everything RF recently interviewed the Founder and CEO of Metal Life, Ki Woo Han. Metal life develops high quality, customizable, and cost-effective ceramic packaging technology for the RF and Optical markets. Ki Woo Han started in the semiconductor industry more than 20 years ago at Samsung Electronics and later founded Metal Life in 2004. He holds a Masters in Metallurgical Engineering from Yonsei University in South Korea. Metal Life was acquired by RFHIC in 2017, however, continues to operate under its own brand name.
Q. Can you give us a brief history of Metal Life? When was the company founded? What was its objective?
Ki Woo Han: In early 2000, many conglomerate companies within South Korea, such as Samsung, were heavily invested in commercializing optical modules for communications applications. Due to the lack of packaging expertise in South Korea, many companies had no choice but to import their packages from companies located outside the country – mainly from Japan. But with imports, came heavy price tags and long lead times, creating a high demand for a domestic optics packaging company. This is what gave raise to Metal Life Co Ltd. The company was founded back in 2004 to create high-quality, cost-effective, and customizable hermetic packages for optical communications, laser, defense, and medical applications.
Q. What is your relationship with RFHIC?
Ki Woo Han: RFHIC started as our customer back in 2005. We used to supply them with our RF power packages for their GaN transistors. We began mass production of our RF power packages back in 2013, and they have been our largest customer ever since. In 2017, we were acquired by RFHIC to increase our brand presence and expand our market share, not just domestically but on a global scale. With RFHIC’s broad overseas network, we were able to expand our global customer portfolio, increasing competitiveness.
Q. What types of packages do you develop for the RF & Microwave industry?
Ki Woo Han: Metal Life offers a line of multi-layer ceramic-to-metal seal packages for RF & Microwave industry, including silicon LDMOS-FET devices and wide-bandgap semiconductor FET/HEMT devices using GaN, SiC. Our state-of-the-art low electrical-resistance ceramic feedthroughs and low-thermal-resistance heat-sink materials can be used for various high-power RF & Microwave applications in wireless infrastructure and defense radar.
Metal Life can provide a wide variety of custom-designed module packages for high power and high-frequency power devices operating up to 40 GHz. We are also striving to create packages for even higher frequency ranges capable of up to 60-70 GHz, using our Low-Temperature Co-Fired Ceramic (LTCC) solutions for next-generation massive MIMO and high-frequency applications.
Q. What are the important parameters that users must evaluate when selecting a hermetic package for RF/Microwave applications?
Ki Woo Han: I believe the two most important parameters when selecting a high-quality hermetic package for RF & Microwave applications are the material and the ‘metal to ceramic’ joining (Brazing) manufacturing step. Unlike glass seals, ‘ceramic to metal’ seals allow for a more robust, durable hermetic seal with better electrical insulation than ‘glass to metal’ seals. Metal Life’s ceramic to metal seals is adequately designed to maintain excellent hermeticity for various harsh conditions, such as high and low temperatures, corrosive, high pressure, and high vacuum environments. They not only remain stable at extremely high and low temperatures, but they can withstand severe thermal shock and repeated thermal cycles.
Metal Life’s ceramic to metal seals employ our in-house brazing process, producing a strong bond and seal between the base metal and the ceramic substrate, increasing the system’s overall robustness. Also, brazed materials are more flexible than ceramic, which helps mitigate any mismatch between the ceramic and base metal’s thermal expansion.
Q. What other industries do you serve? What industry segment is the largest for you?
Ki Woo Han: Our other focus segments lie in optics and lasers. The Optics division provides packages for fiber-optic communication modules, including optical modules, OSA components, and optical network module devices. We also provide multi-layer ceramic packages for laser modules, which are critical components for developing lasers. These laser modules are used in a variety of sectors such as industrial, medical, and scientific.
Currently, our largest industry segment is within the RF & Microwave sector.
Q. What differentiates your packages from your competitors?
Ki Woo Han: Our main competitive advantage is in our multi-layer ceramic and heat sink technologies. With the extensive demand for compact electronic devices, the need for robust packaging solutions is on the rise. At Metal Life, we believe our multi-layer ceramic and heat sink solutions will satisfy the demands for smaller devices, higher power, and higher frequency applications. With our in-house design and manufacturing capability, we can provide our customers with competitive prices and shorter lead-times, which will allow our customer’s customers to get their products to market faster.
Q. Do you develop standard packages, or are these packages customized based on a customer’s requirement?
Ki Woo Han: We mainly provide customizable packaging solutions for our customers. Recently, with the advancements in RF design capabilities, we have begun manufacturing and supplying our standard packages for the TOSA module market for optical transceiver applications.
Q. Who are your customers, and where are they located?
Ki Woo Han: Our major domestic customers are RFHIC, COSET, Wavice, Chemoptics, and Utel. Our major overseas customers are Cree, Lumentum, Thorlabs, II-VI, Dilas, and Trumpf. Our geographic breakdown would roughly be 60% Asia, 25% North America, 10% Europe, and the remaining 5% other.
Q. Metal Life recently acquired B&C Tech. What made you decide to acquire this company?
Ki Woo Han: Metal Life and RFHIC recently acquired B&C (Brazing and Communications) Tech, a pioneer in manufacturing aluminium dip brazing solutions for radar antennas, waveguides, and other large radar equipment. They have CNC machines that can be utilized to print and implement their design skills and know-how for various metalwork.
RFHIC and Metal Life decided it would be in our best interest to acquire B&C tech to gain their brazing expertise while giving them the opportunity to expand their domestic and global radar network with the help of RFHIC. We believe with the combination of all three companies, the level of expertise and the network increases significantly. We can also provide our customers with a diverse range of solutions, therefore, increasing competitiveness and overall sales.
Q. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business? What measures have you taken to maintain stability?
Ki Woo Han: For sure, COVID-19 has had a direct and indirect impact on all of us in the way we live and the way we work. As we help ensure our employees’ and partners’ health and safety, Metal Life remains committed to pushing forward and creating newer and profound packaging solutions for next-generation RF & MW, laser, optics, and electric vehicles (EV) applications. Metal Life is determined to get through these challenging times as a much stronger company and be more agile and well positioned within the market.
Q. What are some business goals that you have set?
Ki Woo Han: We strive every day to become the world’s best hermetic packaging solutions provider for compound semiconductor applications. We expect to have at least 20% of the hermetic packaging market share for the compound semiconductor sector in the long term by expanding our global customer portfolio within the US and Europe.
About Metal Life
Founded in 2004, Metal Life Co Ltd., manufactures and supplies hermetic packages on which compound semiconductors can be mounted. The company was acquired by RFHIC in 2019 and currently is a leading manufacturer of optical communication package in Korea and provides hermetic packages for a wide variety of applications such as RF (Radio Frequency) transistor, laser module and infrared detector. The company supplies reliable and high-quality products with taking advantage of in-house system like multilayer ceramic, heat sink, plating and bonding process.