President and CEO
[Q] How does Gigaphoton needs to evolve going forward?
Until now we have been focused entirely on light sources for lithography systems. This is because the industry itself was also focused on these products and so the market dynamics were quite simple and easy to follow. The thing about semiconductor equipments is that the future roadmaps are pretty well laid out by the industry, and all we really needed to pay attention to meeting the specification and requirements set forth by the scanner manufacturers. It was relatively clear and easy to see what needed to be done, and when.
However today I think the future roadmap is not as clear as it used to be. Of course there is EUV but we need to really think about whether this is really all we need to focus on. Fundamentally we cannot rely on the industry to set the roadmap anymore. We need to be able to expand our business to cover new areas and evolve our technology to be applicable to new markets and opportunities.
[Q] What is the biggest challenge for Gigaphoton going forward?
In the short term I would have to say EUV. Gigaphoton is an expert in delivering technologies for high volume manufacturing (HVM). HVM not only requires high quality and reliability, but it also requires tools that operates in a very cost effective way. What this also means is that the technologies that make this happen are often very difficult to achieve and takes more time to develop then other alternative technologies. So our biggest challenge here is perfecting our concepts for HVM ready EUV technologies. Some of these include our unique method for debris mitigation to maximize the lifetime of the collector mirror, our ability to achieve high output power using low input seed power with high conversion efficiency, and our droplet-on-demand technology.
Also as I mentioned before, our challenge is also applying our technology and expertise into other areas and expanding our business. To do this we have to escape from our traditional way of doing things and think outside the box. When you have been doing things a certain way for many years, it is always hard to think and do things differently, but we have to really challenge ourselves to do so in order to grow as a company.
[Q] What do you think will be the future direction of the semiconductor industry?
Semiconductors (chips) obviously have an essential role in our daily lives, and the demand will generally continue to grow for a very long time. On the other hand, the semiconductor manufacturing industry will also grow in general, but there is a clear divide between semiconductor design and manufacturing companies. You need tremendous amount of capital to be able to design and manufacture your own chips, kind of like the steel industry, and very few companies have the capacity to do this. So in the future I think the number of manufacturers of semiconductors will shrink or consolidate to only a few companies at the most, but the number of chip design firms or fabless chip manufacturers will grow.
However, if the production side has too much influence, I think there is a risk that new ideas can be easily suppressed by common manufacturing hurdles such as it being too difficult or too expensive to make. So I think there is a business opportunity for tools that make testing and development of new concepts and ideas very easy and cost effective. This should be especially important for fabless semiconductor design companies who do not have their own production facilities. This is not within the scope for Gigaphoton’s business model today, but opportunities may evolve into a market in the future.
[Q] What is Gigaphoton role as a member of companies sustaining the Japanese industry?
I think Gigaphoton was a very lucky company. We started developing Excimer laser technology at Komatsu just at the right time when the market was developing itself, and since Komatsu was outside of the semiconductor industry we were able to focus all our energy on ripening our technology without any distractions. The business has a very high entry barrier, and once we had a solid product, we were able to follow a path already set by the industry and all we had to really think about was making sure we meet the performance and cost requirements to of our customers, and we were almost guaranteed to maintain a decent share in the market. We really didn’t have to worry much about marketing our product. The only real risk we had was anything that would cause diminish in quality. In this respect, we had a pretty strong foothold in the Japanese industry.
If I think about how we might be perceived by other Japanese companies, I believe they view our company as one that has been able to overcome many difficult challenges to become a globally competitive company. I’d like to think we set an example of how even a small company like us can play a crucial role in the global industry. I hope other Japanese companies regardless of industry can see us as a “spirited Japanese company.”
[Q] What is the biggest value Gigaphoton offers its customers?
First, is the fact that customers can feel secure about using our products through trust that we provide highly reliable tools and services for HVM. Second, in addition, we offer solutions for sustaining a healthy production environment.
By maintaining an environment of healthy competition in terms of technology and cost, our concept of total service offers customers piece of mind that they are able to continue producing under the most cost effective environment without jeopardizing quality or reliability of the tools they use. I think overall this is the biggest value we provide to our customers.
[Q] What are some of the important items to consider in order to ensure HVM customers feel comfortable using Gigaphoton lasers?
First, the reliability must be high. The most important thing is that the tools do not unexpectedly stop. Furthermore, when it does stop it should only do so in a predictable manner. In this respect, Gigaphoton lasers have extremely high reliability under a specific level of performance.
The other item is minimizing downtime. Out Field Engineers are very well trained and experienced, to ensure that in the case of any trouble the recovery times are as quick as possible. This in conjunction with the long lifetime of our tools contribute to minimizing overall downtime.
Finally, our lasers are, by design, highly energy efficient. I think this is also an important point for HVM customers.
[Q] Going forward, what do you want to appeal to your customers the most about Gigaphoton?
As we have always communicated to our customers from the beginning, we want our them to feel secure about using Gigaphoton products. We want to continue providing products HVM customers are happy with and solidify a relationship based on mutual trust. Our ultimate goal is for customers to be able to use our products without really being conscious or aware of using our products. In other words we want to get to a level where customers can simply expect the laser to work just as simply they expect water to come out when they turn the faucet.
One other thing is that microfabrication of semiconductors are progressing rapidly and we would like to work closely with our customers to understand what constitutes the best “light” to fulfill the advancing needs of the industry. It may be to further stabilize wavelength or perhaps shortening the light spectrum - there are all kinds of areas to explore, and we have the flexibility to address all of these possibilities with our customers.