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Optical technology

Korea’s Optrontec eyes growth in optical lens sales as EVs take off

Feb 16, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Optrontec CEO Hong Sagoan

Optrontec Inc., a small South Korean manufacturer and provider of optical filters, lenses and three-dimensional sensing technology, has been ramping up production facilities in Tianjin, China since the second half of last year.

The plant, which makes optical lenses for autonomous driving in electric vehicles, apparently couldn’t meet the growing demand from global automakers as the auto industry shifts towards eco-friendly cars.

“We’re doubling our production of optical lenses at the request of one of our clients,” Hong Sagoan, chief executive of Optrontec, said in a recent interview with The Korea Economic Daily.

The CEO was referring to Tesla Inc., to which the Korean company supplies optical lenses for the US EV giant’s latest models. Tesla uses at least seven to nine lenses for an EV model and most of the lenses come from Optrontec, he said.

AIMS TO ADD MERCEDES-BENZ TO CLIENT LIST

The company is also pushing to supply its optical lenses to Mercedes-Benz, the luxury brand of German automaker Daimler AG, for its autonomous driving cars.

“We expect this year’s sales of optical lenses for self-driving vehicles to rise at least two and a half times compared to last year’s,” said the chief executive.

Optrontec, which makes products for use in various areas, including the automotive, industrial, biometrics and surveillance sectors, plans to raise its sales of LiDAR equipment.

LiDAR sensors detect and track vehicles, pedestrians and other obstructions to help autonomous vehicles safely navigate at various speeds.

The company expects to supply the equipment, lenses and cover glasses in a package to local automakers from the second half of this year. If realized, automotive components will account for 25% of Optrontec’s total revenue this year, up from 10% in 2020.


EYES OF SELF-DRIVING CARS, EVs

“Lenses are the eyes of autonomous cars and electric vehicles. Our company’s competitiveness lies in our ability to design and manufacture goods tailored to our customers,” said Hong.

The company also makes folded zoom prisms for smartphone cameras. Folded zoom cameras are known to offer a clearer image than digital zoom cameras. Optrontec is the only Korean firm that makes folded zoom prisms and controls about 80% of the global market.

Samsung Electronics Co. adopts folded zoom cameras for its latest smartphone models, the Galaxy Note Ultra and the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

With the rise in the number of cameras used in a smartphone, Optrontec expects demand for its optical filters used in smartphones to rise accordingly. The company has 60% share of the global optical filter market.

Another growth engine for Optrontec is the 3D sensing bandpass filter, a device that passes frequencies within a certain range and rejects frequencies outside that range. The filter is used in fingerprint and iris recognition systems.

Industry officials expect Optrontec to post record operating profit and revenue this year on the back of rising sales of its key products, including the bandpass filter.

Last year, it reported a net loss, weighed by huge costs linked to a lawsuit with a US 3D sensing technology company. The two sides settled the legal dispute by signing a licensing agreement in June last year.

“The year 2021 will mark the first year for Optrontec to shed its image as a local player and emerge as a hidden global champion,” said the chief executive.

Write to Byung-Keun Kim at Bk11@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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