1. Canberra Semiconductor N.V (CSNV)

    In 1983, thanks to Rolf Schwall, the co-manager of our German sales organization, we were introduced to Dr. Paul Burger who made a new type of silicon charged particle detector for the Enertec Division of Schlumberger under license from Dr. Josef Kemmer at Garching, West Germany. Enertec had caused some excitement in this field which had been dominated for decades by ORTEC with their silicon surface barrier technology. Walter Schoenmaekers, Orren, and Rolf met with Drs. Kemmer and Burger in mid-November that year. Dr. Kemmer acknowledged that Enertec held exclusive rights to his technology so this led nowhere. Paul, however, recognized many shortcomings in the Kemmer process and convinced us that, together, we could develop a better product.

    At about this time the Belgian government established a T-Zone (tax free zone) in Olen near the CDNV facility. After some investigation led by Schoenmaekers we concluded that, by investing in silicon technology (a new high-tech venture) and by reorganizing and moving CDNV into a new facility in the T-Zone, we could qualify for tax-free status for 10 years. We could also qualify for R&D grants and subsidies for device development. We moved quickly to put this in place and by December 1984 we had reorganized, bought land, and built a new 1000 square meter factory.

    The CSNV facility around 1995
    The CSNV facility around 1995

    Paul began work at The University of Louvain in April 1984 and continued to work there developing new processes until the CSNV facility was complete at the end of the year. By then he had developed processes that did not infringe Kemmer’s IP and which held out promise of better performance and reliability. Sales growth was very slow, however, and we suffered because of packaging problems and because we constantly fiddled with the process trying to make improvements. It took almost two years to solidify the process and to solve the packaging issues but the product was fundamentally sound from the beginning. We branded the product Planar Implanted Passivated Silicon (PIPS) Detectors and it became the standard for performance and reliability, forcing ORTEC to introduce an implanted detector themselves. Paul was joined fairly early by Marijke Keters who became Product Manager and Luc Van Buul, who joined CSNV as silicon production manager. Later Olivier Evrard joined the team as a scientist and became head of the silicon R&D department when Paul Burger retired around 2006. At that time Marijke took responsibility for the silicon operation. Paul will forever be remembered as “The Father of The Canberra PIPS Detector.”

    CSNV sales increased slowly in fiscal years ’84-86. Then in May 1986, the nuclear accident at Chernobyl occurred and Canberra was called upon to supply a huge quantity of Ge detectors and systems for everything from food analysis to whole body counters. The sales volume at CSNV literally tripled between FY’86 and FY’87. Additional growth came in FY’88 followed by a decline due to a saturated market in FY’89. This is the same pattern seen after the TMI incident in the US and after the Fukishima incident many years later. It still seems remarkable that CSNV was able to increase production so quickly. Of course there were some undesirable side effects of this all-out effort. Specifically the quality of finished detectors and the attitudes toward quality suffered and were not addressed fully until FY’90 when a massive total quality program was initiated.

    Following the Chernobyl boom, Walter sold his CSNV shares to Canberra under our formula buy-back plan and he did very well as the profits were extraordinary during the previous two years. Much more moderate profits were made the following two years as sales slacked off and Walter was extremely disappointed with the results. Finally, in late 1989, he announced his intention to resign from the company. Parting was amicable and we brought in a new General Manager, Marc Libert and a somewhat reorganized structure to better take advantage of the talents of key members of the organization. Both Jan Verplancke, who had become manager of the Ge operation and Paul Burger, the manager of the Si operation had applied for the GM job and both were disappointed that we went outside for Walter’s replacement. Eventually they came to appreciate the talent of Libert who stayed with CSNV for about five years. During that time Jan served as European Systems Specialist for Canberra. When Marc left, Jan returned as GM and held that job until he retired in 2013. Marijke Keters, who was Product Manager of PIPS Detectors, then took the top job at CSNV.