Interview – Dr. Detlef Steck, Yxlon International
As a highly-successful division within the Comet Group, Yxlon is fast becoming a technology powerhouse. Trevor Galbraith spoke to Detlef Steck, General Manager, Yxlon International GmbH about the company’s strong growth and ambitious plans for the future.
Detlef, it has been a little over a year since you joined Comet Group as General Manager of YXLON International running their X-ray system business. A good time to share some of your impressions with us?
First of all, for me having spent almost 20 years in automation, it was interesting to come into an industry that I was not familiar with before, other than the occasional visit to a doctor for an X-ray or CT scan. I continue to be impressed by the things X-ray and CT can perform and the emerging trends for industry such as industrial IoT, Industry 4.0, where a lot of the process control is going to be improved. This is a great spot to be in. Also, technology itself is developing faster. 2D and 3D X-ray is vastly improved and imaging quality is getting better and better with more and more involvement of artificial intelligence and algorithms to help our customers make better decisions.
What is the history behind Yxlon?
Yxlon is one of the longest established businesses in this industry. For those who know the history, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered the X-ray in 1895 and a year later the first X-ray tube was built by C.H.F. Müller in 1896. Müller’s work, known as ‘Röntgenmüller’, was acquired by Philips in 1927. Following the management buyout of Philips Industrial X-ray GmbH in 1997, the company Yxlon International was founded. Comet Group acquired the FeinFocus company and it was merged under the Yxlon International brand. So there is a long history of knowledge and expertise in this company that people within Yxlon are proud of.
What other business sectors is Yxlon associated with?
We have quite a few areas in other industries besides electronics that might not be so familiar to some readers, but if you think of the automobile for example, this is one of the areas where the technology was first applied to inspect foundry parts, to ensure the quality and porosity of cast parts. Also pipes were an early application. This has been developed further over the years to include the inspection of aluminum wheels and even tires, all the significant parts of the car, including electronics to ensure safety and quality over the lifetime of the vehicle.
Another significant area is inspection of turbine blades or aircraft structures for the aerospace industry.
In most of our markets we have a market-leading position, for example in the tire inspection business we have over 300 units in the field and a similar number for wheel inspection. Our latest machines can now double the capacity of throughput, which indicates how fast the technology is developing.
However, the largest segment of all is electronics.
Where do you see the most innovations and biggest dynamics?
Generally the dynamics are the increase in speed. The trends are moving from inspecting a single part to inspecting everything simultaneously. Another trend is the combination of quality assurance with metrology. There we have recently seen a lot of development with machines that can be used for electronics assembly, R&D applications and medical products. Our FF20 CT or FF35 CT inspection systems are being sold with metrology functions. This has generated a lot of interest from customers at CONTROL, the well-known international trade fair for QA taking place in Germany. Similarly, in electronics manufacturing, if you can confirm a strong interconnection and have the ability to check the parts are where they should be using metrology, then you will derive an additional benefit.
The third area I would like to mention is the automation of the inspection task. Going from human inspection towards assisted and then ultimately automated defect recognition and measurement.
Could you tell us about the solutions you have been developing for inspection applications in the science and new materials sector?
That’s one of the areas that typically makes it onto the headlines of newspapers, whether it is TV shows in Japan talking about what they found inside a mummy or more recently, they were able to detect that some coins found in a castle in Japan were over two thousand years old and originated from Europe. These examples are very exciting.
But what you see there is close to a lab environment, the demand is for ultimate detail recognition with the highest resolution using our nanofocus and microfocus tubes (open tubes). One of the advantages we have at Comet Group is that we can address the whole image chain with our own tube technology, so we believe this helps us in our innovation capabilities. Our nanofocus and microfocus tubes are now coming close to the resolution needed for wafer level inspection.
Has Yxlon found any challenges posed by the US market?
I would say the requirements of customers are the same and we have had a long history of success there in the aerospace industry for example. Our biggest challenge really is one of recognition and we are about to change that.
Our colleagues in other Comet Group segments such as RF Power (plasma technology) and ebeam have a very strong foothold in North America, which is their main market. The plasma technology is used in the wafer deposition process and this is being sold to the large OEM semiconductor equipment manufacturers. Ebeam is Comet Group’s latest acquisition. Here we work together with customers like TetraPak for the sterilization of liquid food packaging before depositing the fluids into the cartons, with Bühler for the inactivation of dry food or in the printing process for curing ink without any photoinitiators, which is another environmentally-friendly technology.
To strengthen our position in the US market, the Comet Group has decided to build the largest technology and application lab in the group in San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley. It is called Lab One and the opening is going to be on October 4th.
What can we expect to find inside Lab One?
The idea with Lab One is to create a large space where the experts from all areas of our company are working together permanently with the entire suite of our products. Unlike a trade show, this will be an area where customers can walk in and discuss and collaborate on projects, use the equipment, create samples and even small series production runs. We will also provide inspection services to stimulate thoughts around new solutions and innovations, solving customers problems together and then also bringing the new technologies to our customers.
All technologies offered by the Comet Group – from ebeam to RF power and X-ray – can be tested and demonstrated there. The trends for miniaturization, safety, security and sustainability bring us all together to share technologies and make them sustainable and resource efficient. These are the common denominators.
But the important thing is that we are moving to where the customers are. Lab On is located in the heart of the electronics industry, the place in the world where most of the inventions are happening and where our customers have their experts. The idea is to be close to them – you can hop in the car and be there in half an hour, you can test materials and then collaborate and go back and forth to make things happen much faster. It is a very exciting time and I wish I was a young engineer who could be play a role in this fast moving, technology exploiting culture.
How do you see the future of technology and Yxlon’s role in it?
We have the ambition to shape the future role of X-ray and CT usage with our customers using our expertise. We believe we have the ability to deliver the best image quality, which along with the breadth of our applications has been our core strength. The challenge in the future, to enable us to move faster, is going to be the ability to collaborate with our partners in the areas of R&D and innovation and communicate with end-users to provide solutions that best fit their needs. We also need to work with the OEMs to develop combined solutions, as we have in electronics with SmartLoop. You will start to see this with other partners too. Improved communication interfaces both with our products and our customers. We want to make it easy to work with us. These are the things that are going to become more and more important.
We also want to exploit new applications involving metrology, which will offer major benefits in the future.
Detlef, thank you very much for joining us today.
ABOUT COMET GROUP
The Comet Group is a globally leading, innovative Swiss technology company with a focus on the X-ray, radio frequency and ebeam businesses. With premium high-tech components and systems, we enable customers in numerous industries to both enhance the quality of their products and make their manufacturing more efficient and eco-friendly. Our innovative solutions under the Comet, Yxlon and ebeam brands are in demand for applications such as materials testing and security inspection, the coating and treatment of surfaces, and non-contact sterilization.
Based in Flamatt, Switzerland, the Comet Group has a presence in all world markets. We employ about 1,300 people worldwide. Besides production facilities in the USA, China, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, we maintain various subsidiaries in the USA, China, Japan and Korea.