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Towards Autonomous Large Area Mass Production Sputtering Plants

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - OUTERMOST (Towards Autonomous Large Area Mass Production Sputtering Plants)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2016-09-30

Thin film coatings are used to provide specific performance characteristics, such as wavelength specific optical transmission, optical transparency and/or electrical conductivity, diffusion barrier, antistatic properties, corrosion, wear & tear reduction, promotion of adhesion, etc. on an almost limitless range of industrial products. However, the processes of large area Physical Vapor Deposition producing thin films are not fully automated due to complex nature of processes, large scale and the use of multiple sputtering process modules per machine. The SME instrument Phase 1 project has enabled Nova Fabrica Ltd continue the work on the development of intelligent Supervisory Process Control System (iSPCS) - the system, enabling real-time process monitoring and control of process modules within a given thin film production plant. By integrating this automation solution, plants can reduce the amount of highly specialized staff operating the process modules, achieve high optimization of manufacturing process leading to increased production volumes and decreased consumption of energy.

The objective of the Phase 1 project was to develop an elaborate feasibility study for iSPCS commercialization. The feasibility study: (1) performed a market research. The markets of various thin film production methods were analyzed estimating their size, growth rates and other factors influencing demand. (2) identified the needs of the end users. The need analysis will result into improved concept and additional analytical functionalities added to the product in its later development stages. (3) developed a holistic IPR strategy for iSPCS. Encryption methods, trademarks and patents were identified as possible solutions to ensure the intellectual right protection. (4) defined the market entry, financial and pricing strategies for iSPCS. As a result separate pricing strategies for the End users (sputtering plants) and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) were developed with different pricing for 2 versions of iSPCS. Also, financial strategy was composed in line with financial forecasts to ensure the successful commercialization of iSPCS.
Task 1: Market research
1. Research of possible competitors:
- An elaborate desk research of the potential competitors through the web pages of Original equipment manufacturers, reports of relevant associations, research firms and etc.
- Evaluation of existing solutions and R&D investments through the presentations in relevant conferences and interviews with industry experts
2. Market analysis
- Procurement of market report from MarketsandMarkets with a thorough analysis of the sputter coating market, its size, trends and forecasts for the future
- Desk research of the information provided by research companies such as BCC research, Research and Markets, Transparency Market Research
- Identification of the target segments by application, substrate and country for iSPCS and factors affecting demand
- Quantification for the market potential of iSPCS
- Compilation of the list of best-fitting potential distributors
- Consolidation of findings and detailed market analysis by Civitta Lithuania (market, competition, customer, market potential)
Task 2. User research and Market Validation
1. Meetings with sputtering plants representatives
- Meeting with large area sputtering factory representatives
- Interviews on product features, foreseen increases in efficiency, and price
2. Visits to OEMs
- Meetings with 'Roll-to-Roll' and 'In-line' larger area sputtering system OEMs
- Identification of the need for industrial design
- Interviews on pricing
3. Participation in the industry-related conferences
- Going to international conferences/exhibits: SVC TechCon and ICCG 11
- Discussing, presenting and promoting iSPCS
- Validation of target user needs and expectations
- Gathering information on the newest industry trends and developments
Task 3. IPR strategy
- Patent landscape and freedom to operate analysis with the help of patent attorneys Swindell & Pearson Ltd
- Analysis of the possible means for intellectual property protection of iSPCS
- Development of the IPR strategy
Task 4. Comprehensive business plan development
- Business plan development
- Analysing industry background and market
- Performing an elaborate analysis of competitors and alternative solutions
- Developing an elaborate business model and management structure
- Evaluation of the business using SWOT analysis
- Elaboration of strategy including sales strategy and plan
- Developing marketing and operation plan
- Quantifying financial estimates and estimating the need for investments
- Identifying potential risks
- Consolidation of findings and detailed market analysis by Civitta
Conclusion of the action
1. The SME-instrument phase 1 OUTERMOST project has validated that trends apparent in the sputtering coating industry are favourable for the entry of iSPCS. Sputter coating market is growing at the yearly rate of 4.96% and facing the problems such as low efficiency and fluctuating input costs that could be partially solved by iSPCS.
2. There is a demand of plant-wide intelligent Supervisory Process Control System in the market, however based on market research Nova Fabrica needs to revise the iSPCS concept and include additional analytical functions to guarantee its long term reliability to fully address user needs.
3. To ensure that other market players could not gain access to the intellectual property of Nova Fabrica, sophisticated methods of encryption will have to be used.
4. The business plan outlines the main strategy for commercialisation, through introducing Full and Limited models of iSPCS to address the differences in the willingness to pay of the end-users. It suggests a yearly-fee based model for the sputtering plants and one-time fee for the OEMs.
Future steps
The next steps for commercialisation would be to improve/change the concept of iSPCS, develop new optimisation and control algorithms and add analytical capabilities to ensure that it fully meets the needs and requirements of the end-users and to protect the safety of intellectual rights of iSPCS by applying encryption methods. Then Nova Fabrica will apply for SME Phase 2 application to conduct the demonstrations in the large sputtering plants. It will help iSPCS to gain the necessary market exposure, reliability and move to the TRL 8 stage to become qualified and complete system.
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