Markets World of Tooling – Spotlight Japan and South Korea

Author / Editor: Dr. Wolfgang Boos, Michael Salmen M.Sc., Thomas Kuhlmann M.Sc., M.Sc., Dipl.-Ing., Dipl.-Wirt.Ing. Max Schippers, Dipl.-Wirt.-Ing. Maximilian Stark / Barbara Schulz

Japan/ South Korea - Over the course of 2016, WBA Aachener Werkzeugbau Akademie is presenting spotlights on the most important international tooling markets. This edition focuses on Japan and South Korea.

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In South Korea, 82% of adults have a higher-education degree and the ratio of enrolled six-year-olds is 100%. Furthermore, South Korea is believed to have the worldwide highest IQ on average.
In South Korea, 82% of adults have a higher-education degree and the ratio of enrolled six-year-olds is 100%. Furthermore, South Korea is believed to have the worldwide highest IQ on average.
(Source: © vutuankhanh/Fotolia.com)

Japan is considered to be a country whose politics oriented themselves very early to western nations, a fact that led to Japan becoming one of the most advanced Asian nations. It is located in East Asia and has a population of 127 million. With Germany, Japan has the most negative population growth rate of all industrial nations and estimations of the UN expect the Japanese population to shrink to 108 million by 2050. South Korea’s population is also projected to shrink from currently 49 million to 47 million in 2050. Japan is considered to be one of the most highly developed countries in the world, a fact that is reflected in all relevant statistics regarding income, life expectancy and level of education.

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The PISA Study, an international measure for the quality of school education, places Japan in the top positions in reading skills, literacy, mathematics and science. In South Korea, 82% of adults have a higher-education degree and the ratio of enrolled six-year-olds is 100%. Furthermore, South Korea is believed to have the worldwide highest IQ on average. Average Japanese life expectancy is nearly 83 and thereby three years higher than all other industrial nations. South Korea also has a life expectancy well above the OECD average, with an average of 81.37 years.

The Japanese economy and the industry

In terms of gross domestic product (GDP), Japan had the world’s third-largest national economy in 2015. After World War II, the Japanese economy grew despite international isolation due to close internal links between producers, suppliers and distributors. In the 2000s, the economy recovered due to liberal monetary policies, with Japan burdened by debts of nearly 250% of its GDP. During the last four years, the economy has grown moderately by an average of 0.7% per year. The GDP per capita in 2015 was approximately €28,997 and the outlook for 2016 remains positive. In comparison, the German GDP per capita in 2015 was €42,447. Japan is presently the world’s fourth-largest export and import nation.

The country is poor in natural resources but nevertheless estimated to have exported goods worth €557 billion in 2015. The three most important exports were automobiles, machinery and electronics. In 2013, the average wage level was €29,504 and thereby well above the average of all industrial nations. The average citizen works 1,735 hours every year, which is 15% more than in other industrialised nations. Unemployment currently stands at 3.4%, although a significant number of unreported cases are suspected. While other Asian countries are infamous for their cheap products, Japanese products are associated with high quality and, like Germany and Switzerland, the country is known for its high precision and efficiency.

The South Korean economy and the industry

In 1960, the GDP of South Korea was at par with poor African countries and it was incorporated into the G20 only because of massive reform efforts. Substantial restrictions on imports of goods and capital as well as close co-operation between companies and the state were responsible for economic ascent. In terms of gross domestic product (GDP), South Korea had the world’s twelfth-largest economy and recorded a GDP per capita of €25,044 in 2015. The outlook for 2016 is also positive. South Korea is presently the world’s fifth-largest export nation and the seventh largest-import nation. In 2013, the country exported goods worth €477 billion. The three main exports were semiconductors, automobiles and ships. The average annual income is €30,295 and at par with the average of OECD countries. However, the average Korean works 2,146 hours every year, which is 23% more than the average of all industrial nations. With an excellent education policy and peak values in the PISA Study, South Korea is able to count on highly qualified employees. Together with the relatively low wage level, the country is a competitive location for various high-tech industries. The main challenges are the aging population and the dominance of large corporate conglomerates, which inhibit the rise of small and innovative businesses.

Japanese tool manufacturing and the tools

The Japanese tool and die industry is driven by the local automotive industry. 62% of the tools produced are supplied to the automotive industry and 7% to the electronics industry. In terms of value, the Japanese tool and die industry is the largest exporter of solid and sheet-metal forming tools in the world, with an export volume of €1.3 billion in 2013. In the same year, tools and dies with a total value of €2.6 billion were exported. After China and Germany, Japan is the third-largest exporter of injection moulds with a net export value of €1.0 billion. The largest buyer of Japanese tools and dies are the USA, followed by China and Thailand. Since 2009, the amount of tool and die imports has increased faster than that of exports. China’s importance for Japanese tool and die industry has continuously risen in this period. Germany does not appear among the top ten purchasers of Japanese tools and dies. The Japanese trade of tools with foreign markets for 2014 is illustrated in Figure 4.

In 2011, the entire tool and die production was worth €9.1 billion, which corresponds to an increase of 11% from 2010 to 2011. Currently, there are about 8,500 tool and die manufacturers with approximately 10,000 employees in Japan. More than 70% of the enterprises have less than 10 employees. These micro-enterprises represent approximately 15% of the industry output. There are about 80 companies with more than 100 employees, which provide roughly 30% of the Japanese tool and die production. The innovation, technological and process expertise of Japanese tool and die manufacturers is at a high level and comparable with Germany or Switzerland.

South Korean tool manufacturing and the tools

The tool and die industry is one of the most important industries in South Korea. The main centres of tool and die manufacturers are the cities of Incheon, Busan and Seoul and the states of Gyeonggi and Gyeongnam. There were 1,338 tool manufacturing companies with less than 10 employees in 2009. In 2011, tool production amounted to €4.5 billion. Since 2010, it has risen by 25% and thanks to a stable development of the manufacturing industry, the tool and die industry has evolved positively.

The automotive and electronic industry makes up for two-thirds of the customers of the South Korean tool and die industry, focusing primarily on injection moulding. In 2013, tools and dies worth €2.115 billion were exported, of which €1.365 billion were injection moulds, €704 million were solid and sheet-metal forming tools and €86 million were die casting molds. In 2013, South Korea’s import of tools and dies was only at €87 million, including €63 million for injection moulds and €18 million for die-casting moulds. The Korean trade of tools with foreign markets for 2014 is illustrated in Fig. 4. The largest trade partners for importing injection moulds are China, Japan and USA. Imports from China are almost four times higher than those of Japan. Injection moulds are mostly exported to Japan, China and Vietnam. The largest trade partners for importing sheet metal and massive forming tools are China, USA and Japan, while they are exported mainly to China, USA and India.

The most important tool and die manufacturers are organised in an association known as the “Korea Die & Mold Industry Cooperative” (KODMIC). The South Korean tool and die industry profits from its cheap and effective supplier network of small and medium-sized manufacturing companies. They are a key enabler for producing highly complex and high-quality tools and dies. The South Korean tool and die industry is known for its fast reaction time as well as outstanding and flexible service.

Sources

  • ISTMA, OECD, UN Comtrade Database

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