ULVAC, Inc. - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on ULVAC, Inc.

2500 Hagisono
Chigasaki, Kanagawa

Company Perspectives

Founded in Japan in 1952, ULVAC is an international corporation that designs, manufactures and markets equipment and materials for industrial applications of vacuum technology.

History of ULVAC, Inc.

ULVAC, Inc., is a Japanese company, affiliated with Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, that through its three dozen subsidiaries develops, manufactures, sells, and services production systems and products that rely on vacuum-based processing chambers. These products include leak detectors, vacuum evaporation systems, vacuum gauges, Reactive Ion Etching systems, flat panel display systems, and booster, rotary, dry, diaphragm, and diffusion pumps. The products are used in such applications as semi-conductor manufacturing; metallurgy, including precision casting, induction melting, and the production of heat treating equipment; the manufacture of vacuum pumps, vacuum gauges, HELIOT leak detectors, and other vacuum equipment; Industrial equipment such as vacuum freeze drying equipment, automatic leak detectors, vacuum roll coating equipment, and vacuum distillation equipment; and electronic systems, including in-line flat panel display systems, in-line hard disk systems, and the production of optical disks and film magnetic heads. ULVAC maintains operations in China, Germany, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States, where its headquarters is located in Methuen, Massachusetts. ULVAC is a public company listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Vacuum Technology Commercially Viable in 20th Century

The origins of vacuum technology, creating an advantageous condition of below-normal atmospheric pressure, had its origins in the 1600s when German aristocrat Otto von Guericke took up the question posed by Aristotle about the possibility of a vacuum in nature and the contention of René Descartes that if the air was removed from a container it would simply collapse. Guericke was credited with the invention of the air pump, which he used to create a vacuum within a pair of sealed copper hemispheres. He then made a dramatic public demonstration in which eight workhorses pulling from either hemisphere were unable to pull apart the copped orb. Yet, when air was introduced they came apart easily.

While the principles of the vacuum were then laid out, it was not until the 1900s that vacuum technology found its first major use: electric light bulbs. Electronics then began making use of vacuum technology in the production of electron tubes, and manufacturers discovered the advantages of carrying out certain processes within a vacuum. Lensmakers, for example began to treat lens surfaces under vacuum conditions to increase light transmission and eliminate reflections, as did blood banks in the preparation of plasma, and metallurgists in the production of reactive metals like titanium. The rise of nuclear energy in the 1950s created an even greater need for vacuum equipment, the demand for which grew even greater with the rise of microelectronics.

ULVAC Launched in 1952

ULVAC was founded in August 1952 in the Kansai (or "western") Region of Japan by Dr. Jin Imachi, a researcher at Tokyo Shibaura Electric Company, the forerunner to Toshiba Corporation. ULVAC was established to commercialize vacuuming technologies that resulted from university research. Imachi raised Y1 million in seed money from each of five prominent Kansai businessmen: Konosuke Matsushita, president of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.; Yoshio Osawa of Osawa & Co.; Aiichiro Fujiyama, president of Dainippon Sugar Production Co.; Tamesaburo Yamamoto, president of Asahi Breweries, Ltd., and Gen Hirose, president of Nippon Life Insurance Co. Chosen to serve as ULVAC's first president was Yoshijiro Ishikawa, the former president of Keifuku Electric Railway Company.

The company set up shop as the Japan Vacuum Engineering Company with just a handful of employees and for the first two years served as an importer of vacuum equipment manufactured by a U.S. firm, National Research Corporation. The company also launched its own research and development programs, and in 1954 it ceased to be an importer and now began to produce its own vacuum equipment for the Japanese market.

A key figure in the company's research efforts was Chikara Hayashi, who would one day serve as ULVAC's president and chairman. Hayashi provided a glimpse at the early years of vacuum technology in Japan and the birth of ULVAC in an oral history recorded by William Sproul of the Society of Vacuum Coaters. Born in 1922, Hayashi attended the University of Tokyo during World War II, graduated in 1944, and was drafted by the Japanese Navy, where he was involved in the production of optical lenses and prisms used in binoculars and periscopes. The anti-reflection coating on these items were produced using vacuum technology. After the war, Hayashi returned to the University of Tokyo to work in the Nuclear Physics Department. Once again he was involved in vacuum technology, used to make components for particle accelerators. Conditions were difficult, however. "Japan was devastated," Hayashi told Sproul, "so there was no budget to get sufficient materials except for paper and pen. Actually, I got some raw material from occupied Army Arsenal and used them by myself to make vacuum systems." He quickly realized that he could not make equipment and pursue physics simultaneously. "I decided to go into the industry to help develop and [aid] in the recovery of the Japanese economy," he said. "The first thing was how to get money. That's why I joined Ulvac." He was recruited by Ishikawa, who Hayashi recalled telling him, "Why don't you join Ulvac because I promise to make a research institute for vacuum technology for you."

Hayashi was one of the six original employees: "One or two were mostly money management and the rest were technical. "... I started as an R&D manager in title and worker in the floor and the street." The institute for vacuum technology did not materialize, but Hayashi was not overly disappointed. "Our purpose was to help recover the Japanese economy," he explained. "So I had no way to object." Within a few years Ishikawa would make him president, a post Hayashi held until 1971, after which he became chairman of the board until his retirement at the age of 70 in the early 1990s. It was Hayashi who was largely responsible for the growth of the company and the one who spearheaded a change in name from Japan Vacuum Engineering Company to Ulvac. "When I took the presidency," Hayashi told Sproul, "I thought, 'technology, technology.' I'm not limited to Japan, so I wanted to change the name. I asked people who wished to vote for the name, and we came up with 'The Ultimate in Vacuum'." The phrase was then truncated to coin "ULVAC."

For the first 20 years of its existence, ULVAC was a small company. Even while running ULVAC, Hayashi was able to remain very much involved in the technical side. Over the years the company added capabilities which spawned new subsidiaries. In 1964 ULVAC created Reliance Electric Ltd., a manufacturer of drive equipment for industrial machinery, by spinning off a unit and teaming up with a U.S. concern, Reliance Electric and Engineering Company. Also in 1964 Ulvac formed Shinku Riko, later renamed ULVAC-Riko, Inc., to specialize in the manufacture of thermal analysers. Furthermore, during the 1960s Hayashi attended a metallurgical conference in New York where he learned about ion plating on nuclear fuel capsules. Hayashi considered it a "nice technology," and ULVAC became involved in ion plating and formed a vacuum metallurgical department. In 1966, the company spun off the unit to create Vacuum Metallurgical Co., Ltd., which ultimately took the name ULVAC Materials, Inc.

In the 1970s Ulvac expanded into other areas as well. In 1971, ULVAC Kiko, Inc., then known as Sinku Kiko, was formed to serve as a specialty manufacturer of compact vacuum pumps, vacuum devices, and peripheral devices. A year later it established the Institute for Super Materials in Chiba, Japan. As Hayashi recalled, "A professor at the NIHON University asked me to help (to support him develop super-conducting materials). But my company was not so strong and very small (in 1970), still learning. So I went to the government, the Science and Technology Agency, and asked those officers if they could help." He was told that the agency could not directly support a professor, but it was willing to provide funding to the company and it in turn could work with the professor. As a result the institute was established. The company launched ULVAC North America Corporation, located in Dover, Delaware, to serve as an importer of ULVAC products to the United States.

Other developments in the 1970s included the 1978 alliance with Showa Shinku Co. Ltd., maker of LC oscillators (used in everyday circuits) and optical thin-film manufacturing equipment. In 1979 ULVAC Service, which serviced both ULVAC and non-ULVAC equipment, was created by spinning off the ULVAC Service Department. It would later take the name ULVAC Techno, Ltd. Also in 1979 ULVAC Coating Corporation was established by spinning off the ULVAC SI Division. It manufactured hard mask blanks and thin films for semiconductors and flat panel displays.

Subsidiaries and World Growth 1980 on

ULVAC added a host of subsidiaries during the 1980s. A pair of units were established in 1981: ULVAC Kyushu Co., Ltd., to expand sales activities in Japan's Kyushu region, and ULVAC Cryogenics, Inc., a joint venture with Helix Technology Corporation of the United States to manufacture and sell cryopumps. A year later another joint venture, ULVAC-Phi, Inc., was established with a U.S. company, Perkin Elmer Corporation, to manufacture and sell surface analysis equipment. ULVAC Seiki Co., Ltd., was formed in 1985 as a Kansai business unit plant, and two years later ULVAC Tohoku, Inc., was established in Hachinohe to supplement ULVAC's large equipment production capacity. The most important development in the decade was the creation of ULVAC Corporation in May 1987. This unit served as the marketing department for all of the ULVAC subsidiaries, as well as providing a way for the various businesses to share information with one another. ULVAC Corporation also conducted ultra fine powder research in conjunction with Vacuum Metallurgical Co., Ltd. Also of note, during the 1980s, ULVAC was one of several Japanese high-technology companies accused by U.S. lawmakers of withholding certain manufacturing equipment from U.S. microchip makers to prevent them from threatening the dominant market position enjoyed by Japanese chip companies.

ULVAC continued to add to its stable of subsidiaries and fine tune its operation in the 1990s. The company opened a super clean plant at Fuji Susono in 1990 in order to meet the growing demand for better performing manufacturing equipment used by semiconductor makers. In 1992 ULVAC Technologies, Inc. was formed in the United States to bring together ULVAC North America Corporation and other group companies in the United States in order to better serve semiconductor manufacturers in North America and Europe with consolidated sales and service operations. To provide better support for user production technology, ULVAC opened the ULVAC Technical Support Center in January 1994, and to improve the company's industrial technology capabilities, the Industrial Engineering Center was established in 1997. A year later the Purchasing Center was opened to improve the company's purchasing operations and allocation of physical resources. To provide customers with the full range of what Ulvac subsidiaries had to offer, ULVAC Solution was launched in 1998 to essentially serve as a liaison. To close out the 1990s, ULVAC began dealing in used equipment for the first time and it also formed yet another joint venture. ULVAC Taiwan teamed up with Phi of the United States to create Phi-ULVAC Taiwan to provide surface analysis services. Moreover, Ulvac also established in 1999 a major alliance with Ramtron, another U.S. company, to pursue the development of next-generation ferroelectric memory.

At the start of the new century, Ulvac forged a technical alliance with Kodak and Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. to develop organic light emitting diode (OLED) flat panel manufacturing equipment technology, pioneered by Kodak in the late 1980s. While the United States remained a major market for ULVAC, it was being replaced by China. The market held such great promise that Ulvac had to establish a presence there. In July 2003 ULVAC (Suzhou) Co., Ltd was established in China. A year later ULVAC-TTI Technology (Shanghai) Corporation was established to manufacture and sell control systems in China, and ULVAC Vacuum Furnace (Shenyang) Co., Ltd., was formed to manufacture and sell industrial vacuum furnaces in China.

ULVAC also prepared to go public in 2004. In April of that year, an initial public offering of stock was completed, and the company's shares began trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Principal Subsidiaries

ULVAC Corporation; ULVAC Techno, Ltd. ; ULVAC Kyushu Corporation; ULVAC Tohoku, Inc.; ULVAC Seiki Co., Ltd.; ULVAC Equipment Sales, Inc.; Sanko ULVAC Co., Ltd; ULVAC Materials, Inc.; ULVAC Coating Corporation; ULVAC Cryogenics Inc.; Reliance Electric Ltd.; ULVAC Suzhou Co., Ltd.; ULVAC Vacuum Furnace (Shenyang) Co., Ltd.; ULVAC Taiwan, Inc.; ULVAC (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.; ULVAC Inc. (China); ULVAC Technologies Inc. (United States); ULVAC Korea Ltd.; ULVAC GmbH (Germany);

Principal Competitors

Axcelis Technologies, Inc.; Intevac, Inc.; Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates, Inc.


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