Veeco manufactures instruments such as vacuum leak detectors, and systems such as ion millers. They serve the semiconductor, disk drive, and materials processing industries. Veeco is continually developing new products as a normal strategy.
As semiconductor line widths got smaller and as particulates became under increasing scrutiny, several companies pioneered laser-based particulate detectors for semiconductor wafer processing. These $200,000-plus instruments began to prove themselves in limited areas such as semiconductor R&D, and in advanced wafer process development. Finally, the semiconductor industry appeared poised to begin propagating particulate detectors onto their manufacturing floor in volume.
Veeco anticipated a sudden market surge and prepared an entry. They invested $600,000 to develop a particulate detector with an advantage of being half of the competitors' manufacturing cost. Their strategy assumed that semiconductor manufacturing people, faced with buying quantities of big-ticket instruments, would desire a lower price. Veeco believed that customers would accept slightly lower performance in one area, thruput, as a tradeoff for the lower price.
Veeco now faced an additional $1 million investment (2006 dollars), and an additional 18 months, to turn their engineering feasibility demonstrator into a finished product. Other opportunities were competing for limited corporate funds. Veeco had three major engineering investments on table, but only the budget to fund two of the three. While Veeco has a marketing department, they were overloaded and could not investigate all three options. See related Kodak vignette for more on opportunity selection.
My assignments - and a deadline
Veeco called me two weeks before their annual budget decisions, to provide objective guidance and to help management prioritize their investments.
While Veeco possessed and provided me with copious (purchased) Secondary Market Research for historical background information, it was useless to predict the future. Veeco asked me to acquire the facts; not about what the market would be in two weeks, but what the market and the competition would be in 18 months.