Review of 2023

Comet slowed by semiconductor cycle.

The correction in the semiconductor cycle posed major challenges for Comet in fiscal year 2023. The company was not able to duplicate the record results of the previous year at any level of the income statement. However, by virtue of its sound financial footing, Comet weathered the correction unharmed and is looking ahead with confidence to the expected coming upswing.


“Thanks to a cautious financial policy, we were able to steer Comet safely through a difficult 2023.”

Nicola Rotondo

Interim Chief Financial Officer of the Comet Group

The semiconductor cycle began to turn downward in the fourth quarter of the previous year, with its descent accelerating at the beginning of the year under review. After expanding powerfully in the preceding three years, the semiconductor industry’s microchip production capacity met with subdued consumer demand in a generally weaker market environment. The downturn was exacerbated by the slow reduction of inventories in the value chain, which had been built up far above normal levels during the upswing of the cycle to cope with faltering supply chains. The prolonged high customer inventories weighed on Comet throughout the fiscal year.

Comet experienced a decline in sales of 32.2% from the prior-year level to CHF 397.5 million. EBITDA operating earnings fell by 62.2% to CHF 45.0 million, while net income decreased by 80.3% to CHF 15.4 million, or CHF 1.98 per share. Free cash flow fell from CHF 42.2 million in the year before to a slight deficit of CHF 0.6 million due to the lower EBITDA. The equity ratio of 62.5% and a debt factor (ratio of net debt to EBITDA) of 0.2 testify to Comet’s continuing healthy financial condition.

Long-term growth prospects intact, cost base adjusted for the short term

In order to cushion the impact of the correction in the semiconductor cycle on profitability, Comet adjusted its cost base. However, in view of the intact medium- and long-term prospects, the company avoided making deep cuts.

Divisions’ shares of Group sales vary widely due to differing market conditions

The Plasma Control Technologies (PCT) division generated the largest share of Group sales, even as PCT’s absolute sales slumped by 49.4% to CHF 193.2 million (prior year: CHF 381.4 million). The two x-ray divisions, X-Ray Systems (IXS) and X-Ray Modules (IXM), showed divergent trends: While IXM achieved the highest sales in its history, IXS’s revenue was slightly lower than one year earlier. At CHF 117.0 million, sales at IXS were off 10.3% (prior year: CHF 130.4 million). IXM, on the other hand, benefited from the high demand for x-ray tubes and modules newly brought to market, including for the inspection of batteries and additively manufactured parts. Sales of the IXM division grew by 13.1% to CHF 100.3 million (prior year: CHF 88.6 million).

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Comet Group key consolidated financial results








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1 Net cash provided by operating activities and net cash (used in) investing activities, as per consolidated statement of cash flows.

Decline in sales depresses EBITDA operating earnings

The fall in net sales, driven mainly by the PCT business, had an adverse impact on EBITDA. This measure of operating earnings was CHF 45.0 million in 2023, compared to CHF 118.9 million in the prior year; the EBITDA margin declined from 20.3% to 11.3%. The rapidly introduced cost reductions were not able to fully make up for the weakness in the semiconductor business. In addition, the closure of volume production of matchboxes in San Jose, California, reduced EBITDA in the first half of the year. A slight upward trend in profitability set in at the end of the year under review.

The Group’s net income of CHF 15.4 million was 80.3% below the prior year’s figure of CHF 78.1 million. Return on capital employed also fell substantially to 6.6% (prior year: 26.3%).

PCT, as the Group’s largest division and the one most exposed to the semiconductor downturn, drove the reduction in the Group’s EBITDA. The PCT division’s EBITDA of CHF 18.7 million was down 82.2% from the prior year. Its EBITDA margin narrowed by 17.8 percentage points to 9.7%. In the X-Ray Systems business (IXS), the realignment of the systems portfolio toward the two growth industries of semiconductors and batteries gathered pace. However, this was not enough to offset the general reluctance to make major investments in the other core markets of automotive and aerospace. EBITDA at IXS reached CHF 4.9 million, versus CHF 1.6 million in the prior year. The EBITDA margin increased from 1.2% to 4.2%. The X-Ray Modules business (IXM) generated EBITDA of CHF 23.8 million, a significant advance from the previous year’s CHF 15.7 million. Its EBITDA margin also rose in the year, by 6.1 percentage points to 23.8%, thanks to the market launch of new products and a stabilization in procurement costs.

The slow inventory reduction in the value chain during the correction in the semiconductor business had an unfavorable impact on operating cash flow. This in combination with Comet’s lower profits and only slightly reduced capital expenditure meant that free cash flow declined from CHF 42.2 million to a small deficit of CHF 0.6 million.

Significant progress in strategy implementation

Material progress was made in the year along the three dimensions of the Boost strategy program – growth, efficiency and culture.

Product portfolio to drive growth: In 2023 all divisions made significant headway on the market launch of new products and services, as the mainspring of future growth. The Plasma Control Technologies division (PCT) reached a milestone with the first design win for the Synertia® RF generator with a Tier 1 customer in the semiconductor equipment industry. More than 50 other collaborations with existing and potential customers underline the great interest in Synertia®, the innovative RF power delivery platform. It offers customers unique and energy-efficient options for controlling critical plasma processes in real time. In the X-Ray Systems business (the IXS division), Comet launched the CA20, the first inspection system developed specifically for the challenges of complex three-dimensional integrated circuits (3D ICs) in the advanced packaging segment. The X-Ray Modules business (the IXM division) is well positioned to further expand its market share in the rapidly growing semiconductor/electronics and battery markets with the MesoFocus and FYNE (NanoFocus) product families of x-ray modules. To this end, IXM continually invested in the further development of its – already technologically leading – x-ray tubes and modules.


Efficiency gains at every level: As the Group’s net income for 2023 shows, Comet was not yet able to maintain profitability at a satisfactory level during a market correction. The decision made in the previous year to shut down the manufacturing of RF matches at the San Jose site was implemented and the production operation was relocated to Penang, Malaysia. This is expected to save costs and raise efficiency. At the same time, the integration of the Canadian subsidiary ORS into the IXS division was successfully completed. The results of the closer interconnection of the two are better collaboration and the optimized use of resources.

Strengthening the role of Penang and thus expanding our presence in cost-competitive regions are not our only ways of transforming Comet into a more resilient, high-performing and scalable organization. In 2023, we took a number of measures to improve the Group’s efficiency and profitability: The operation in Penang was expanded and four locations in San Jose were brought together in a single building. In addition, several initiatives were launched to boost operational efficiency in line with the lean manufacturing approach. These measures and the streamlining of the organization to match the lower short-term demand also led to personnel adjustments, particularly in temporary staff, but also among permanent employees.

Comet will undertake additional efforts to achieve a balance between regions, customers, processes, products and suppliers. For example, we are building on our strong position in memory chips by expanding fur­ther in logic chipsComet will continue to hone its efficiency by refining its target operating model (TOM) and driving forward the company’s digital transformation.

Comet as an employer of choice: All measures to increase efficiency and profitability require the involvement of our employees. Attracting, keeping and managing talent is as important to Comet’s success as any technical aspect. The company is therefore being continuously digitalized and a digital work culture is being created. Fostering our in-house talent, creating a talent pool, and developing employees on the basis of our corporate values is essential. And finally, as a supplier to the rapidly changing semiconductor industry, it is critical to continuously renew learning in order to keep staff up to date with the latest knowledge. Regular online training courses are offered for this purpose, but employees are also developed and trained according to their individual needs. Of course, our support for staff also extends to showing our appreciation. As part of the Comet Group’s 75th anniversary celebrations last year, all employees were invited to festivities at the respective locations as a thank-you for their hard work.

A final, key element in the development of the strategy is sustainability. The short- to medium-term targets that Comet has set are geared toward the use of electricity from renewable resources. These targets are just the first steps on the way to a net-zero world by 2050 at the latest, preferably much sooner. With the eco-design project launched in 2023 and the planned commitment to the Science-based Targets initiative (SBTi), Comet is introducing tools to identify and implement further measures to achieve the climate targets. All in all, Comet is well on the way to gradually embedding the sustainability strategy in the overall corporate strategy.

Management team renewed and strengthened at Board and Executive Committee level

Irene Lee and Paul Boudre were proposed to the 2023 Annual Shareholder Meeting for election as new members of the Board of Directors in order to help achieve the company’s goals in terms of performance and diversity. With their appointment, Comet’s Board has gained two proven experts who are able to play a key role in shaping and driving forward the company’s focus on the growth markets in Asia and the United States, as well as on the semiconductor industry.

The Executive Committee was also reinforced with several new members. Joeri Durinckx, a proven manager with long experience in the semiconductor industry, was brought on board as President of the PCT division. The Executive Committee was further strengthened by the appointment of a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in the person of the former Vice President, Global R&D, of the PCT division, André Grede, and a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), Meike Boekelmann, who brings proven management experience at an international level and a great deal of expertise in HR issues of strategic relevance to Comet. The vacant position of Chief Information Officer (CIO) was filled by bringing in Robert Leindl, a highly experienced executive from the semiconductor industry. The new CTO and CHRO positions and the recruitment of a seasoned CIO reflect the rapidly growing demands on these three functions. On an interim basis, Nicola Rotondo has taken over the responsibilities of Chief Financial Officer from Elisabeth Pataki, who left the company at the end of August 2023. In addition to serving as interim CFO, Nicola Rotondo remains Vice President, Controlling & Accounting. Continuity in the finance function is thus ensured, as well.


At the Annual Shareholder Meeting on April 19, 2024, the Board of Directors will propose a dividend of CHF 1.00 per share (prior year: CHF 3.70). This represents a distribution of 50.5% of the Group’s net income (prior year: 36.8%).