The fact that lean structures and a direct approach to problem-solving give the Comet Group the ability to decide and act swiftly is consistently viewed as a great plus by employees and customers. “But that it would take only ten months from the first presentation to the opening of the new technology and application center in Silicon Valley – I think we were all a bit surprised by that ourselves,” chuckles Paul Smith, Senior Vice President at Comet Technologies USA, the actual initiator and now General Manager of Comet Group Lab One. To Smith, who has many dozens of conversations with customers in Silicon Valley every year, it had become increasingly clear in the recent past how much more the Group could offer its key customers. “They use Comet radio frequency technology, for example, but also employ other technologies where we could add value for them. In more detailed discussions with our customers in the semiconductor industry, we sensed a growing interest in ebeam and x-ray solutions. A huge opportunity for us to show customers that we can give them one-stop, local access to systems, experts and application development.”

“What I’m most excited about is the fact that Lab One is an open-door organization that will help companies of all sizes, including mine”

Victor Sloan, President Victor Aviation

Where better than here?

The experts behind the three technology brands – Comet, Yxlon and ebeam – in the Group’s own tech labs at 13 sites worldwide work closely with their customers to develop innovations. But until now, there had been no shared technology center. Enter the Silicon Valley project: creating a common technology center in one of the world’s capitals of semiconductor and computer technology and the very mecca of innovation. At a site in San José surrounded by heavyweights of the high-tech industry, this vision gave rise to the new Lab One, the Group’s first technology and application center: An inspiring place where customers and partners have open access to all technologies, are equipped to develop solutions together with Group specialists in radio frequency power, x-ray and ebeam, and can drive new applications forward. A place for brainstorming, trainings, and testing. And also a pilot project for possible further labs for the Group.

“The Model of this type of facility covers many types of applications, this allows for larger corporations as well as startups to take advantage of these novel technologies.”

Frank Hochstenbach, VP New Business Development VDL Enabling Technologies Group

Impetus for further growth

The new Lab One is the most prominent way (besides joint exhibits at trade shows) in which the Group wants to expand its partnerships, penetrate existing markets more deeply and develop new markets for its applications, products and services. Further strategies being applied to achieve this are greater cross-selling, as well as key account management and business development initiatives at Group level.

As Detlef Steck, President of IXS, explains: “Lab One is a major opportunity for the Group to shift the growth engine into higher gear with new applications and strong partners. For the x-ray business we see much better market access in Silicon Valley through our expanded presence here, especially for our market segments of electronics and aerospace.” Similarly, Michael Bielmann, Business Development, ebeam Technologies, is excited about the opportunity to win large companies in Silicon Valley for the “blue”, environmentally friendly technology, as, in his words, “here our finger is on the pulse of the innovators.”

With the opportunity for direct consultation and brainstorming on site, Lab One represents an attractive alternative and complementary resource for many leading Silicon Valley firms for the development of new solutions.

Comet Group Lab One, 3350 Orchard Drive, San José: The first Group-wide technology and application center lets customers perform research, testing and development using systems and components from all three core technologies. Lab One provides space for workshops, trainings and events, as well as workspace for 40 employees. Its location is perfect: on the doorstep of many global companies like Apple, Google, Samsung, LG and Philips, and only a few minutes’ drive from the premises of Comet PCT with its staff of 165. Lab One had just opened when it already won prestigious recognition: At Productronica in Munich, the Comet Group was awarded the SMT Global Award for Lab One in the Test Services category.

“The idea to have a network that you can consult, before creating a product and after for the testing, is extremely important”

Emilio Billi, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, A3CUBE Inc.

Collaborative, fast, agile

“We are striving to understand the needs of our customers and partners even more holistically, in terms of all our competencies and technologies,” says René Lenggenhager. Companies’ innovation cycles are always becoming shorter. Speed and agility in creating and honing new solutions are ever more important. Lab One provides quick and straightforward access to the Comet Group’s technologies. Here engineering and development work closely together, and product development processes can be accelerated. The Lab One motto “Innovate. Implement. Accelerate.” encapsulates this mission. “We are convinced that the best and quickest way to great new solutions is the open exchange of ideas and joint experimentation and testing. Simply, it’s collaborative innovation, just as Comet PCT already practices it in exemplary fashion with its major partners – with high speed, superior precision and compelling agility,” continues Lenggenhager. It was not by chance that, in 2017, Michael Kammerer, President of PCT, was able to accept awards for innovation and collaboration from several customers in the USA and China.

Another advantage of Lab One for customers and partners is the sharing not just of know-how but of test infrastructure: “We offer companies the ability to easily perform non-destructive testing of components in the Lab. This allows them to spot expensive defects quickly and efficiently,” explains Joandre Galarza, Sales Director, Yxlon USA. The location’s proximity is also a significant time saver for local companies. And nowhere is the saying “time is money” more true than in Silicon Valley.

The end-to-end inkjet printing system, co-developed with Uteco Converting and INX Digital, features integrated ebeam in-line ink curing to enable the safe mass-personalization of food packaging and labels. The use of ebeam curing offers many advantages, such as significantly lower energy consumption than thermal processes and shorter lead times without lengthy drying or storage before cutting. What is more, it is solvent-free and does not release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This also impressed the jury for the Label Industry Global Awards 2017, which honored ebeam with the Award for Sustainability for its ebeam Compact solution. The focus now is on intensive go-to-market activities in partnership with Uteco.

China: Interest in environmentally friendly ebeam technology for offset printing

Comet also sees potential in China, where the VOCs given off by current printing processes are a source of serious pollution. In China, together with the country’s largest manufacturer of printing machines, ebeam for the first time presented an environmentally friendly process based on offset printing. The audience: no fewer than 1,200 representatives from China’s printing industry.

China, where 2,000 offset printing machines are sold per year, wants freedom from VOCs: At a major event of the printing industry, ebeam together with Beiren, China’s largest printing press manufacturer, for the first time presented ebeam’s curing solution for offset print.

What the audience liked most were the generator’s high flexibility, its user-centered data analysis and, not least, the future capability of predictive maintenance. The successful launch marks an important milestone in the Group-wide drive to digitalize products and services. The generator, based on the latest technology, is the centerpiece of the planned IoT-capable iVario™ product family and is to serve as a key driver of the IXM segment’s aimed-for growth. Incoming orders and the first implementations demonstrate that IXM has understood what customers need. Through the optimal coordination of generator and x-ray components, the whole x-ray source can be ideally tailored to the individual application: in non-destructive testing in the automotive industry and aerospace sector, or in security inspection.

ASNT Conference in Nashville, TN, USA: The launch of iVario testifies to IXM’s innovative strength and its closeness to markets. It shows how consistently the segment is executing its strategy.

“We see ebeam as a platform technology for food safety and are really looking forward to the results of the field tests”

Lorenz Wyss, CEO Bell Food Group

For an approach to be considered successful, it must eliminate or reduce the use of antibiotics; be chemical-free; and produce healthy, well-developing chicks. Recognizing the opportunity, ebeam has partnered with Bell Food Group AG to develop an alternative, efficient and environmentally sound method for the industry. The use of the blue technology is being tested for the inactivation of bacteria on the surface of hatching eggs. After the construction of a demonstrator, field testing will follow in 2018. The advantages of ebeam for the new application will be investigated in an innovation-friendly hatchery in Switzerland. If the results are what is hoped, the next step will be to test the scalability of the approach.

Comet PCT invests continuously in the collaboration with its partners, and its resulting growth outpaces that of the market. Michael Kammerer, President of Plasma Control Technologies, the PCT team, and René Lenggenhager, CEO of the Comet Group, were proud to be presented with no fewer than three awards in 2017 for innovation and collaboration from important customers in the USA and China.

In 2017, PCT was honored with multiple valuable awards from customers.

Industry 4.0, smart factories, flaw detection in production lines in the electronics industry: They all require that machines be able to communicate with machines. Standardization is essential to this. As part of the Electronics 4.0 program, IXS has joined the Hermes Standard Initiative, which was set in motion by leading suppliers of the electronics industry in order to standardize protocols for machine-to-machine communication. At Productronica 2017, Yxlon already unveiled the Hermes-capable at-line systems Cougar EVO and Cheetah EVO. With continual investment in the further development of its product software, IXS is opening up additional metrology and in-line applications.

The success of Comet PCT rests on its portfolio of innovative high-end products, its unparalleled RF competency, and excellent customer relationships that have scope for further expansion. In just three years the segment has doubled its sales, surpassing the CHF 200 million mark in 2017. The task now is to round out the product range by developing a modular, highly flexible and precise RF system solution and to lay the foundation for further growth after 2020.

A key to this development work is the Smart Lab, opened at the beginning of 2018 in Flamatt. The new lab allows the automated, real-time processing and analysis of data from test runs of new products, which substantially cuts development times. In the future, Comet will also be able to qualify complete RF systems and generators simultaneously, as well as to remotely test devices by accessing and controlling the Smart Lab functionalities in Flamatt from other Group locations.