Mission: chip-size and space vastness

With upcoming SEMICONEuropa in Dresden we had the plaesure to have a chat with one of the exhibitors, Compugraphics International Ltd, with a long experience in the photomasks field.

- Brian, you are leading a company with more than 45 years’ experience. What makes your business so appealing?

Brian Young GM & VP Business Development
(Photo: Compugraphics Ltd)
What I think appeals to our customers, and many of our employees, who have stuck around the business for much of the past 4 decades is that the industry is constantly changing and, most importantly, Compugraphics strive to be ahead of the curve.

Considering the dynamic nature of the business - everything we make is a custom order, there are no finished goods in inventory, we never have more than a few weeks of orders on the books, the sales distribution by customer changes radically from year to year – these factors bring their own energy and tensions to the business to keep us all interested and on our toes. 

It is this that keeps us passionate about the photomask industry which we believe shows in our work and is why our customers come back to Compugraphics again and again.

- Compugraphics produces photomasks. How long does it take to create one photomask? And how do you test its successful production?

The theoretical cycle time for one photomask can vary between a few hours to a few days depending
(Photo: Compugraphics International Ltd)
on the dimensions, defect and overlay precision, complexity and the number of process steps involved.

There’s no concept of sample inspection in photomask manufacturing. A photomask may be used to print thousands or millions of products so a fit for purpose photomask usually means zero defects.

This requires metrology, defect inspection, and repair equipment which is expensive to buy and requires intensive maintenance and calibrations. Every one of our photomasks is subject to thorough testing against all the critical criteria so between our investment in this equipment, and our testing processes, we produce masks which are the highest quality possible. 

- You are located in Europe and the U.S. What do Europe and the U.S. offer you and what are their basic differences? 

More than 70% of the photomasks we build get shipped back to customers within 5 days of receipt of order. Mask making occurs at one of the pinch points in terms of time to market for new product development. Sometimes we need to get masks back to customers within hours of receipt of design data. 

(Photo: Compugraphics International Ltd)
Having facilities in Europe and the US allow us to meet these demanding requests. The world does seem much smaller today than years ago but even so it’s not possible to serve the global market from a manufacturing base in one economic region. 

Each of our sites have similar capabilities but produce different mask sizes. Our facilities in California and Scotland are comparable in capabilities but our facility in Jena can produce large area masks up to 16” or we have high technology partnerships which can go up to 32”. We also have a Repell facility in Austin, Texas dedicated to reattaching Pellicles and reconditioning damaged masks.

Compugraphics started out in Scotland and has branched out to the US in the 90’s. It’s possible there is still room for our focused strategy and business model in other regions too.

- In 2014 you have been involved in the Rosetta Mission. How did you get involved in this 'Mission Impossible' and what have you learned from it ever since?

We made these masks for Rosetta Mission many years ago and at the time had little sense of what an exciting project we were to be a part of.

One of the real lessons in this is to be more inquisitive about what kind of research and projects our photomasks are a part of. It certainly gives a sense of purpose to the team to know they are enabling a greater good and not just satisfying a demanding customer.

- What role does research, innovation, and technology play in your organization?

Compugraphics is uniquely positioned in the photomask competitor landscape. We don’t have the scale, geographic reach or the technology to be the research partners to the biggest names in Semiconductors. We are, however, perfectly positioned to partner with the research leaders in other specialist lithography applications required to support technologies like MEMS (Microelectromechanical Systems) Photonics, Silicon Photonics, and WLP (Wafer-Level Packaging). 

- Your products are applied in many different areas. In which fields would you like to work in the future?

(Photo: Compugraphics International Ltd)
I think it is gratifying for us to know that you don’t need to have to be at the bleeding edge of lithography technology to have an exciting role to play in developments in Silicon Photonics, Wafer level Packaging, Internet of Things, Sensors, MEMS and Biosciences to name a few. You do, however, have to be on your toes and to keep close to your customers and evolve with them. 

- You visited the Laser World of Photonics in Munich this June. At the beginning of October you will attend SEMICONEuropa in Dresden. What are your expectations about the upcoming SEMICONEuropa?

We attend these events, particularly Semicon, for many reasons. There is, of course, the obvious benefit of meeting potential customers but equally we like to go along to hear what others have to say about what’s going on, or what’s next, in the industry.

Events, such as Semicon, are also a great opportunity to meet with our customers. As you can probably imagine with Compugraphics being around for over 45 years, we have made a lot of connections over the years. Semicon is always great for catching up with customers who have busy schedules and where better to do so than the beautiful city of Dresden. 

- Innovation always plays a big role in today. Compugraphics is also active on social media, why and since when did you as an organization went digital (Facebook and Twitter)? Is that not too 'future-oriented' for an industry that is traditionally doing business on a B2B basis? 

The decision, or the objective, with social media was never to start using the medium for the sake of
(Photo: Compugraphics International Ltd)
making us appear innovative. Our slogan is “the experts behind the mask” and social media gave us the opportunity to prove this to a wider audience. 

Digital channels and social media allow us to engage with, and help, our customers faster after years of them telling us how much they value our expertise.

The introduction of social media presented Compugraphics with the ability to open a conversation with customers like never before. We use social media to share information our customers actually value and listen to their feedback. 

Social media is a powerful tool for businesses, whether you are B2B or B2C, as it gives you the chance to interact with your customers in real time. Yes it seems the Semiconductor industry is a little behind in the uptake of social media but I think it will become common place like it is in many other industries in the near future.


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