ALD is a key technology in many industries, without which our fundamental electronics cannot function. Providing ALD Solutions is Picosun Group.
In this Interview with the company’s CEO Jussi Rautee, let’s know more about Picosun Group.
- Tell us about the company.
Picosun Group is the leading provider of AGILE ALD® (Atomic Layer Deposition) thin film coating technology for semiconductor, medical and other industries. Our customer base includes some of the world’s most prominent companies in microelectronics and photonics manufacturing and we also provide cutting-edge R&D ALD solutions to the world’s leading universities and research institutes.
ALD is a key enabling technology in modern semiconductor manufacturing – it can be said that without ALD, we would not have computers, smart phones, wireless communications and industrial automation, but to the medical field, ALD is still a relatively unknown technology. Medical devices and implants typically employ macroscopic coatings made of polymers, metals or ceramics. ALD is an advanced, sophisticated vacuum coating method based on sequential surface reactions between co-reacting gases, so the films it produces are only nano-metres thick, they possess the highest uniformity and conformality, and are intrinsically pinhole- and crack-free. Film growth process is digitally repeatable and the film thickness and composition can be controlled down to sub-nanometre level. Several ALD materials are bio-compatible and/or bioactive and the coatings can be deposited at moderate temperatures so ALD is ideal for medical devices and implants which often employ temperature- or chemical-sensitive materials and/or microelectronic components.
We at Picosun live to the principle of ‘AGILE ALD’ which means our ultimate goal is to ‘take ALD where it has never gone before’.
Picosun’s PicoMEDICAL™ ALD solutions are already in production use in e.g. medical implant manufacturing and drug surface functionalization. In dental implants, bioactive ALD coating accelerates the osseointegration process so the implant attaches to the bone faster, and ALD coating on drug particle surface enables control of the drug release time. Other potential medical ALD applications are protective coatings on various implantable sensors, neuroprosthetics and other devices for remote, digital and bio-electronic healthcare. Body fluids are corrosive so the implanted devices must be protected against them, and vice versa – human body has to be protected against possible rejection reaction caused by the implant and/or possible metal ion leakage from it. This is where ultra-thin, highly conformal, impermeable and pinhole-free ALD coatings show their beauty –the implanted device can be hermetically encapsulated and isolated from the human body environment with a fraction of film thickness compared to ‘traditional’ coatings. This improves the device lifetime, reliability, safety and also comfort-of-use from the patient point of view (potentially less ‘maintenance’ or replacement surgeries).
Picosun’s history and position in the field of ALD is unique. ALD was invented and patented for industrial use in Finland in 1974 by Picosun Board Member Dr. Tuomo Suntola, so today our company represents over four decades or groundbreaking, pioneering know-how in the field. Unlike many other coating technology companies, we concentrate solely on ALD, because that’s what we do the best. Our core team consists of Doctors in ALD science with decades of cumulative expertise in the field, both from the academia and various industries, and we have contributed to a significant number of patents in ALD. Our products represent already the 15th generation of state-of-the-art ALD coating equipment designed and manufactured in Finland.
As the inventors and forerunners of the technology, our aim is to take ALD to always new frontiers, by working in close collaboration with our customers. Medical industry is one of our latest key strategic markets – ALD technology has huge potential to solve some of the key challenges the medical device manufacturers are facing and we are keen to introduce our ALD solutions to new companies in this field, to enable better, safer, longer-lasting and more user-friendly products for future healthcare markets.
Picosun headquarters are located in Finland and our subsidiaries and offices in Germany, USA, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan, India and France. In addition to our own locations, we have world-wide network or distributors and representatives to ensure always timely and comprehensive response to our customers’ inquiries.
- What were the initial challenges you faced?
The typical challenges an initially small, but fast-growing company faces. The demand for our ALD solutions from many different sectors of industry has grown so fast that it puts some pressure to the hiring process – it can be challenging sometimes to find just the right experts to complement our personnel portfolio. Also up scaling and streamlining our processes and operations is a demanding task when the business environments we operate in change and expand rapidly. But, we are managing pretty fine – at the moment, we have for example production facilities expansion on the way and hiring’s continue.
Picosun provides production-proven, turn-key ALD thin film coating solutions to global industries and R&D.
- Which was that point that triggered the growth of the company?
The skyrocketing interest towards ALD technology throughout the industrial scene which could be said started a few years ago and shows no signs of fading off. The superiority of ALD coatings compared to coatings manufactured with the ‘traditional’ methods enables a plethora of totally new, advanced products, provides added value and novel features to existing ones, and potentially saves materials, manufacturing costs and environment when the same effect can be achieved (with ALD) with much thinner coatings than what the ‘traditional’ methods can provide.
We at Picosun live to the principle of ‘AGILE ALD’ which means our ultimate goal is to ‘take ALD where it has never gone before’. This is facilitated by our extensive networking and collaboration with industries and academia alike, and our personnel’s diverse background and high level of expertise and experience combined with creative, innovative spirit.
- What is the reason behind your company’s long-standing success?
Again, ‘AGILE ALD’. We have our established products and solutions to our core markets of course, but we are also all the time actively looking for new opportunities and applications where ALD could be the disrupting technology, and we are constantly developing new ALD solutions to various markets. We have what it takes to respond rapidly to changing business environments and serve customers with very diverse demands and backgrounds.
Customer-centric approach is at the core of all our operations and we have a good reputation as a solid, reliable partner who keeps its promises. Our customers trust on us – this manifests as constantly increasing number of repeat sales and the fact that when state-of-the-art coating solutions are called for, even the world’s most prominent industries turn to Picosun.
- What are the products/services the company focuses on? How are your services different from those in the market?
Picosun provides production-proven, turn-key ALD thin film coating solutions to global industries and R&D. We deliver not only the physical coating equipment, but strategic partnership with the customer, starting from initial applications consultancy, analysis and discussions about the customer’s needs and how our technological solutions can help the customer’s business grow. After that is the time for delivery, installation and commissioning of the actual hardware with ALD processes optimized for the customer’s application. Our offerings include also a selection of modular, highly customizable training packages that can be tailored to the needs of different ALD equipment users, from operators to developers and technical/maintenance personnel. Naturally, comprehensive after-sales support and life-cycle management services are an integral part of our holistic ALD solution.
Our PICOSUN®ALD equipment portfolio ranges from fully automated, large scale industrial batch and cluster ALD systems for up to 300 mm wafer size to smaller scale research and pre-pilot production tools, with special dedication to cost-efficient, turn-key manufacturing solutions for up to 200 mm wafer markets and for non-wafer based applications such as medical devices and implants, coins, watch parts and jewelry, and mechanical parts for e.g. automotive/aerospace.
Our ALD solutions combine agile, compact and innovative equipment design, the leading process quality, and the most comprehensive strategic partnership throughout the customer’s ALD journey – from applications consultancy to equipment delivery, personnel training, and full lifecycle management. This holistic, strategic partnership with our customers, along with our unique history and position as the inventors and forerunners of ALD, combined with our exclusive dedication to the technology are the factors that set us apart from our competitors in the market.
- How do you decide to take the company a step further in terms of your products/services?
By staying constantly alert of what’s going on in the world of ALD and our key markets. We participate actively in conferences, expos and other events, collaborate and network with the global ALD, semiconductor and medical communities, participate in several EU-coordinated research initiatives and projects, and study the latest market reports from the key application areas of ALD.
This guides the direction of our own R&D, process and product development, so that we can keep spearheading the market and always offer the best and most recent inventions in ALD to help our customers’ businesses flourish.
- Is there any new addition to the list of products/services? Anything exciting you would like to share?
There is something exciting coming from Picosun to the 300 mm wafer markets but it is still a “secret” and will be publicly launched later this year.