The corporate restructuring when Applied Materials acquired Semitool cost some their jobs. But an opportunity for out-of-work employees arose when Class One Technology established a presence in the Flathead Valley a few years later.
According to Class One Technology Chief Executive Officer Byron Exarcos, those workers had a very specific skill set that benefited Class One.
Now based in Evergreen, Class One Technology has carved out its own niche in a similar, albeit slightly different, market than the one Applied Materials offers in Kalispell.
“Our machines help make the microchips,” Exarcos explained. “You can’t have Google without a microchip. This is a high-growth market.”
Class One Technology manufactures the tools and machines that create microchips. Though similar to Applied Materials’ work, Class One differs in the size of the microchip produced by its equipment.
As Exarcos puts it, Applied Materials has focused on bigger companies that have traditionally held a huge portion of the market share and also is interested in manufacturing equipment that produces larger microchips in the range of 200 to 300 millimeters.
That focus means the smaller segment of the market — the one for microchips between 75 and 200 millimeters — has an opening, and Class One Technology aims to move into that niche.
“We saw that void in the market,” Exarcos said. “These are the next big trends, and they are growing.”
Exarcos acknowledged the size of the market for the smaller chips is minuscule compared with the current size of the market for the larger chip-making tools such as the ones Applied Materials makes, but he also believes his smaller market is growing faster and that they are uniquely poised to take over.
“We’re growing,” he said. “Our Solstice [product] is really taking the market.”
All of the manufacturing happens in Class One’s Evergreen facility, and in the coming months the company plans to open another facility in a building in south Kalispell at the former site of Glacier Hardwoods.
“Our product is produced right here in Kalispell, Montana,” Director of Operations Jason Manger stressed. “We do all the engineering here, assemble all the parts. A lot of the people that work here today worked as many as 20 years at Semitool or Applied Materials.”
With that new building, the company will need more employees to fill it. Exarcos said they feel optimistic about being able to find quality employees here in the Flathead Valley.
“Easily we could be over 100 people here in Kalispell next year,” Exarcos said. “These are the next big trends, and they are growing.”
The company’s president, Kevin Witt, concurred. He said the significant number of people left over from the Applied Materials merger left a great talent pool to draw from locally, and the Flathead wasn’t a difficult place to convince people to move to if a good job was available.
“You go where the people and the knowledge and the relationships are,” Witt said.
Exarcos said another significant portion of their business is refurbishing old Semitool machines. They sell machines and services to a wide variety of clients in the private sector and about 8 percent of Class One’s business is military contracts, he added.
Right now, orders require a lead time of about 20 to 24 weeks, Exarcos said. The in-demand Solstice machines are large and complex, about the size of a very small car. They are also built to order for the specific needs of each client.
For more information about Class One Technology, visit the website at https://classone.com/
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.