August 9, 2020

Disk Master

Nearly 65 percent of every disk in the world is made on Intevac’s innovative equipment.

By Judd Spicer, California Business Journal.

Silicon Valley-based Intevac, a global industry leader in thin film processing systems and advanced, high-sensitivity digital sensors and cameras, has announced the release of Diamond Dog, its unique mobile-device screen protectors.

Broadly detailing the company’s purview, Wendell Blonigan, Intevac’s President and CEO, describes a two-pronged focus across both the hard drive, and defense industries. “Our equipment business focuses on thin film deposition systems for the hard drive industry — that’s been our core for a long time,” he says. “In hard drives, we deposit the magnetic metals on the disks inside the hard drive that store your data.”

Roughly 65 percent of every disk in the world is made on Intevac’s equipment.

Intevac’s other arm works directly with the U.S. Military.

“The other side of Intevac is our night vision sensors, cameras and systems, and this basically involves the digitizing of night vison technology for the military,” Blonigan says.  “And over the last six or seven years, this side of the business has found its stride; we outfitted the US military’s entire Apache Helicopter fleet, and we’re also providing night vision technology for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.”

While historically focused on aviation, Intevac’s work with the military has extended its night vision focus to an Integrated Digital Augmentation System, the next generation of technology for ground soldiers. “We have a unique responsibility, as we’re one of just a few companies that can manufacture technology like this,” Blonigan says.

Between Intevac’s dual focuses, shared ground is found. “The equipment business is a high-vacuum, sputtering technology, and the enabling facet of our digital night vision is the equipment that we’ve developed and manufactured to make the night vision sensors,” he says. “So, that’s the tie between the two divisions.  That’s our secret sauce.”

Not traditionally a consumer-based producer, the company’s call into the cellphone screen space started in concert with Blonigan’s own Intevac beginnings in 2013.

“What pulled us into this market was a project in 2013 that went on with Apple Inc., and a company called GT Advanced Technology, to change the front screens of cellphones to sapphire,” recalls Blonigan, referring to Diamond Dog’s inception. “Ultimately, that didn’t work out.  But that really put the focus in the industry on how to eliminate and reduce scratches on your phone; that’s what took us into this industry, in that several cellphone manufacturers could not access the sapphire — as Apple had pretty much cornered that — and wanted to figure out how to make the screens more scratch-resistant.”

Intevac’s disk-processing system served as the impetus for the protective layer provided by Diamond Dog ( “One of the last films that you put on a disk is diamond-like carbon, a unique material that is extremely hard, but is also a lubricant at some levels,” Blonigan says.  “If you look at carbon, at one end of the spectrum, its graphite, and at the other end is pure diamond, the hardest material you can get.  And this was the genesis of the film that we now put on our screen protectors (it’s trademarked Diamond Clad/Diamond-Like Carbon Coating).”

Wendell Blonigan, Intevac's President and CEO

Wendell Blonigan, Intevac’s President and CEO

Knowing the cellphone screen market, and re-engineering the film to be transparent, were both critical in Diamond Dog’s creation. “As we worked through the process, and went through years of testing and development, we put continued focus on how our screens performed with our diamond-clad technology,” Blonigan says.  “And we learned that most of the screen protectors out there are a marketing campaign. What we wanted to do was come in with something that was for real, and truly had a significant increase in performance, in contrast with what’s currently on the market.”

Never angling to compete in the cellphone ‘screen rack rate market’ (merely a “sacrificial layer” for a phone, says Blonigan), Intevac’s new screen venture ultimately provides sapphire-like performance — for a fraction of the price of actual sapphire.

Diamond Dog “soft launched” at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. “At our booth, we put out screws, knives and other sharp objects and asked the media members to try and scratch the Diamond Dog screen protectors– and they couldn’t do it. It was great,” Blonigan says with a laugh.

Diamond Dog, now ramping up production, is available for seven iPhone products with screens for Google and Samsung mobiles planned to be released later this year.

Launching a new product and managing a two-pronged business amid the global pandemic has seen Intevac’s mission and employees coalesce.

Operating as an “essential’ business in critical IT and defense infrastructures — as deemed by the Department of Homeland Security – Intevac’s hard drive and defense industry endeavors press forth amid the times of coronavirus.

“I’ve been very proud of how our employees have responded to this pandemic,” Blonigan says. “The work that they’re doing, they know it’s important, and I really see the company coming together in different ways than how we’d worked before.  When it’s all said and done, I think we’ll come out of this pandemic as better people, just as I see Intevac coming out of this as a better company.”

Copyright © 2020 California Business Journal. All Rights Reserved.



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