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BENJAMIN MARK COLE Senior Reporter Trikon Technologies Inc. is considered by some analysts to be a technological marvel because of its cutting-edge equipment for the manufacture of sophisticated semiconductor chips. But on Wall Street, it’s not technology but profits that are cheered and stock market investors have not tolerated Trikon’s sales woes well. Chatsworth-based Trikon went public in August 1995 at $14 a share, under the leadership of founder and Chief Executive Greg Campbell, a UCLA graduate in physics. The stock price rose briefly, but fell suddenly when Trikon then named Plasma & Materials Technology Inc. faced red ink in 1996. Company sales and profits have been uneven at best since, and as of last week, Trikon, which makes capital equipment for the semiconductor industry, traded in the $7 a share range. These have been especially tough times for Trikon. Last year, the company lost $94.5 million ($10.03 a share) occasioned by inventory losses, debt costs, and other losses associated with the 1996 buyout of a British manufacturing company, Electrotech Ltd. This year didn’t start off a whole lot better. For the three months ended March 31, the company reported a net loss of $11.6 million (81 cents a share), compared to net income of $1.3 million (14 cents) for the like period a year ago. “Not just for us, but for the entire industry, sales in the first quarter were way off,” said Trikon spokesman Fred Reynolds. “The second quarter looks better.” Perhaps to assuage investor concerns, Trikon in late June took the unusual step of pre-releasing second-quarter revenues, which they estimated would tally up to $19.5 million. Sales are Trikon’s major challenge, said Reynolds. “Essentially, we have a worldwide infrastructure in place, which costs about $25 million a quarter to maintain. We have made the decision not to cut off our legs, but to keep the infrastructure going until the sales start coming back. And they seem to be turning right now.” To keep the company going in the face of losses, the company privately placed $20 million in preferred convertible stock in June. Since 1992, Trikon sold equipment that uses plasma, or gas, to etch patterns into silicon wafers. Other companies, such as Dallas-based Texas Instruments Inc., use the equipment to make high-end semiconductor chips. Other customers include Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp., Cincinnati-based Lsi Logic Corp. and South Korean-based manufacturers Hyundai Corp. and LG Semicon Corp. (formerly known as Lucky Goldstar Semicon Inc.). Last year, Trikon acquired Electrotech in an effort to increase the range of product offered to the big buyers of capital equipment, said Reynolds. Thanks to the acquisition of the British manufacturer, Trikon is the world’s sole proprietor of something known as “flowfill” technology. In the minute world of semiconductors, aluminum is used to fill channels in the chips and conduct electricity. But chip manufacturers face a problem: Even when molten, aluminum doesn’t “flow” well into the smallest nooks and crannies on the chip. So for really tiny channels, the better-flowing tungsten is used instead. Tungsten’s conductivity is less than that of aluminum’s, so overall chip performance is compromised, said semiconductor analyst Tejinder Singh of brokerage house Unterberg Harris. “It’s like having a small wooden bridge connecting freeways. The tungsten is a bottleneck.” Buying Electrotech brought Trikon the ability to make machinery that can manufacture chips using only aluminum, called “forcefill” chips.”The chips are much higher quality,” Singh said. Singh champions Trikon’s technologies, and expects the company to do well. “They have very bright prospects. When the industry cycle turns, they are positioned to do well.” But getting the sales will take some doing, concedes Singh. “The big buyers have billions riding on these purchases. They are not just going to leap in.” Trikon faces competition from several larger manufacturers, including Santa Clara-based Applied Materials Inc. Because big buyers like to work with big vendors, Trikon has its work cut out in making sales, both Reynolds and Singh concede. Wall Street is waiting for Trikon’s customer orders to pour in before accepting the stock, said Singh. He believes a Trikon sales effort is warranted. “They are sitting on gems right now. They just need to show everybody what they have, and for the customers to start ordering,” he said. Reynolds said the company is in talks with seven major customers, and only two have to buy for Trikon to turn the corner to healthy profits. “If just two of the seven buy, that would generate $30 million a quarter in sales, on top of our other business,” said Reynolds. “Anything on top of that would be gravy.”

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