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Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates Reports: END OF AN ERA

28 July 2011 | By Mark Osborne | Editor's Blog

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There will be no further quarterly conference calls from VSEA, and that includes for the benefit of myself and anyone else that is interested in the ion implant space - to compare and contrast the niche but fascinating area of this semiconductor technology.

Though VSEA have released a short two paragraph press release, notifying us of its Q3FY results, which are not that shorter than normal, it’s the fact that the company had previously announced that there wouldn’t be a conference call to discuss such results that means it is an end to an era.

In the bad old days it was a case of staying in the office and listening-in on the telephone to hear about market share gains, new product introductions and much more!

Foundry updates on qualifying implanters for amazing nodes such as 180nm and potential ramps a good year ahead of any official announcements were priceless and over more than a decade, by then on webcasts, the list of insights went on and on.

When Applied Materials announced they were closing their implant division, those that listened to VSEA’s calls, almost on a par with going to church, already new that such an announcement was on the cards, so no surprises there!

Just my coverage of VSEA (and before they became VSEA) brought me in direct contact with companies such as ATMI.

Like the world of lithography, it’s a niche with very long arms and as many people that know me, it’s the different rather than the mainstream that often floats my boat.

Talking of boats, I once had the privilege of attending a VSEA party on a boat in the SF bay during SEMICON West - good old days. There, I had the opportunity to meet many people from the company and some of their suppliers and just as important, some of their customers.

One of those customers was Intel Corp.

Of course that in itself isn’t special but I met someone involved in implant from Intel for the very first time. That aspect was special, because if I recall correctly I spent the next 7-8 years talking to that person over the phone.

In a later year I sneaked into VSEA’s customer seminar day, held in downtown SF during SEMICON West and listened to said Intel guru’s presentation.  That was a long time ago but it’s still in the memory bank.

Much more recently, as in 2010, I finally met Bob Halliday, chief financial officer of VSEA for the first time. Interestingly, this was not at a semiconductor event but a photovoltaics event called EU PVSEC.

In the last few years, VSEA have been developing an implant tool for solar cell applications and as we just happen to have the leading website and technical publication in that area, they were keen to meet. All good stuff.

A funny thing during this time was that VSEA had made the rare public announcement of a new product, dubbed Solion.

They had talked in conference calls for nearly 2-years before about new markets, yet in typical uber-minimalist language had tried to keep the lid on this, in such public formats.

Of course, little by little we all got a better understanding of what they were doing but it was always on their terms and like extracting blood from a stone. Great stuff.

Then when the PV specific tool was announced the info was actually less than you could have compiled from the quarterly calls. Brilliant!

Not wanting to waste a minute of my time, I wrote a product review based on the total lack of info in the press release but added in snippets from their patents related to the PV-based tool.

Job done!

Well, I thought so from the position of posting a product review within half an hour of the press announcement . VSEA must have spent weeks - if not months structuring a very rare product release, intended to say - absolutely NOTHING.

Classic VSEA.

The very next day a posting on the website - regarding my review - said that I had no understanding of this technology and suggested I seek alternative employment!

The kind person, left a return email address and I duly responded in a very professional way. Regrettably, the email address was bogus.

What I remember of that email exchange was my comment that the poster obviously hadn’t looked at VSEA’s rare product press release and total lack of info and compared that to my interpretation with added insight, that was significantly longer…LOL.

Anyway, it’s an end of an era, not just for me, not just for implanter fans and not just financial analyst, its probably the end to listening to the only CFO I can recall that knows more about a technology and the business that surrounds it than anyone else I have listened to on a conference call over the last three decades.

Bob Halliday we salute you.

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