CTO interview: KEMET celebrates 100 years

March 14, 2019 //By Peter Clarke
CTO interview: KEMET celebrates 100 years
KEMET Electronics Corp. (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) – now known as a world-leading manufacturer of passive components – is celebrating 100 years since its formation as a subsidiary of Union Carbide. eeNews Europe caught up with the company's CTO Philip Lessner to offer congratulations.

Lessner explained that the father of the 100-year old company was a gifted chemist from Cleveland, Ohio – Hugh Cooper – who, while working in his garage in 1916, developed an alloy of beryllium and aluminum that proved useful in the manufacture of vacuum tubes. The alloy – which he called Cooperite – displays high thermal conductivity, light weight and high-strength and its use helped extend the life of vacuum tubes and drive an electronic revolution.

In 1919, he sold his patents to Union Carbide Corp, which formed KEMET (CHEmical-METallurgical) Laboratories with Cooper as its director. From that starting point the company also got into the chemistry of "gettering" to complete and maintain the vacuum in those tubes.

From that small beginning the company has grown to be one with 16,000 employees, 24 manufacturing locations and annual revenues of more than $1.3 billion. Kemet offers a broad range of tantalum, ceramic, film and electrolytic capacitors and has branched out into sensing, actuators, magnetic components and packaging technologies.

However, the first half of Kemet's history was as a materials company driven by the growth of vacuum tube electronics. Then in 1947 came the invention of the transistor and it quickly became clear that vacuum tube use would decline as transistor use increased and that Kemet needed to add other strings to its bow. In the mid-1950s the company decided to enter the tantalum capacitor business which it did commercially in 1958; followed by multilayer ceramic capacitors (MLCCs) in the 1960s. This fuelled Kemet's growth through to the 1980s.

However, Union Carbide was still predominantly a materials company and it struggled financially following the Bhopal gas tragedy, which occurred December 2, 1984 at the Union Carbide India Ltd. pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.

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