By Nick Flaherty
Three years ago, US-Israeli printed circuit board inspection company Orbotech bought a semiconductor equipment maker in Wales in a surprise move. Today, SPTS retains its branding and is seeing a resurgence in LED manufacturing equipment and a range of opportunities for a new plasma dicing technology.
“In general we must still be in the honeymoon period,” said Kevin Crofton, who was the chief operating officer at the time of the acquisition and is now president of SPTS and a vice president of Orbotech. “Usually the first thing a US company wants to do is overlay their business processes on you and make you their own . When Orbotech bought us they were very clear they wanted to have an arms length relationship for the foreseeable future and learn from what you do, and they have done exactly that. We are still a stand alone business with our own front and back office so I’m beginning to believe its an Israeli trait and not just an Orbotech trait. Their first step is to understand the business and if it is running well don’t break it.”
There’s three key things that the acquisition has brought, he says. “Firstly, we are now part of a billion dollar company and size does make a difference when you are dealing with the large semiconductor device manufacturers, you automatically get across the starting line whereas when you are smaller there are some companies that don’t give you the time of day unless you have remarkable technology.
The second benefit has been more resources for technology development.
“When you as a $300m company you can take one big bet every couple of years,” said Crofton. “With Orbotech we are able to take 3 or 4 big bets every two years or so, so we have flexibility to try things that maybe we wouldn’t have done in previous years, and this allows us to expand into new markets faster.”
“For example we are developing a plating system that uses electrochemical deposition (ECD) for the advanced packaging arena. That’s a wet chemical line, which isn’t something we have done so far, but it’s a natural extension of the processes that we run, create a via, etch the via, putting down a PVD film. The next step is then ECD, so if we can have in integrated process with a new tool. That opens up a $200m to $400m market for us, so it’s a big bet but with a big potential reward.”
There have also been advantages of sharing technology with Orbotech, from image processing to 3D printing.
“As Orbotech is a PCB inspection and repair company they have some core competences that might be usable in our space to solve some problems,” he said.
The first of these is using their PCB direct imaging technology for wafer formats.
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