Plasma Control Technologies further cemented its market position in 2015. From the already high base of the excellent prior year, the business segment generated sales growth of 5.9% on the strength of its high-end solutions, or 2.6% growth in local currencies. The top driver was the work (ongoing especially in the first six months) to equip fabrication plants for the latest-generation, 3D-NAND memory chips, followed by the good demand in the flat panel display market. PCT particularly expanded the business with existing key accounts. In the second half of the year, the segment had to absorb setbacks in sales as customers deferred planned investments in Asia. On balance, however, sales for the year reached a new record of CHF 111.9 million.
Reliable production processes and high process control
The sustained brisk demand for affordable storage capacity made 2015 another year of full order books for PCT as the segment held its sales with the semiconductor industry steady in absolute terms. An important driver were the ever more stringent specifications of processes for 3D memory chip fabrication, especially for smartphones and tablets: Manufacturers are increasingly reliant on rapid, repeatable processes. With powerful impedance-matching networks and capacitors, PCT offers customers a high degree of process certainty and control. That continues to enable the segment to help customers optimize their processes. This industry trend is a golden opportunity for COMET to progressively perfect its solutions designed specifically for the high-end environment.
Another of PCT's important market segments, flat panel displays, performed very well, notably in the first half of the year. Here PCT expanded its business with existing major customers and almost doubled sales of vacuum capacitors and matching networks. In generators, PCT won a significant order outside the semiconductor market.
Fast tuning and customizing as means of differentiation
Fast-tuning solutions are an important basis for even more precise and rapid production processes in the semiconductor industry. Continuing to take such solutions to higher levels of development therefore remained a focus for PCT in 2015. For example, the work on critical matching networks and generator modules was begun. To ensure sustained success in the increasingly aggressive competitive environment, the segment also expanded its portfolio of capacitors by adding products with an optimized price-performance ratio (N-Cap) and extremely high power density (Smart-Con). For the coming year, various new and improved products are planned: In matching networks and generators, a new generation of coordinated modules is being developed that lets customers achieve unprecedented dimensions of speed, precision and process reliability.
Besides new features, customers are keenly interested in the customizing of existing systems to their individual requirements. PCT therefore set up a design center in Korea last year. This allows customer-specified adjustments to be made locally and more swiftly than ever.
Internet of Things – the next big opportunity
For 2016, PCT expects the trend in the semiconductor market to continue. Going forward, the demand for microelectronic components (notably memory chips, sensors and MEMS) capable of fitting into tiny spaces will be driven not only by mobile devices but by the rise of the Internet of Things: The exchange of very large data sets between systems is only in its beginnings. Thanks both to its powerful radio frequency (RF) technology and close customer relationships with leading companies in the semiconductor industry, COMET is ideally placed to win additional market share in the years to come. PCT sees a major opportunity in the upgrading from older plasma systems used worldwide for the production of microelectronic components, to reliable and efficient COMET RF power technology.
Plasma Control Technologies
The Plasma Control Technologies segment specializes in the production of high-performance components for thin-film deposition and etching of surfaces under plas-ma conditions. The customers for the COMET-branded products are primarily original equipment manufacturers in the semiconductor, flat panel, OLED and solar sectors, as well as companies in the (micro-)electronics industry.
Plasma Control Technologies develops and markets highquality vacuum capacitors as well as high-performance RF generators and impedancematching networks. These specialized components are used for the ultra-precise control of plasma processes, such as in the production of memory chips, flat panel displays, OLED applications and solar panels.