Company history

Continuity through customer focus and state-of-the-art technology.

history

Start-up stage

COMET AG was founded in 1948 as “Gesellschaft für elektronische Röhren AG” by Gerhard Steck in Berne-Liebefeld, Switzerland.

Seven Swiss investors contributed CHF 1.5 million in start-up capital for the production of fixed anode x-ray tubes for medical applications. This was in response to bottlenecks in x-ray tube production for medical applications immediately following World War II.

In 1950 Dr. Beat Steck, the founder’s son, took over the helm of this young pioneering company, heading the sales department.

A forward-looking, dynamic company had been born.


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Early growth

Under the leadership of Beat Steck, COMET AG continuously expanded its range of fixed anode tubes for medical x-ray technology. Rotation anode x-ray tubes were added to the product range in the early fifties. The young company acquired a license for in-house production of this type of tube from its American partner Machlett Ltd. in 1954, enabling top-notch products to be series-produced in Switzerland and exported around the world from May 1956 onward. The first product development laboratory was set up in 1956.

COMET AG opened Switzerland’s first commercially-run dosimetry station in the mid-fifties. A new dosimetry system was used to monitor the x-ray burden of exposed individuals and staff and the new unit helped optimize constructional radiation protection within the company. Ahead of its time, Comet took the first steps toward ensuring occupational safety and health protection.

These years were marked by extraordinarily strong determination, swift adaptation to new circumstances, and not least a passion for technology and innovation. The management’s underlying optimism made it possible to overcome impasses and setbacks and adjust to changes in technology.


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Vacuum capacitors create second revenue stream

With the positive trend in sales in the medical x-ray business as well as favorable conditions for development activities, medical radiology made key advances during these years. COMET registered its first patents stemming from ongoing development projects. The company's regular participation in international conferences and trade fairs drew new customers and made an increasingly large group of specialists aware of COMET brand x-ray tubes. The first customized special tubes were produced in small batches for key customers.

In industrial x-ray technology (security technology for inspecting carry-on luggage), the first ceramic tubes (CXR-100) were launched as a new product and installed at Zurich Airport.

In 1965 the management decided to leverage its engineers’ extensive knowledge and experience in the fields of vacuum technology and high-voltage engineering to create new products and founded a business unit producing vacuum capacitors for communication and radio transmitters. The decision to diversify led to a phase of expansion marked by scientific curiosity and enthusiasm among committed engineers and product developers. The increasingly positive order situation encouraged the management to move into new markets with new products.

The strategic change of course as well as greater utilization of production capacity prompted an expansion of the company’s facilities in 1965. The number of employees was constantly on the rise during these years. An open and friendly collegial atmosphere engendered a sense of solidarity and shared problem-solving especially among long-term employees.


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X-ray tubes for industrial applications gain in importance

The seventies were marked by an overheated economy, rapid growth and the founding of new subsidiaries. Through continual investment in research and development, the portfolio of x-ray tubes for industrial applications swiftly expanded. Oil production efforts were stepped up around the world and pipeline construction was booming (Trans Alaska Pipeline, Nord Stream Pipeline). COMET delivered the first mobile x-ray tubes for use in continual safety inspections of pipeline weld seams.

1971 marked the first time a person – a patient with a cyst in her brain – was examined using computed tomography technology (CT). COMET developed the special x-ray tube used in the world’s first computed tomography scanner (CAT scanner) developed by a team led by Professor Hounsfield, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1979. Finally, new high-performance tubes with an especially small focus and image intensifiers were presented at the International X-ray Congress in Madrid.

These successes took COMET AG beyond the landmark threshold of CHF 10 million in 1973, when it generated CHF 11 million in sales. Upon the death of Beat Steck in 1977, Martin Frey took over the reins of the company for the next 25 years.

Technical expertise, perseverance and a good feel for customers’ needs characterized this decade. Customer proximity emerged as a competitive advantage and development times between prototype production and commercialization became progressively shorter.


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Customer proximity for long-term collaboration

COMET AG was made a subsidiary of COMET HOLDING AG in 1981. The metal-ceramic x-ray tube replaced the glass tube once and for all and went into serial production at COMET AG, being mechanically more robust and of much more compact, light-weight construction. This innovation earned COMET business and recognition from customers and experts around the world. The series was expanded to bipolar (MXR-450) and unipolar (MIR-300) x-ray tubes.

The growing order book of Vakuum-Kondensatoren AG (vacuum capacitors) required an expansion in production and office facilities at the company’s headquarters. The plant and required infrastructure were expanded rapidly using state-of-the-art, custom-built machinery. The establishment and expansion of international country-specific service points gained strategic weight.

For the first time in 1983, COMET brand x-ray tubes were used in space.

1988, the licensor Machlett was taken over and COMET was about to go out of business, but in the end, COMET was able to produce x-ray tubes on its own.
In addition, COMET Franc Sarl was founded.  

From 1989, all rotation anode x-ray tubes were produced by COMET itself. Through the great efforts of all COMET employees, the company succeeded in introducing new models to meet the market’s requirements and maintained the company’s ability to deliver on schedule at all times.

 


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Global expansion and IPO

Expansion of the distribution and service network set the tone for the company’s momentum. Comet North America moved to Northwalk, CT in 1992 (later to Stamford). By the mid-nineties, COMET had further expanded its market leadership in industrial x-ray technology. Brisk demand from traditional areas of application and the emergence of new potential uses brought remarkable increases. Over the next few years, growth in the high vacuum area would be driven by future developments in the semiconductor industry that would accompany the introduction of new technologies.The economic situation looked promising and COMET’s potential for growth was superior.

At the end of the 1990's, the COMET Grup acted on the growing importance of the Asian economic region. In 1998, COMET ventured into China and started marketing its full range of products: first modules and components of the Industrail X-Ray business,  later followed by vacuum capacitors.

Building on this momentum, COMET HOLDING AG conducted its initial public offering in 1996 on the Berne Stock Exchange. To optimize conditions for the Group’s long-term growth, COMET switched to the Swiss Exchange SWX in Zurich in 2002.

Quality and environmental policy became a permanent part of corporate policy with COMET’s first ISO certification in 1994.


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Entry into end-customer business through FEINFOCUS

2002, an Asset deal with Philips takes place: medical X-ray tubes were phased out in favor of industrial metal ceramic tubes. COMET focuses now on two business areas, Security & Inspection and Microelectronics & Life Science (vacuum capacitors, mass spectrometers).

After 9/11, COMET obtained contracts to equip US airports with x-ray tubes. To handle the volume, production was increased by a factor of 25 in 12 weeks.
Share lostind moved to the Swiss Exchange SWX Zurich.

In the fall of the same year, the company moved into its new building in Flamatt, and 2003 saw the grand opening of another subsidiary – COMET China Ltd. – in Shanghai.

A significant milestone was the first step toward a systems business (end customer business): In 2004 COMET HOLDING AG acquired FEINFOCUS, a company which had just launched the versatile Y.COUGAR x-ray system on the market. High-resolution microfocus x-ray testing systems and MicroCT systems for performing quality assurance on small test components were added to the product range. Non-destructive testing became a broad-based market for COMET with applications in the aviation, automotive, energy and electronics industries.


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Quantum leap through acquisition of YXLON

The 2007 takeover of YXLON International Holding GmbH, based in Hamburg, Germany, represented a strong start in the systems business for COMET, also improving the position of its Feinfocus product line.

YXLON International is the world’s leading provider of x-ray testing equipment for industrial applications. The company had been created in 1998 through the merger of Philips Industrial X-Ray (Hamburg) and ANDREX (Copenhagen) and then bought out by its management. YXLON

Additional potential would be tapped in the years to come by utilizing synergies in innovation, distribution and applications.




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Innovative and stable during world economic crisis

With the presentation of its new high-power product line at the 17th World Congress on Non-destructive Testing in Shanghai, COMET underscored its leading position in industrial x-ray technology. While 450 kV was previously considered to be the maximum possible output, this was exceeded with the launch of a 600 kV x-ray source. This boost in power allows the inspection of large engine blocks or turbine blades, something previously only possible using costly linear accelerators.

E-beam technology was recognized with the Swiss Technology Award in 2009. With its compact, low-voltage electron emitter, COMET developed a top-quality product suitable for sterilizing packages in in-line processes.

In 2010, the COMET Group emerged even stronger from one of the most severe global financial crises thanks to its systematic implementation of Group strategy, improved productivity and cost optimization efforts. This was demonstrated by 44% growth in sales to CHF 217.4 million as well as an increase in profit margin to 13% (EBITDA).

2011, the acquisition of the German-based Stolberg HF-Technik AG, specializes in the development and manufacture of RF and VHF generators, takes place.
COMET is therefore fully equipped to develop entire RF power supply systems featuring fully compatible components, all from a single source, and to rapidly conquer this new market.

2012, Tetra Pak praised ebeam technology at the FoodTec Fair Anuga and in field tests, already 50 million containers have been sterilized and sold.

2013, COMET Group celebrates its 65th anniversary as a leading company in the area of x-ray, high frequency and ebeam technology.