Nestled between the dramatic Black Forest and the picturesque Lake Constance in Southern Germany lies the town of Immendigen. At first glance it seems nothing more than a sleepy hamlet in the lush countryside, but looks can be deceiving. This whole area consists of small hamlets bound together by a long history of engineering and manufacturing excellence. It is this vital history that provides the background for the rapid success of the 2003 winner of the European Semiconductor Start up Award.
The year 2003 will not go down as the most positive for the semiconductor industry and yet once again the judges of this year's competition were surprised and the quantity and quality of entrants for the Start up Award. The aim of the award is to highlight emerging companies in the European microelectronics world. To date all previous recipients of the award have gone on to greater success. Lotus Systems is the latest winner and visiting the company showed there was one major driver for the success they have generated in such a short time.
Joachim Mink is no stranger to the microelectronics world and his enthusiasm for any project he takes on is obvious from the moment you enter the ‘temporary' offices in Immendigen. Joachim, or Jimmy as he is known to one and all, is a serious but joyful man who conveys a friendliness to all his staff that is returned in kind.
Jimmy Mink had actually retired from the business world after the successful sale of his previous company. Previous clients who felt they no longer received the specialised knowledge and service that Jimmy brought to their clean room needs lured him back into business. Inspired by their confidence Jimmy set up Lotus Systems and the company officially opened on the 1st of April 2001.
Lotus Systems provides wet process equipment and chemical management systems for clean room environments. Rather than provide a range of generic tools Lotus specialises in bespoke orders for clients based upon a template that can be specialised for individual customers. The term tool provider does not do justice to the company, as they are generally involved in any process from design through to completion. It is this overall approach in ensuring customer needs are met that makes them stand out from their competitors.
Since the company opened they have made impressive in-roads to the wet process and chemical management sectors. While the tool industry has suffered a 60% decrease in business over 2002 and 2003, this company exceeded 2001 expectations by 30% and 2002 by 20%. In fact most of their European competition has fallen by the wayside in that time, including the company Jimmy Mink had sold not long earlier.
Know your customer
Customer service is a major priority for the company. Both the website and company profile leaves a client with no doubt what to expect from this company with a planned process from concept of need to after install care. The information available on the website shows a transparency that is unusual in any industry. Lotus are not afraid to lay their cards on the table and make delivery promises many other companies would be afraid to commit to.
This simple and honest approach sounds way too easy and the truth of the matter is that it is. There is no doubt this honesty had an impression on the judges of the European Semiconductor Start up Award in making the decision of the 2004 winner. The company had decided on a clearly defined path and have stuck to that roadmap. Although there is no doubt that Mink's leadership is a key factor in the success they have enjoyed it is the high standard of tools and processes that have provided the impetus for the impressive success.
The mission statement on the company website goes further than the usual corporate rhetoric that is seen on most sites. The focus is on the customer as you would expect but Lotus offers guarantees that they will meet the promised requirements. From the website is the following promise for the customer, “The Customer is the centre of our business. We aim to create ideal solutions for each customer. Technological leadership, reliability, easy-to- operate systems and our excellent service are our key strengths. The customer must be able to trust and rely on us.” As stated before it is easy to make such statements, it is harder to ensure they are made into reality.
Providing wet process equipment and chemical management systems for clean room environments, the company needs to be aware of environmental concerns within contamination control. Lotus takes this aspect of very seriously and believes providing an appropriate solution is part of the responsibility to clients. With a goal to preserve the environment and humankind for all generations world-wide, Lotus shows its intentions to take corporate responsibility further than industry needs. The company develops systems that use fewer raw materials and energy. They replace outdated systems with modern, pollution-free alternatives that reduce environmental impact and lower safety risks to operators.
Maintaining an independent financial status is very important to Mink. He believes it is the only way the company can ensure the customer receives the best benefit. The only way to achieve this is through success and the financial records show that the company is maintaining this level of success.
One aspect of the mission statement that demonstrated a fresh and simple approach to business was the following, “Honesty and mutual respect are at the heart of our principles. We exemplify tolerance, fairness and respect both as individuals and as an enterprise.” This sort of sentiment can easily become just marketing rhetoric so it was wonderful to see the staff at Lotus demonstrating the company attitude during the visit to the site.
Build the tools for the job
The time has long gone when fabs only require a working system. Companies now require long term partners who can assist them with all aspects of tool purchase, running, process and maintenance. Lotus backs this up with a long term warranty and involvement with a client from the initial request through to helping ensure the customer is getting as much out of the tool as possible.
The Lotus team spends a long time with a customer before they begin any work at all. It is an important part of the company philosophy to spend the time to consult with a customer to discover what they need and how it will integrate into what they are currently doing. This consultation ensures the Lotus experts can identify any yield or productivity issues the customer may have. Not only will any new service integrate into the current process but there is the added improvement of time and money savings from improvement of the current procedure.
Despite being the new player on the block, Lotus is able to act as such an overall expert as the team is made up of some of the best individuals from previous competitors such as STEAG, SUESS MICROTECH, BLE, SEZ and HMReinraumtechnik. The consultative approach means that Lotus can enhance a customer's productivity before any contracts are even signed. The breadth and experience of the team of staff means Lotus can provide services such as consultancy, software (new software and adjustments), back fitting and retrofitting, maintenance, warranty work (for other manufacturers) or move one fab to another location. The customer testimonials received by European Semiconductor suggested that customers are pleasantly surprised at receiving more than they expect.
The usual supplier for chemical management or wet bench tools is a large company with a strong international team. Lotus does not have this sort of size to support it through the harder times. The fact that Lotus has grown so much in a down turn and taken on the bigger players in the market was a deciding factor in the company receiving the 2004 European Semiconductor Start up Award. The company has focused on being the key player for customer with special or specific demands, such as placing a DI water heater on a ceiling.
Lotus has set itself the goal to be the number one manufacturer for chemical management devices and for all special issues regarding wet process and tubing systems. The initial appearance of this dynamic company suggests they will achieve this goal.
My lasting impression of Lotus is the enthusiasm and vigour of the company. The staff appear to enjoy working in the Lotus family and are a relatively young group. The youthful enthusiasm shone through in my time there. Everyone at European Semiconductor would like to wish our award winners every success.