In 2015, widespread reluctance to invest amid the low commodity prices, coupled with the strong Swiss franc, weighed on sales in the x-ray business, which are generated largely in the eurozone. The segment nonetheless set the stage for future growth in important ways. As an important example, the decision was made to launch a building expansion at headquarters in Flamatt that will create the necessary space for growth of the ebeam and x-ray businesses. The expansion, estimated at CHF 60 million, is to be ready for occupancy in the middle of 2018. In China, XET secured an important design win and expanded its market share in security inspection.
Subdued investment climate – Initiatives and partnerships bear fruit
In x-ray-based non-destructive testing, the difficult economic situation made for sluggish demand: In many sectors, such as the pipeline, sorting and steel industries, planned investments in new assets were postponed in reaction to the low commodity prices. Conditions were better in the market for security inspection: With the acquisition of some large orders in China, XET was able to increase its market share in this sector and establish itself in a new market region.
The second core business of the XET segment, ebeam, marked key milestones. At the Fispal Technology trade show in 2015, the food packaging industry leader Tetra Pak introduced the Tetra Pak E3, the first market-ready, ebeam-equipped filling machine. Customer interest in the environmental and economic advantages of this innovation was high. Tetra Pak is now in the process of gradually replacing existing filling machines with the Tetra Pak E3. The XET segment also launched a strategic partnership with Bühler, a global leader in food processing technology, to develop new applications for ebeam in the inactivation of dehydrated food. The first tests have been successfully conducted. The proof-of-concept of the industrial solution is planned for 2016. With the acquisition of PCT Engineered Systems, based in Davenport, Iowa, COMET literally “broadened” its ebeam portfolio by adding products for the treatment of large surfaces and gained direct market access to attractive end customers and new applications. Examples include the enhancement of food wrap films and foils and the treatment of pressure-sensitive adhesives.
Flexible and intelligent products in demand
With the completion of a new, intelligent generator platform, COMET expanded its product range last year and created the basis for meeting the needs of Industry 4.0 (short for the “fourth industrial revolution”, “Industry 4.0” refers to the coming transformational trend around the increasing exchange of data between machines, sensors and humans). The portfolio of XET, which comprises not just x-ray tubes but also complete modules, today is very largely modular in structure and thus answers the steadily rising demand for custom-tailored solutions.
ebeam stands on its own
In January 2016, the ebeam unit was split off from XET and made into its own segment, ebeam Technologies (EBT). This was the logical next step for COMET in view of the growing importance of this business area. EBT has already scored the first successes by winning new projects. Plans for 2016 include expanding the market in Europe and Asia and tapping new applications. Also on the agenda is the continuing successful integration of the new subsidiary, PCT Engineered Systems.
The other part of the former XET segment has been renamed the Industrial X-Ray Modules (IXM) segment for its principal focus. For IXM, the market for security inspection will remain an important driver in 2016. Next to the growing general need for security infrastructure, major events like the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the World Cup in Qatar play a significant role in stimulating demand. On the product front, the commercialization of the new wave of generators is next.
X-Ray & ebeam Technologies
The XET segment develops, manufactures and markets advanced x-ray-based components for non-destructive testing in the automotive, aerospace, pipeline and steel industries. Its second pillar is the innovative ebeam technology, used for the sterilization of beverage packaging and the surface enhancement of materials such as food wrap films and pressure-sensitive adhesives. The inactivation of dehydrated foods and sterilization of pharmaceutical tissues are further application opportunities.
The portfolio of XET includes metal ceramic x-ray sources and portable x-ray modules for non-destructive testing and security inspection. Based on its ebeam technology, XET also builds sets, laboratory equipment and complete ebeam systems for the resource-efficient, chemical-free treatment of surfaces.