Calls for Samsung to protect local lens supply chain increasing
South Korean smartphone lens companies are struggling to survive in the market as Taiwanese and Chinese rivals have taken over half the supply of lenses to Samsung Electronics.
There are rising calls in the local industry for Samsung to take care of the lens supply chain in its own country to avoid a repeat of the liquid crystal display (LCD) industry situation, where Chinese companies have completely taken over the hegemony over their South Korean rivals.
During the first half of 2021, only one South Korean lens supplier, Sekonix, turned an operating profit of 9.9 billion won.
Coasia Optics and G9 Pharma recorded operating losses and Haesung Optics exited the business this month.
And Sekonix, despite turning an operating profit, recovered its profitability mostly from the automobile industry, not smartphones. Its total sales during the first half of the year came from headlamps and other automobile components.
Since 2019, more cameras are being packed into smartphones due to rising demand for multi-cameras but South Korean lens companies have hardly benefited from this trend.
In that year, South Korean camera module makers Partron, Mcnex and Powerlogics all saw annual sales of over 1 trillion won year. However, in the same time period, local lens companies all saw operating losses.
Their decline is due to the dominance of Taiwan’s Largan Precision and China’s Sunny Optical. Last year, these two companies combined supplied over half of the lens used by Samsung for its smartphones.
The two lens companies have more production capacity than every South Korean company’s capacity combined.
Largan Precision also has a strong patent portfolio. Sunny Optical, though a late comer to the lens market, is considered to have surpassed South Korean companies in lens technologies as well.
G9 Pharma, once called Kolen, has turned itself to a pharmaceutical company after 22 years in the lends business. Haesung Optics originally planned to give up only its lens business and leave its camera module business but gave up both this month.
Sekonix is increasing its focus on automotive parts instead of smartphones, while Coasia Optics is focusing on vertical integration with Coasia, its parent company.
Multiple people TheElec talked to in the industry said Samsung Mobile will have to take care of its supply chain in South Korea if it wishes to maintain its negotiation power over Chinese lens makers.
Meanwhile, Samsung Electro-Mechanics is continuing its lens module business, while Samsung Mobile is manufacturing some of its components itself to maintain its manufacturing competence.
One of the people said if the local lens industry continues its downturn, this will be a pressure to Samsung. They said South Korea once dominated the LCD industry but set makers like Samsung are now beholden to Chinese display panel makers in the sector.
Another person said Samsung could designate a lens company to its camera module suppliers to protect its lens suppliers. This could protect lens companies’ margins and increase competition between the camera module makers.