The Near and Far Future for Orbotech and Inspection

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Matties: You mentioned culture.  How would you describe the culture of Orbotech?

Gordon: That's a very tricky question. We’ve had many different sessions trying to define it. First of all, Orbotech does have a unique culture, it’s not just a slogan, and even in Israel it's perceived as a special company. There is something in the culture that keeps people in the company for a long term. The high tech industry is a very hectic one. People tend to move positions in companies every few years, but in Orbotech you'll find people such as myself who are still with the company after 10 years. Ten years is still considered a newcomer at Orbotech. There's something in the culture that attracts people to it for the long term, not only in terms of our investment strategy but also in terms of employee relationships and customer relationships.

Matties: When you joined Orbotech, what was so appealing that made you say "That's where I want to work"?

Gordon: Personally, I joined Orbotech in 2002 as VP of sales and marketing for the PCB division, and after four years I relocated to Taiwan, later to Tokyo and then to Hong Kong where I was managing Orbotech Pacific. Almost four years ago I came back home to Israel, but I had an amazing opportunity to travel the world and see very interesting and exciting things and cultures. When I joined Orbotech, we were doing mainly AOI and a little bit of direct imaging. When I reflect on what we've achieved in 15 years and the changes that have occurred, both for Orbotech and for the industry, it's a remarkable journey.  To be part of the journey is simply exciting and now I go to work excited.

Matties: That leads me to my next question about the change or impact you have on the industry. Are you looking at industry needs, or do you create new capabilities by introducing technologies which allow a manufacturer to increase their offering?

Gordon: That's a very good question and talks to the basic philosophy about whether you need to ask your customers what they need, or show them what they need. It reminds me of the famous Henry Ford quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” I think we do both. We talk to the customers to understand their needs—many of the ideas come from the customers themselves—but we also try to think of ideas out of the box and develop technologies that one day may have value.

If you look at the AOS technology, especially the shaping of the opens, it originated in a project that started over 10 years ago. It was supposed to be launched many, many years back, but there were lots of technological challenges, but we kept investing. In the beginning we weren’t sure how the technology would be used, but it became clear to us once we saw how manual repair was insufficient for advanced technologies.

Very few companies have the capability to continue to invest in a project which is not meeting its business targets, just because we still have the vision that one day it will. So yes, we bring many solutions to the market, but of course we follow the customers, we talk to them about their needs, we make changes all the time and we make improvements to our product lines.

Matties: When you look at your resources, from Valor all the way through to final inspection, all the steps that you're integrated in, you must have an incredible bird’s-eye view of the manufacturing challenges that the world faces, globally and regionally. You could say, “This region is producing better that that region,” just based on the data that you have. That's got to be a huge advantage to you in your R&D and project planning.

Gordon: It's very true what you say, and the acquisition of SPTS gave us even more insight into the industry. When we acquired companies in the past, much of the interaction was done at the board level, but today there is a lot of cross-activity down at the division level, for example in the area of advanced packaging. And we do have a good view of that and, as a consequence, are able to offer better solutions to these two markets.

Matties: So, final thoughts here, where do you see the future five to 10 years from now in inspection? Here's one thought, while you're considering this. Do you see a need for point source inspection? Meaning, as it comes through the etcher, before it exits final that we have inline AOI at every step so that you don't produce a batch of scrap, you detect an error in one and you modify before the next one.

Gordon: First of all the needs of inspection are changing. Today, customers are asking to inspect more and more features that were not inspected before. A very good example is via inspection. We can prosper only in a world that has changing needs, because otherwise competition catches up. Needs are constantly evolving and as they become more advanced, that's an opportunity. We know the needs and we have resources to invest in them. Specifically, the issue of inline is something which we have considered many times, and I think the issue of the whole yield management connects to the question of Industry 4.0 and the smart factory, which is a growing trend.

Matties: This fits right into that.

Gordon: It does, and it's emerging very rapidly. We are very committed to supporting that.

Matties: Is your R&D team working on these types of solutions?

Gordon: Definitely, yes. It's currently more in terms of understanding the needs, and like you asked before, coming up with ideas. It's forming right now. When people talk about the smart factory today they don't have a full picture of what they need or what they want. The requirements are evolving and we have to adapt as we go—not only inspection and imaging, but also work flow management, having an overall perspective of the manufacturing process, and probably also adding the inspection points to that big picture. It’s an opportunity for the makers and an opportunity for Orbotech. Our Orbotech Smart Factory™ will address these needs and provide a comprehensive solution.

Matties: The other thought that I have is that one of your neighbors, Nano Dimension, who I'm sure you know quite well, are producing circuit boards out of thin air, basically.

Gordon: Yes.

Matties: It's quite impressive what they're doing, and granted it is in its infancy, but 10 years down the road it looks like a very promising technology. What's your opinion about that?

Gordon: I think in general that additive manufacturing is a significant trend which is needed not in just our industry. At Orbotech, we have worked on additive manufacturing, and the Precise 800 is a form of low throughput additive manufacturing. Definitely our inkjet solutions are where we lead and we plan to cover more and more applications using these two different technologies—inkjet on one hand and then LIFT, which is the technology used in the shaping.

Matties: When I looked at the shaping technology at APEX last year, to me it looked like you were doing an additive manufacturing process right there, granted in small bits, but you have the basis for something there. So it will be interesting to see how that evolves.

Gordon: It’s definitely part of our plan.

Matties: Yes, no doubt you guys are always innovating and always leading. If a fabricator came up and said "Arik, what's the best advice you could give me?" What would that be?

Gordon: I think that many fabricators are still not taking advantage of the benefits of Industry 4.0. I see PCB factories with an extreme level of automation not only saving labor but with a more consistent and higher quality output. Many makers are still lagging behind and not yet using available automated solutions. If you look at the booth today, and we didn't have it in the past, we have two systems with automation. We don't sell our own automation but we work closely with others. Industry 4.0 as its most basic involves factories with less labor and more automation. The next step is to combine it with data analysis, which is getting closer to the real smart factory or Industry 4.0 vision. You don't have to wait for Industry 4.0 to have complete and defined specifications. You can do many elements of it already right now, and you should do it. You should embark on it.

Matties: You mentioned the automated factory, and I'm thinking of Alex Stepinski, one of your customers over at Whelen. In fact, we just last year created our "Good for the Industry" award, and we awarded Alex for his innovative thinking and probably that's one of the factories that come to mind when you're talking, right?

Gordon: Yes, I visited Alex's factory over a year ago and he's very innovative. Also, implementing a factory in North America is a significant achievement, so I think the award is well-deserved. And I agree with you, I think that automation is relevant not only for the mass production facilities that you find typically here in the Pacific or in China, but also very relevant to makers in the Western part of the world, or makers of smaller batches.

Matties: It’s funny, because we did a survey around this very topic with the shops around the world, and those in America were split on automation, and when I think about it, automation is one part, but process step elimination is probably a more significant part for North America. If you can take a traditional imaging process and turn it into a DI solution, you're taking a lot of steps out of your process. We need to see more thinking like that as well.

Gordon: I fully agree. I see makers that take the automation in the most basic sense. They simply connect automation to their existing machines.

Matties: A handler.

Gordon: It's handling, which has value, but not much. What you describe, designing an automated flow with less steps, controlled and managed by data, and using handling and automation is the right way to go. That's basically the number one advice I would give to a PCB maker today.

Matties: Arik, is there anything that we haven't talked about today that you think we should share with the industry?

Gordon: I think it's pretty comprehensive; you know your stuff!

Matties: Thank you very much. I appreciate you sitting down with us today. It's been very nice speaking with you.



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