Until late 2019, Jussi Rautee was running a major Swedish-Swiss technology multinational with thousands of employees. ABB Group operates in robotics, automated technology and heavy electrical equipment, meaning he was never short of excitement there. Yet when the opportunity to run a much smaller company came his way, he jumped at the chance.
The company that took him on as CEO, a Finnish firm called Picosun, specialises in a type of technology that he considers to be among the most important and exciting in the world. Few people outside the industry know much about atomic layer deposition (ALD), but as Jussi discusses its uses and future potential, he is effusive.
“I can guarantee you that your mobile phone or computer, or whatever you have in your hands today, includes many ALD layers inside of the device,” Jussi explains.
“So today’s technology would not be possible without ALD. It’s at the core of every electronic device, so deep inside that you can’t see it, but you use it every day. It’s such a fundamental thing.”
ALD technology involves depositing minuscule, atom-thick layers onto surfaces using purified reactive gases. This technology lets manufacturers produce layers to extremely precise thicknesses at a microscopic scale, meaning it is indispensable for making things like computer chips.
Jussi says it is so fundamental to computer chip production that Moore’s Law, which describes the exponential growth of computing speeds, would not have held true without it. In electronics, ALD is used to make conducting or insulating layers, or to form tiny barriers, but there are numerous other applications, such as the production of environmentally friendly packaging.
There is also growing research into its use in medical technology, which is where much of Jussi’s enthusiasm for ALD comes from. The technology has recently been used to add protective layers to medicines, surgical tools and implants, which makes them safer and less likely to react with the body.
They don’t buy just the product from you today – they buy the tools and solutions with which they can make sure that they maintain their position in their market as technology leaders.
“If you use a traditional coating method, there are always some leftovers from somewhere else, which can then react negatively,” he says. “These things are the reason why I’m here, why I came out from ABB, from running a large, several-hundred-million-dollar organisation and thousands of people, with 20 years’ experience in different parts of the world. I came out of there for this new technology, for how we can save and help people in the future. This is such a unique thing and that alone motivates and drives me.”
Focused on growth
But it is not just the science and its potential to help people that has Jussi excited about the future of ALD technology; it’s also the potential for growth. “The medical segment, which will be huge, can be even bigger than the semiconductor market in the future,” Jussi says.
The ALD market is already worth more than US$2 billion (€1.6 billion) globally and is expected to at least double or even treble within five years, he reveals: “It depends which research you read, but some research says that in 2025, this market will be worth US$5 billion [€4.1 billion] or US$7 billion [€5.7 billion]. The market is growing so much that we cannot be everywhere all the time, so we need to be very much focused on the areas where we see the growth.”
Such explosive growth has created a welcome challenge for Picosun, as it needs to figure out how to grow faster than the market at large. “If you want to beat the market and grow your market share as well, that means you need to grow at double the speed of the market – we’re talking about a 30–40% minimum,” Jussi shares.
That means developing the company’s people, organisation and business processes to “always stay at least two or three steps ahead”. “If you develop your structures for what you need today, then you are already late because tomorrow, you’ll need more,” Jussi says.
The same attitude is what underpins Picosun’s approach to innovation. The company is constantly working to develop new products and patents to ensure it is always ahead of the curve.
Among its major clients, besides numerous NASDAQ companies, are university research and development centres, which look to Picosun to anticipate the future needs of researchers and scientists to ensure their tools are always cutting edge.
“The customers want to partner with companies who can be trailblazers in technology development,” Jussi suggests. “They don’t buy just the product from you today – they buy the tools and solutions with which they can make sure that they maintain their position in their market as technology leaders.”
Recipe for success
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought largely good news for the ALD technology sector because of the global increase in remote working, which is driving demand for all of the electronic and computing equipment associated with it.
Today’s technology would not be possible without ALD. It’s at the core of every electronic device, so deep inside that you can’t see it, but you use it every day.
“There are more screens, more cameras, more technology that is required day by day for people to perform their jobs,” Jussi says. “That’s driving huge demand for semiconductors, so the market has started to grow even more than before.”
The downside for Picosun is that its salespeople and service providers are unable to meet clients in person. “I’m very customer-oriented; I want to spend time with the customers more and more. For me, that is a challenge,” Jussi admits.
In a company whose success relies on innovation, it is vital to always have a “very good view of what customers expect” before diving in, he says. “Understand the customer demand and be fast in innovation. That’s the recipe for success.”
One of Picosun’s predecessor companies was responsible for inventing ALD technology in 1974. Dr Tuomo Suntola, the inventor, still sits on Picosun’s board of directors. That lineage is not just a source of pride, Jussi says, but of inspiration and institutional knowledge as the company looks to break into new, innovative areas.
“I hope that just as we invented ALD in 1974, we are now going to come along and show that we can really conquer the world with it.”
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