ASML has become almost a household name. The growth the company is experiencing, comes with many challenges. It is not just about improving DUV and EUV machines and getting the next-gen High-NA technology to work. The complexity of the supply chain is increasingly demanding. That part of its business has grown so vital, that ASML has appointed Wayne Allan to the Board especially to build future-proof relationships. ‘The more trust we have in each other, the easier it is to get the issues solved.’
‘ASML is at a point where our growth touches everything, from housing and mobility to schooling’
Officially, he hasn’t been granted the title yet, since a position in the Board of Management has to be approved by ASML’s Annual General Meeting, but Wayne Allan is already active in his new role as executive vice president and chief sourcing & procurement officer. The American, with over thirty years at Micron Technology under his belt, will be responsible for the sourcing and supply chain organization of ASML. The Dutch semicon giant decided to expand its board in view of the fact that the performance of the supply chain is increasingly critical to its ability to respond to customer demands.
‘70 to 80 percent of our COGS, our cost of goods sold, is procured from our suppliers. That is huge’, says Allan. ‘So it is a huge responsibility for the board to make sure that we are building the right relationships, with the right suppliers, and that we have the right footprint. It is vital that the board is involved and ensures that we are staying aligned across technology and operations with all our suppliers.’
Work hand in hand
Allan is not new to the ASML organization. ‘At Micron, I used to be their customer, and a pretty demanding one’, he admits. ‘The service business at ASML was growing and I saw a good opportunity to join and push it from another perspective. Because I really enjoyed ASML and its culture, it was a natural fit for me.’
Since 2018, Allan was executive vice president for customer support. ‘I have been working closely with our customers in the field, doing installs and upgrades, helping them to get all of our technology to work on their process’, he explains. ‘What I’ve learned, is that the closer we work as one team with our customers, the more successful we all are. The closer we are with our partners, and the more trust we have in each other, the easier it is to just get the issue on the table and solve it. In this industry, we are so connected that you need to work hand in hand. You can’t throw something over the wall and expect it to land properly. The technology is simply too complex, the use cases at the customers are getting increasingly complex and also our supply chain is getting increasingly complex.’
Allan and his colleagues are very aware of the position ASML has in the industry, maybe even in the world. ‘That comes with a huge responsibility’, Allan knows. ‘Lithography is a crucial part of any fab. So there is a tremendous co-dependency there, which is good. We have to put a lot of effort into to making sure that we’re meeting the needs of our customers in a way that they can build a business and effectively make the right return on their investments.’
On the other hand, customers keep a close eye on ASML. ‘They are very curious about what we’re up to because they have so much reliance on us. So they want to validate that what we’re doing is going to meet their needs’, says Allan. ‘Therefore, we try to be as transparent as we can, and to be as constructive and productive as we can. And that is also how we end up engaging with our suppliers.’
Zeiss jumped in
Interdependency with its supplier base has been a cornerstone at ASML for years, but it became even more apparent during the pandemic. In Veldhoven, they realized – again – that how close they were to their suppliers was a key differentiator. Allan gives an example: ‘We had one machine in Japan that needed a lens element to be changed. The country was in lockdown so we couldn’t send our engineers over.’ The tool would have been down for six or nine months, if it weren’t for the fact that ASML’s longtime partner Zeiss jumped in. ‘A specialist from Zeiss gave a virtual training and walked the local engineers through, so they could do the lens change themselves. And I am talking millimeter precision here.’
The AR and VR capabilities that ASML has given a serious boost during the Covid crisis, are still in place. ‘That helps us to reduce the time to solution and getting the customer’s tools back up as fast as possible. Customers have embraced it, after we addressed some concerns about IP, because they know the costs of every hour of downtime and lost productivity.’
Empowering the field
In recent years, service has not just grown in revenue, but also in importance for ASML. ‘It has become critical for us, and it is actually one of the reasons I joined. We have an extensive installed base, with machines of thirty years old, and still running. Users don’t usually retire our tools in the field. We have to solve that complexity in serviceability, to be able to service parts and have a supply chain that can help us service tools that we were building thirty years ago.’
One way of achieving this, is by – what Allan calls – ‘empowering the field’. ‘We had to ramp this up rapidly during Covid because we couldn’t send all our D&E guys out in the field. We want to keep doing this more locally, do repairs and service our machines. We can’t replicate all the competences we have here in Veldhoven but we want to have as much solving power locally as we can.’
From the mine to the cleanroom
ASML is far from ‘a relative obscure Dutch company’, as BBC News labeled the company in 2020 obliviously. Discussed even when Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte visits US president Joe Biden, ASML is bigger (in revenue) than, for instance, Coca Cola, McDonald or Nike. But that is no reason to sit back. Quite to opposite in fact. By 2030, ASML plans to double to even triple its revenue, from the already staggering 21,2 billion last year.
The ambition stretches even further. Last year, ASML hired ten thousand new people worldwide, bringing the total headcount to 40 thousand. And before the decade is out, the company plans to double its personnel in Veldhoven, from some 20 thousand now, to about 40 thousand in 2030. Is that even feasible, considering the tight labor market? Allan thinks ASML can pull it off. ‘Of course, it’s ambitious but that is in our DNA. The good thing is that we don’t have a problem attracting talent, because of our strong reputation. That’s not something we should take for granted, so we continue to work on employee experience.’
Many new recruits come from the Netherlands, but the ASML network reaches around the globe, with 144 nationalities on the payroll. To illustrate how well-known ASML has become: recently, several people from South Africa joined the company. Fresh out of university, they first started working in the mining industry. On a career event they heard about ASML and were scouted. Now they work in the cleanrooms in Veldhoven.
An interesting fact is that every job at ASML generates two additional jobs in the supply chain. So it is not just ASML that needs to expand rapidly, its suppliers have to keep up. Allan is aware of this potential bottleneck. ‘An example of what we do, is that we share resumes. We are better known than most of our suppliers, so we receive much more applications. Sometimes there’s a skill or a profile that would fit perfectly at one of our suppliers. We will contact that individual to let him know that there might be a job opportunity for him elsewhere. He might not work at ASML per se, but he will work at, let’s say, VDL for ASML. I think that approach is working very nicely.’
Quick calculators have done the math already: ASML and its network will be 70 thousand people bigger in 2030. As that growth will be focused mainly at its headquarters, the greater Veldhoven/Eindhoven region has to brace itself. Already, housing prices are raising and local residents are complaining because they start feeling the downside of a giant in their backyard as well.
‘At some point, our growth touches everything, housing, mobility, schooling. ASML is at that point right now and we are very conscious of that’, says Allan. Unlike Philips in the old days, ASML is taking a more collaborative approach: it won’t build houses and schools for its employees. ‘But we work closely with the municipalities to make sure we grow sustainable and responsible.’ To spread out the pressure, ASML has several park-and-ride locations in some places further away, for instance in Eersel. ‘People can take buses from there to ASML. We have to be more and more creative so we don’t overrun the locals here.’
35 key suppliers
In the Brainport region, and in the Netherlands as a whole, people tend to be really proud, maybe even arrogant, about the uniqueness of the high-tech ecosystem and the way things are done here. How does Allan see that as an outsider who lived in the US, Taiwan and Singapore? ‘There is definitely something special about this region’, Allan answers. ‘One of the ingredients that has made ASML so successful is that we have so much of our technology and development partners right nearby. An ASML engineer can just jump on a bike and ride to one of our supplier.’
Allan estimates that ASML has about 35 key suppliers where there is ‘a pretty significant amount of interaction required. Of course we have hundreds and hundreds of suppliers, but those 35 is where the vast majority of our complexity is coming from. And that base is concentrated here in the vicinity of Veldhoven.’
The closeness and the high technology level are one thing, but according to Allan, there is an X-factor as well. ‘It is certainly the case within ASML, but it is also part of the Dutch culture: its flat structure. Everybody has an opinion. And they don’t care if you’re the boss; they will tell you what they think’, Allan has experienced. ‘It is pretty unique, and I find it quite refreshing.’
In fact, that directness just might be the key to ASML’s success. ‘When you try to find that sliver of opportunity to make a technology work, you want a room full of bright people all arguing their perspectives. At first, that might seem a bit chaotic, but in the end, the best ideas will come to the surface and before you know it, you have found a way to make an EUV light source.’
Allan sees the same frankness when talking to suppliers: ‘They are very willing to challenge us and tell us what we need to do, or how we can improve. There is no obscurity in what someone is trying to tell you. And don’t get me wrong: we need that rich feedback to make the right decisions.’
ASML is leaning heavily on its suppliers. ‘As with our customers, we want to be increasingly closer to them’, answers Allan when asked what his plans are in his new role. ‘We have created a center of excellence around supplier collaboration. We intentionally called it that because it’s not about us going in and developing our suppliers. It’s about us working with our suppliers to develop our products. We need them to give us excellent feedback during the design process to make it more manufacturable at lower costs.’
Allan understands that some suppliers might feel that ASML is too much in their face. It sometimes happens that there are more people at ASML checking their work than engineers actually developing the technology at the supplier. ‘Every now and then, you get into that kind of a dynamic and it’s far from ideal’, he comments. ‘We sometimes have a similar impression when we miss something a customer really needed and it impacted their business. They’re on us, here, and they won’t go away until they’re satisfied. I think that is part of the industry that relies on ASML more than on anybody else. We feel this huge responsibility in the supply chain of the semiconductor industry. So we strive for very constructive relationships and learning together. Our close involvement should always be seen as help. We owe it to the industry to be on top of things, together with our suppliers.’