DRIE etch sytems
- Canon’s 200mm ashing system
- OEM Group’s RTP system
- Zygo’s surface technology equipment
- Surface topography Zygo
- Obducat’s nano-imprint lithography
- Jordan Valley Semiconductor’s X-ray metrology
- Rave’s photolithography mask repair system
- MEMSSTAR’s sacrificial vapor release system
- Mattson tools include annealing, 300mm ashing , and high-throughput photo resist etching
- Photo Semilab SDI’s film analysis
- Metryx’ mass metrology tools
- Camtek’s intelligent optical inspection tool
- Xradia’s 3D X-ray inspection system
- Kael’s consumable products
Paul Werbaneth, of Tegal Corp. explains that as an overseas company, it’s difficult to provide the level of support and service Japanese companies like to have, so for Tegal, it made sense to find distributor in Japan.
“In the semiconductor and MEMS markets, CMJ’s goal is to not only provide a stand-alone system, but to offer customers a seamless product line from the front-end through back-end processes,” notes Yanai, adding that the organization has a strong relationship with major semiconductor device companies. As part of this effort, the company has an independent department charged with finding new products to represent. The new products exploration department studies Japanese customer needs, researches worldwide competitors, and identifies equipment vendors to propose representation in Japan.
One benefit for overseas companies is CMJ’s ability to do full processes and demos. Yanai explained that the ability to optimize processes and modify tools for customers right in Japan is especially attractive to companies with sensitive IP. “Sometimes a customer can’t export their wafers because of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs),” he said.
Overseas equipment manufacturers may be able to provide a product with high performance, but they can’t back that up with good support, explained Yanai. Japanese customers look for business partners they can communicate with, who understand their conservative approach, especially in the semiconductor industry. CMJ’s goal, notes Yanai, is to offer long-term commitments to a product. He cited auto companies as an example of one market that doesn’t like to change systems often.
“CMJ is a great partner for Tegal because of these specific capabilities that go far beyond merely selling,” notes Werbaneth. “The engineer-to-engineer contact and communication goes a long way towards selling tools. What is critically important to us in improving our machines is the feedback we get from our Japanese customers.”
The sea island of Enoshima is connected to the mainland by a causeway. Because of this easy access, this tiny community does a robust tourist business. Without it, the island would be home to only the Tonbi seabirds and the fisherman. CMJ is kind of like that, a causeway from the western world to the Japanese market.