Plasma Control Technologies
2019 was a demanding year for the Plasma Control Technologies division. The excess capacity that had built up in 2018 in the market for memory chips persisted in the first three quarters of 2019 and hurt demand for new equipment. The first signs of an improvement were seen mid-way through the second half of the year. The expected introduction of 5G-enabled mobile phones and an increase in demand from the electric car industry and from data centers led to a renewed rise in demand for logic and memory chips at the end of the year.
Tracking with these developments, Plasma Control Technologies in the first half of 2019 saw a revenue decline of 40.9% compared to the still strong year-earlier period and of 17.6% relative to the weak second half of 2018. Thanks to good preparations, the division was able to match the demand increase in the fourth quarter by ramping up its manufacturing to full capacity utilization and closing the second half slightly ahead of the first six months. Sales for the full year were CHF 151.7 million (prior year: CHF 212.2 million).
During the market correction, the division maintained the investment in its forward-looking projects: the product portfolio expansion, and the structures, processes and facilities that make Comet more efficient, faster and more flexible. Coupled with the sharp slump in sales, this led to EBITDA earnings of CHF 15.4 million (prior year: CHF 43.5 million) and an EBITDA margin of 10.1% (prior year: 20.5%).
Intensified efforts in the areas of key account management, R&D and operations were already crowned with success in 2019: Plasma Control Technologies won a very significant order from a major customer. As well, the division completed the development of the first prototype phase for its modular, flexible and high-precision RF generator. Preparing for the manufacturing of this new product, it paved the way for serial production by moving the German generator operations to the new, leased site in Aachen at the end of 2019. The first sales of the new generator are expected in 2021. In Flamatt, investment in equipment will markedly improve the efficiency and speed of capacitor production in order to be able to react even more nimbly to swings in demand. To create additional capacity for the production of new RF impedance matching networks in Asia, the division selected Penang, Malaysia, as the location, evaluated a partner, determined the production facility design and, in early 2020, established the subsidiary as a legal entity.