Combining Expertise and Technology

March 28, 2023

Create solutions that respond to today’s trends and tomorrow’s needs.

In 2023, we are celebrating our 75-year anniversary at Comet. In a loose series of blog posts, we’ll be taking a look back at some of our key products and applications. Many of them have withstood the test of time and are still in use today – adapted to today's needs, of course.

Branching out: How Comet got into the Vacuum Capacitor business

Back in the mid-1960s, Comet was known for X-ray tubes. Focusing solely on such an essential yet narrow area posed business risks, so Dr. Beat Steck (son of Gerhard Steck, Comet’s founder) started looking around for a complementary line of businessideally, one that would align with Comet’s existing equipment and its engineers’ knowledge of vacuum and high-voltage technology.

During a business trip to the USA, Dr. Steck learned about Vacuum Capacitors. At the time, they were mainly used for communication and industrial transmitters, but a need for increased volumes was clear; the field of high-frequency technology was already experiencing remarkable growth.

Foundation of the new business unit

Fortunately, Comet’s U.S.-based partner in the X-ray business, Machlett, had recently started producing Vacuum Capacitors. Comet considered to enter into a licensing contract with Machlett so it could start manufacturing a small range of Vacuum Capacitors and source additional types from Machlett.

So in 1965, Dr. Steck presented the potential of Vacuum Capacitor production to the annual general meeting of the shareholders. To guarantee a successful start, he was even able to provide them with letters of intent from some local companies that planned to use Comet for their Vacuum Capacitor needs in the future. Soon, a pilot project was launched, kick-starting Comet’s journey into the high-frequency technology market.

It was a great time to enter the Vacuum Capacitor business in Europe. Jennings was the undisputed leader in Vacuum Capacitors at that time, but the company could not ensure high-quality service in Europe due to the distance. For this reason, customers were willing to change suppliers as long as the quality and price were comparable. Additionally, Jennings specialized in fixed glass Vacuum Capacitors rather than the more promising variable ceramic types.

Comet ramped up its Vacuum Capacitor business slowly, as it was accustomed to small volume and precision production techniques. Because Comet understood that customers required not only the best quality but also expert support, they invested in great staff, laying the foundation for customer focus that continues to this day. 

Dr. Steck even asked Joe Skehan, the president of Machlett, for assistance in this matter. In a letter, he wrote: “You never know, if it happens that you meet one engineer anxious to ski in the Alps or to climb mountains, you just give him our address.”

By the way, Comet is still looking for new talent – check out our open positions.

Over the years, the product range expanded from Machlett’s licensed products to Comet’s own developments, as well as customized solutions. Comet also started to build its own production equipment specifically for Vacuum Capacitors, which improved the manufacturing process and increased the quality of the final product.

The early success with vacuum capacitors ultimately laid the groundwork for Comet’s entrance in the semiconductor business 1978 in Japan. For us at Comet PCT (Plasma Control Technologies), this was the origin of our division and the first step on our path to empower new technologies

“You never know, if it happens that you meet one engineer anxious to ski in the Alps or to climb mountains, you just give him our address.”

Dr. Beat Steck

Similar manufacturing processes

Vacuum Capacitors were a good fit for Comet. The manufacturing process is similar to that of X-ray tubes, with analogous mechanical processing, surface treatment, pre-annealing, ceramics technology and pumping processes; only the forming and testing processes are different.  

What is a Vacuum Capacitor?

More history

Nikola Tesla filed the first patent for Vacuum Capacitors more than 125 years ago

Learn more

Design and installation

Learn more about design, rating and installation of variable Vacuum Capacitors in

Service Bulletin 12

Glass or ceramic Vacuum Capacitors?

Fixed glass Vacuum Capacitors were common in Europe at that time. Variable ceramic Vacuum Capacitors were about ten times more expensivenot to mention more delicate and more complicated to manufacturebut allowed for higher heats and higher currents. Dr. Steck correctly figured that ceramic Vacuum Capacitors offered great potential if the price were right.

Comet's own production equipment

First Comet pumping unit for vacuum capacitors, on duty since 1965, completely re-
engineered in 1978 by Comet engineers:

First Comet pumping unit for Vacuum Capacitors, on duty since 1965, completely re-engineered in 1978 by Comet engineers: The pumping station is responsible for the generation of a high vacuum. Smallest molecules are pumped out by a turbomolecular pump. The process creates the best possible high vacuum in the capacitor to make it voltage-resistant. This helps to achieve highest product quality and longevity – the machine thus laid the foundation for the well-known Comet Vacuum Capacitor quality. 

Read more about Comet’s first steps in the semiconductor market in the annual report of the Comet Group 

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