RTA Instruments Ltd is closing its doors at the end of 2023, after 20+ years of successful thin-film metrology sales in Europe. Richard Thomson, the founder of RTA, along with his RTA colleagues, were instrumental in helping grow k-Space’s thin-film metrology business across Europe. RTA’s sales skills and deep knowledge of thin-film deposition and molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) led to their immense success. Their work helped establish the kSA 400, kSA BandiT, and the kSA MOS as industry standards.
Richard is a valued colleague and dear friend of ours. We will miss Richard and RTA, but we certainly understand that it is time for Richard to retire and spend his time with family, biking, and simply enjoying life. Below is a brief history of RTA and the RTA/kSA partnership.
Technical Skills and Timing
Richard first visited our Ann Arbor facility in February 2004. He was already representing a number of companies in the thin-film deposition market, including ADDON Creative Epitaxy S/A (Dr. Pierre Bouchaib) and PVD Products, Inc. (Dr. Jim Greer). It was clear to us that together with his associates, Dr. Jeff Harris and Dr. John Grange, RTA had significant scientific, technical, and commercial experience in the thin-film/MBE market.
At the 2005 International Conference on MBE in Edinburgh, Richard and Jeff met with k-Space co-founder and CEO, Darryl Barlett. The kSA BandiT had recently launched and this provided an excellent opportunity to introduce the product to the European market. This proved an immediate success, with the commitment at the conference by Glasgow University to purchase 2 kSA BandiT systems! From there, the partnership took off.
The Power of Hands On Demonstrations
Jeff’s reputation was already very high within the MBE community, given over 275 publications, mainly from his time at Philips Research Laboratories, including his work with Jim Neave for their observations of the oscillating RHEED effect. This is, of course, now used routinely by many laboratories to characterize growth rates–and for which the kSA 400 is the industry-leading analytical RHEED system. Jeff also recognized the power of the kSA BandiT substrate temperature monitor and was keen to demonstrate it during growth on installed MBE systems.
The very first kSA BandiT demo was at Imperial College London and included some worried head-scratching. That is, until Jeff realized the viewport was significantly coated with arsenic! The system user proceeded to clean the window with a hot air gun (Jeff and Richard left the lab whilst this was being carried out!), and the BandiT system proceeded to work flawlessly.
Over the next few years, Richard and Jeff visited over 40 customer sites in 20 European countries. Nearly all the demonstrations resulted in a system sale–remarkable considering the length of the sales cycle for some customers. In fact, Richard recently received an order from a customer, in 2023, that he first met in 2011! In addition, RTA attended multiple conferences and workshops, both international such as ICMBE and ICNS, and regional. It was during this time that the ‘BandiT helicopter’ became a familiar exhibit in its own right. Using a toy that Richard spotted in the Christmas market while attending the 2004 DGKK III/V semiconductor epitaxy meeting in Freiburg, and with a GaAs wafer stuck onto the rotor, the helicopter clearly demonstrated kSA BandiT’s ability to capture temperature data in real-time on rotating platens.
Metrology Research and Patents
Over the past 20 years, the applications have expanded from the initial focus on GaAs and InP substrates, to include GaN, SiC, and other materials following the trends in the MBE community. In addition to demonstrating k-Space products, Jeff helped k-Space add capabilities to its kSA BandiT product. In particular, his input on the black body technique, now patented and successfully used in many applications. Other work resulted in three publications being added to Jeff’s research profile.
Along with the kSA BandiT, great success has also been achieved with the other thin-film product lines, especially the kSA MOS, used to measure curvature, stress, reflectivity and growth rate. This was aided by another RTA team member, Dr. Carl Richardson, who was already involved with the installation of PVD Products’ thin-film deposition tools (PLD and sputtering). Carl took on the role of de facto kSA MOS installation and support lead. Such was the expertise that he developed that Carl was asked to install systems sold in China and India, as well as in Europe. Richard was a key part of all of this, helping move everyone forward.
A Joyful Retirement
Of course, there’s more to Richard than his professional accomplishments. Richard is an avid long-distance cyclist. And he and his wife have a farm that they tend to in the English countryside, caring for their chickens, geese, and other animals. Richard has a daughter and a son and will now have much more time to spend with his children and grandchildren.
Thank you for all you’ve done, Richard and RTA. You will be missed by kSA!