Throughout all of its core competencies, MKS Instruments has had a demonstrably strong culture of innovation and operational excellence. “Innovation has always been and will always be the cornerstone of our business and a key differentiator,” says John Lee, MKS Instruments president and CEO. “Our customers depend on us as their go-to critical problem-solving partners as our industry demands not only continuous innovation to solve the most complex challenges, but also strong operational capability to meet the needs of our customers. That is what we at MKS strive to do every day.”
Read on as Lee elaborates on the role innovation plays in the company’s long-term strategy.
Laser Focus World: What steps has MKS taken to create an environment encouraging innovation?
Lee: MKS is a historical leader in critical subsystems for the semiconductor industry, but we’ve managed to leverage the “muscle memory” that we’ve built up over the past few decades to identify inflection points and execute the R&D needed to expand our leadership position in additional markets of critical importance, such as photonics.
We’re deeply proud to have been able to leverage our institutional knowledge to innovate and become a market leader in advanced electronics after identifying the need for laser-based manufacturing to enable miniaturization, and in electronics packaging after identifying the need for integrated solutions that accelerate the roadmap.
Meeting these needs provided the strategic rationale behind acquiring Newport, ESI, and Atotech—all of which have strengthened our capabilities and allowed us to do more to meet the rapidly changing needs of our customers.
In fact, one of the proof points that exemplify our passion for innovation is our Global Technology Conference, that we hold every two years. This is an internal-only conference where over 500 members of our global product development teams are encouraged to share cutting-edge ideas with their colleagues, which reinforces our culture of collaboration.
We also have a President’s Technology Incubation grant awarded to the top ideas from the Technology conference to fund minimum viable prototype (MVP) work outside of the normal business unit R&D budget.
We have an Office of the CTO, comprised of business CTOs, who look at N+1 and N+2 technology trends in our current markets, as well as adjacent markets, and how they may be opportunities for MKS. The Office of the CTO has also developed two handbooks: Principles & Applications in Photonics Technologies and Semiconductor Devices and Process Technology. These handbooks are widely used for training of our employees, customers, and students. As an industry leader, we also make these books available to everyone, free of charge, and available on our website.
LFW: How has the evolution of advanced packaging applications driven innovation at MKS?
Lee: MKS is critical to so many applications—from manufacturing semiconductors, using lasers for precision manufacturing, applying innovative chemistries for advanced packaging, and enabling the green revolution with the transition to electric vehicles, manufacturing of solar energy, and sustainable solutions in printed circuit board (PCB) formation. But there’s a common thread—that we go where the hardest problems are. Solving hard problems is a core competence for MKS, and those problems are only becoming more challenging with the trend towards miniaturization and complexity. This trend is creating opportunities for innovation and MKS is well positioned to enable and benefit from these trends.
MKS is the foundational technology provider that enables advanced electronics. Advanced electronics needs BOTH the advanced semiconductors as well as the advanced packaging and PCBs to create the products and devices that people use every day.
We believe Moore’s Law in semiconductors applies to advanced packaging and guides our approach to innovation. Specifically, the increasing complexity and miniaturization in semiconductors is also happening in advanced packaging. This requires innovations to reduce feature size or horizontal scaling, integrating increasing numbers of layers or vertical scaling, and incorporate new materials and chemistries.
Not only is nearly every semiconductor chip in the world made with MKS technology, but over 85% of all the thousands of steps needed to manufacture a chip has multiple MKS critical subsystems in it. No one else in the semiconductor ecosystem can make this claim. Similarly, in the manufacture of package substrates and advanced PCBs, MKS now serves about 70% of all the process steps needed for those key building blocks as well.
That’s what we mean when we say we’re foundational. And we have multiple exciting opportunities for sustainable and profitable growth.
LFW: What trends are you noticing in advanced packaging?
Lee: Let’s take a step back and understand why advanced packaging is so important. The complexity of transistor scaling is rising and this is driving further specialization, and the industry is investing in innovating ways to package chips differently to deliver better performance and cost. This results in new advanced packaging designs, finer features, greater density, more complex chemistries—and we are really well positioned for this with our unique portfolio.
And it reminds us a lot of the semiconductor market: long design cycles, the need for precision, tighter integration, and co-development with customers. As the problems become harder in forming advanced PCBs, MKS is unique in offering both laser and chemistry solutions together, or what we refer to as Optimize the Interconnect. This will accelerate technology development and enable our customers to meet market requirements faster.
As an innovative, technology-driven company, we’re in a position to not only enable the advancements in these products, but also to benefit from them. We are key enablers of powerful secular trends and positioned for continued attractive growth. And most importantly, we’ve demonstrated a long track record of execution, so we’re prepared for whatever the next cycle of the business will bring.
LFW: Anything else you would like to add?
Lee: We are thrilled about the scope of opportunities that lie ahead for MKS. We have a storied 60-year history as a leader in the semiconductor industry, but in the last six years alone we have expanded our expertise across photonics, lasers, motion, and optics. And now we’ve added to our portfolio in advanced packaging through our recent acquisition of Atotech, which added critical chemistry expertise to our laser capabilities. This is how we’ve been able to transform the company from an $800 million in annual revenue, 2000-person, single-market products leader to a $4.5 billion, 10,000-person multi-market solutions provider. MKS is on the move—and I’m certainly proud to lead the company as we continue to advance our field.