Coway spends up to 6% of sales on R&D

SEOUL: Woongjin Coway Co Ltd, which has won numerous local and international awards for its products and technologies, is committed to a research and development (R&D) budget that’s 5% to 6% of its annual sales which last year hit US$1.4bil.

As chief executive officer Hong Joon Kee “is very focused on R&D, the group never cut its R&D budget” despite the economic slowdown, company officials told Malaysian journalists during a visit to Coway’s R&D centre at the Seoul National University recently.

Leading South Korean household electronics manufacturer Coway is one of only three companies to have R&D facilities at the university.

The others are Samsung and SK Telecom.

“Design is the best tool to make a product outstanding in the market and it should convey the philosophy and unique personality of Coway. In addition, we need to have a broader perspective to meet the needs of global consumers with world class design products,” said Hong.

He added that having continuously increased the investment for its design sector, Coway had, in a few short years, carved a name for itself in design innovation by achieving several world famous design awards including the red dot design award, iF product design award and IDEA design award.

The red dot design award is the largest and most renowned design competition in the world awarded by the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen in Essen, Germany; the iF product design award is annually conferred by the iF International Forum Design while the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) is an award programme co-sponsored by BusinessWeek magazine and Industrial Designers Society of America.

Hong said in 2008, nominees from 30 countries submitted 1,500 products to IDEA.

“Woongjin Coway submitted 15 products for the first time and seven made it to the final list, capturing the attention of a lot of people,” he said.

Employing over 250 researchers, Coway’s 40,000 sq m R&D centre comprises four divisions – research, development, reliability and emotion research.

The research division undertakes water analysis and research aimed at enabling Coway to make water purifiers that would provide clean and safe drinking water for the end-consumer.

For the Malaysian operations, local unit Woongjin Coway (M) Sdn Bhd had sent water samples from different areas in the country to the centre, which also made “artificial water” simulating pollution.

“The samples will enable the centre to develop a water map for Malaysia. This will help in localising our products (for the target market),” said managing director James Park.

Meanwhile, the reliability division tests the durability of the products and parts that can cause malfunctions in the long run, undertaking tests on elements that can harm the air and water conditions, and carrying out numerous tests to ensure reliability in areas that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

For example, the cock valves for water filtration devices are tested for over a million times prior to use in Coway’s products.

The centre is developing 40 new products this year.

However, only a small fraction of this figure would be launched in Malaysia, said Park.

“We have to consider when is the right time and what is the right product. We are trying to introduce three or four new products this year,” he said.

Wellness products to be launched this year include a water softener by July and a new air purifier model.

Coway currently operates the largest water purifier factory in the world, annually producing 1.2 million water purifiers.

Located in Yu-Gu in the Chung Nam province, the 57,000 sq m factory also makes 653,000 air purifiers, 1.2 million filters and 500,000 bidets per year.

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