Chairman of the Board
I had the opportunity to speak with Hitoshi Tomaru, President of Gigaphoton for five years from 2012 then appointed Chairman of the Board in April 2017, and I was able to hear his thoughts on, amongst other topics, his time as President and his expectations concerning the outlook for the industry as a whole.
- Three and a half years have passed since the previous interview, and in April 2017 your title changes from President to Chairman of the Board. Gigaphoton's market share has dramatically increased over this period. What do you think has been the cause of this success?
Yes, well the truth is, over the past two or three years, in addition to the normal competition in miniaturization, cost revisions and the reduction of downtime etc. have become important issues in the semiconductor industry. In 2015, as a result of the worldwide neon gas supply crisis, when the sale price jumped by a factor of ten, a sense of crisis spread through the entire industry, and the trend towards utility cost cuts gathered momentum. In such a climate, the customers began to take an interest in our cost cutting plans, and once again noticed the excellent characteristic reliability our company’s lasers which “just keep on going”, so I think that’s why we would often hear “Of course, Gigaphoton is great”.
- Can I ask about the new business (GIGANEX) that you started in 2016?
The truth is, since 2012 our normal semiconductor lithography light source business has now stabilized so, thinking of the next stage of growth for the company, we have started to try various ways to use our characteristic Gigaphoton short wavelength, high output excimer laser technology in other fields. As a result, over the last two or three years, lasers for FPD (flat panel display) annealing have begun to take shape. In 2016, prototypes were delivered and evaluation has started, so we’re reaching the point where success would seem likely in the next two years or so. The FPD field will reach the stage where, for example, at the touch of a button, the wallpaper in a room can be changed etc., and there are likely still to be many unknown possibilities for the future, so it’s an area that I think will continue to expand. The fact that our excimer laser technology will be applied in this field is very promising and something I’m very happy about.
Actually, up until this point in time, applications of lasers in industrial products have, with the exception of high added value items, not progressed because of high running costs and an absence of short wavelength high output lasers etc. However, looking to the future, high value added processing is advancing and running costs are decreasing, and if we can obtain a commensurate large output, I think it will become possible to use lasers in fields where the application of lasers has, up until now, been said to be impossible. In doing so, then how would it be if things which have not been possible until now in precision machining etc. became achievable by incorporating Gigaphoton short wavelength lasers? In this way we are looking expectantly towards the industrial world and striving to find new fields for business outside annealing.
- What are your feelings with regard to EUV (Extreme ultraviolet light sources: said to be the next generation light sources for lithography)?
With regard to EUV, the long-hoped-for 250 watt output power with 5% conversion efficiency (the output produced per input) was achieved in 2016. We understood that with the high conversion efficiency and magnetic debris mitigation (residue removal technology) of our EUV light sources, high output power was theoretically possible, but now we are able to verify this and we can envisage realization of commercial products in the future. Things are looking bright in the development department in Hiratsuka (laughs). Until one or two years ago we remained unable to perform tests systematically, but around autumn in 2016 the test equipment stabilized and we could move forward, so the tests have advanced, we’ve obtained various results and we realize, “Of course, this is really working – what we were doing was right all along.” That’s to say, the characteristics of our EUV - high conversion efficiency and debris mitigation - have been proved, the correctness of the concept and the merit of our aims have been confirmed, so now I think we can proceed with even more confidence. Along with this, our customers’ expectations are getting higher so over the 2017 fiscal year, we’ll arrange opportunities to present these things as I think it would be good to have people see our advances in development, how things are moving etc.
- What do you consider to be the strengths of Gigaphoton?
Well, of course, the technological strengths are there but I’d have to say that number 1 is that the rules for “manufacturing” are understood throughout the company, teamwork is strictly observed and the whole organization has the “tenacity” to take on challenges without losing nerve. Particularly for completion of concepts produced by researchers, the high level engineering strengths we bring to mass production are a treasure. Of course, after development, the production department does a great job making the products, so their reliability and stability are also strengths.
- Please tell me about your dreams for the future.
The existing businesses are running smoothly, so while things are in such good shape, now would seem to be the perfect time to do something new, and I hope quickly to lay out the prospects for the next stage of growth. Firstly, there’s EUV and then I want to bring the GIGANEX series to fruition. Also, rather than just selling “objects”, I want the company to become one which thinks of those objects as the core on which to provide “concepts” or values. Then, for all the people who believed in Gigaphoton and came to join us, I’d like to make it into a company which can look ahead clearly 30 years into the future.