Special Interview with President

Evolution of Photolithography and Gigaphoton
− Special Interview with President Yuji Watanabe,
by Kenji Takahisa


As a feature article for the 10th anniversary, Kenji Takahisa, Marketing Manager, interviewed President Yuji Watanabe, who has guided Gigaphoton in the evolution of photolithography since its foundation.

The Early Days of Excimer Lasers

We celebrated our 10th anniversary on August 1, 2010. Could you tell us the story of Gigaphoton based on your experience.

Gigaphoton has been in existence for just 10 years. But Komatsu, one of parent companies of Gigaphoton, started development of the excimer laser as a lithography light source for the first time in the world back in early ’80s. Komatsu planned to mass produce a 90-Hz KrF excimer laser light source in 1984. At that time, not only Komatsu but also a number of leading Japanese high-technology companies — including NEC, Toshiba and Hitachi — had entered this market. They also considered the technological transition from i-line UV to excimer laser as a big opportunity. Ultimately, at least 10 excimer laser manufacturers emerged in Japan alone.

That was 26 years ago. But excimer lasers did not mature to become a big business back then.

That’s right. Therefore, with the aim of commercializing the excimer laser as a photolithography light source, the Japanese government launched a 9-year national project (from 1986 through 1994) to develop the potential of the excimer lasers up to Argon Fluoride lasers.

But, I understand that this project did not yield results that would contribute to the commercialization of excimer lasers as a lithography light source.

Excimer laser technology had shown remarkable progress, but further improvement of i-line UV lamps had outperformed the progress of excimer lasers. So, it seemed that the era of the excimer laser had not yet arrived. Our competitors pulled out of the market, one after another, because they foresaw no possibility for return on their R&D investment.

Selection and Decision

I remember that Komatsu was only company that survived in this market. But didn’t Komatsu’s executive committee once decide to withdraw from this market as well.

Yes. At that time, the task of assigning the technologies and talents to other fields was the mission that was imposed on me. At first, I was going to evaluate the technologies, market and talents as objectively as possible with a fresh pair of eyes. Then, I was going to develop appropriate measures derived from the evaluation results.

But as I surveyed further, I discovered how promising the excimer laser business was. I began to think, “It is wrong to stop the excimer laser project,” although I was working to dissolve this project group. Rather than dissolve the group, I concluded that “Now is the time for aggressive investment to develop this business.

How did you move to turn around the decision?

I was determined to do it, even though I had started thinking in a direction completely opposite to the corporate decision. In order to restart the project, which the Executive Committee had already decided should be stopped, I realized that I must satisfy the three conditions: conduct an in-depth analysis of the marketverify the competitive edge in technologies; and harness the invincible determination of every team member.

I heard that you were most experienced in starting up new businesses within the company before you became involved in the excimer laser business.

Yes. I had experienced many successes, as well as many failures. I actually learned a lot from those failures, and was able to accumulate the know-how to eliminate the causes of these failures.

Listening to Trusted Advisors: Two Key Persons Who Gave Encouragement

I think you might have discussed this with some persons whose opinions you valued. Did you actually have such trusted advisors?

I would like to mention two trusted advisors whom I cannot forget. One was Dr. Hakaru Mizoguchi, the project leader, who was subject to my audit. The other was Dr. Shinji Okazaki, a world-famous authority in photolithography at the Central Research Laboratory of Hitachi, Ltd.

One day, Dr. Mizoguchi asked me to have dinner with him, because he wanted to talk with me in person. He pressed me by saying, “Watanabe-san, I have had an offer to become a professor at a leading university, and I have to make a decision soon. But, truly speaking, I really want to start up the excimer laser business. If you will give me a final opportunity to try again, I will definitely lead this project to success.” I didn’t respond to him immediately, but I said to myself that one of the conditions I mentioned, “invincible determination of every team member,” was satisfied. In fact, I was rather surprised that all the members within the project group had maintained high motivation even though they knew the project was slated to be stopped.

Whether or not the era of excimer laser light sources would come soon was the most critical point for making a decision. Ultimately, I listened to the opinion of Dr. Okazaki, whom I trusted most. He said, “Komatsu has strived to develop excimer lasers as a pioneer in Japan. I know the experience has been costly , but I think only Komatsu can manufacture the excimer laser as a lithography light source today. If Komatsu pulls out of this venture, it will become a laughingstock of the world.” His push to revive the project gave me great encouragement .

I can imagine you must have been impressed and pleased with his words. So, you could satisfy your first condition "in-depth analysis of the market."

Yes, I was very pleased with the advice of Dr. Okazaki, and I’m still thanking him.

Proving the Experience as a Production Engineer

Well, the last condition you had to satisfy was "verification of the competitive edge in technologies." How did you verify that?

I just voiced my opinion. I was not capable of evaluating the competitive edge of the laser itself. But, it was a fact that we could survive the fierce competition in Japan; thus, I concluded that we had a competitive edge.

You mean, you judged that there was no problem in competing with other manufacturers.

Yes, I judged so. I believe that economical efficiency has to be the competence of our products. The higher the economical efficiency of a product becomes, the faster the product penetrates into the market. If the economical efficiency is low, the market size will not expand so that your business is confined to a limited market. As a result, you cannot recoup your investment.

I believe you are a specialist in production engineering.

Yes, I am. As a production engineer, I have experience with and learned how much the reliability of a product contributes to its competitive edge when commercializing production equipment. Fortunately, Koji Ogaki, General Manager of the Research Division in charge of excimer lasers at that time, understood and supported me. So things were starting to look up. President Satoru Anzaki finally authorized us to tackle the challenge of the excimer laser business. That was still in the Komatsu era, but it was the big turning point leading to Gigaphoton.

I sometimes recall that Gigaphoton would not exist if Dr. Mizoguchi had not been highly motivated, or if Dr. Okazaki had not pushed me.


Winning a 50% World Market Share with High Reliability

You mentioned that a dramatic improvement in product reliability ensures business growth and is one of the critical factors for winning customers' acceptance.

Yes, that’s true. Restarting the excimer laser business was actually determined by assuming this dramatic improvement in product reliability. As soon as we completed a mass-production factory in 1997, we could ship the KrF excimer laser model “G10K”, which had passed a demanding endurance test by year-end. At that time, users doubted our performance figures when they looked at our laser units that had never failed after running continuously for one year. Because we could dramatically improve the reliability of our laser units to greatly reduce the running cost and lower the failure rate, our product won recognition as the laser unit that ensured stable operation in semiconductor fabs.

Since then, “high reliability” has been taken over as a priority of Gigaphoton, Inc., which was founded as a joint venture by Komatsu Ltd. and Ushio Inc. on August 1, 2000. Ten years have passed since our foundation, and “high reliability” remains synonymous with Gigaphoton today. Our 50% world market share is proof of the high reliability of our products.

I believe that we at Gigaphoton will continue to meet the needs of our users by striving for the evolution of photolithography under the slogan of “high reliability.”

September 18, 2010