This little-known Japanese company is a key player in the leading-edge chip industry—and that's setting it up for success amid the AI boom

Read or watch anything on the semiconductor industry, and the same names pop up again and again. There are the chipmakers: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation, Samsung Electronics or Intel, the companies who make the leading-edge chips that power the devices we use every day. Then there are the famous chip designers, like Nvidia, AMD and Arm. Maybe, if you dive a little deeper, you might encounter ASML, the Dutch company that makes the extreme ultraviolet lithography machines that make those advanced chips.

But the semiconductor industry is much broader than that. There’s a whole web of companies that play an important role in enabling the leading-edge and mature chipmakers to make the tiny pieces of silicon that go into our phones, fridges and washing machines. There are companies that supply the gases and materials, that make the chip making tools, and that make the parts that go into these tools. 

And then there’s Lasertec: A little-known company that makes the inspection systems that verify chip designs made using EUVs. 

Lasertic is one of 30 firms featured on the Asia Future 30, Fortune’s list compiled in partnership with BCG that highlights companies in the region best positioned for future growth. (You can access the full list here, and the Future 50—which highlights 50 companies from around the world—here).

The Yokohama, Japan-based Lasertec was founded in 1960, known then as Tokyo ITV Laboratory. The company started by designing and developing X-ray TV cameras for medical applications, and expanded to providing inspection systems for the semiconductor industry in the mid-70s. The company changed its name to Lasertec in the mid-80s.

But 2017 was the year that set Lasertec apart from the competition, when the Japanese firm developed the first inspection system for EUVs. 

EUV machines—only made by ASML—cost at least $200 million each, with more advanced versions costing over $300 million. But the price tag is worth it for customers like TSMC: It’s the only way to make the most advanced chips at scale. 

But chipmakers need to inspect and certify that the chips made by EUVs are fit for use. That’s where Lastertec’s inspection tools come in. 

“Lasertec has established itself in inspection systems for EUVs and has partnerships with leading-edge foundries like TSMC,” says Lucy Chen, co-founder of JL Advisory Group, a Taiwan-based semiconductor research firm. She adds that, based on her experience, Lasertec’s systems are better than its competitors.

Lasertec has a near-monopoly for inspection systems for EUV-based operations—and that’s been good news for the company’s shares amid the chip boom. Lasertec’s share price has increased by more than 1,500% over the past five years and it’s been part of the top-tier prime market of the Tokyo Stock Exchange since April 2022. 

yCXPk lasertec shares have surged in recent years even compared to other chip companies

And despite some weakness in the semiconductor sector in the past few years, Lasertec’s sales and profits have still increased significantly. The company reported net sales of 95 billion yen ($628 million) for the six months ending Dec 31. 2023, a 72.4% increase year-on-year, and recorded a net income of 22.2 billion yen ($147 million), a 63.4% increase on-year. 

In a February statement, the company credited “robust” investments in AI and “signs of recovery in consumer demand” for its forecast of a market recovery in 2024.

The chip supply chain, due to the technical expertise involved, is filled with near-monopolies: Nvidia for AI chips, TSMC for advanced chip manufacturing, and ASML for EUVs. But underneath the big names that dominate the globalized and highly-intertwined chip sector are many smaller companies that provide highly-advanced, technical services that are tough for a competitor to replicate.

And as governments in the U.S., Europe and beyond invest more heavily in advanced chip production, that could set up suppliers like Lasertec for future success.

The Asia Future 30created in a partnership between Fortune and BCG, highlights 30 companies across Asia that are best poised for the future growth. You can find the list here.

Fortune is hosting the inaugural Fortune Innovation Forum in Hong Kong on March 27–28. Experts, investors, and leaders of the world’s largest companies will come together to discuss “New Strategies for Growth,” or how companies can best seize opportunities in a fast-changing world.

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