Kemet Corp. is not a household name.
But its products — capacitors — are components that are essential parts of electronic devices in your home: cellphones, computers, tablets, digital cameras, electronic games and toys as well as other electronic gizmos.
Its capacitors also are found in many other places. Kemet shipped more than 35 billion capacitors over the last year for use in auto electronics, defense and aerospace systems, communications systems, power management systems and almost anything that plugs into an electric socket or uses a battery.
“Our capacitors have been to the moon and back,” said Per Loof, the Fort Lauderdale-based CEO of Kemet. “And they’ve gone to Mars.”
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Kemet is a global manufacturer and supplier of capacitors (formerly called condensers), which store, filter and regulate electric energy and current flow.
Capacitors range from tiny dots and silver cylinders on a circuit board to heavy components the size of a small log.
Different types have different applications. They can be made of ceramics, aluminum, tantalum, palladium, silver, paper and plastic film and other materials. They are fundamental components in electronic circuits, which are used virtually everywhere.
The name Kemet was likely developed in the company’s earliest days to mean a combination of “chemical” and “metallurgy,” said Loof, a native of Sweden who trained as an economist at the Stockholm School of Economics.
The company’s roots go back to 1919, when it was manufacturing components for vacuum tubes as part of Union Carbide Corp. As vacuum tubes were replaced by transistors, Kemet began manufacturing tantalum capacitors in 1958. Since then, it has expanded its capacitor line and today is one of the world’s leading suppliers.
“We sell to the ‘who’s who’ in the electronics industry,” Loof said, “including some companies we can’t name.”
Among the customers Kemet named in its last annual report were IBM, Cisco Systems, Bosch, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Intel, as well as auto makers, the military and aerospace companies. Kemet’s Florida clients include Heico and Jabil Circuit.
The publicly traded company has two headquarters — Fort Lauderdale for its CEO and executive team and Simpsonville, South Carolina, as its registered headquarters, plus manufacturing and innovation facilities. It has a total of 20 manufacturing centers worldwide, and about 9,800 employees.
About 35 work at the Fort Lauderdale offices, including senior executives like the CFO, marketing, HR and legal professionals, plus support staff for Latin America operations.
Most of Kemet’s employees are based abroad at the company’s manufacturing centers in Mexico, Europe and Asia. Less than 600 work in the U.S.
Why Fort Lauderdale for global company?
“Strategically, this is a good place to be,” said Loof, who took over as Kemet’s CEO 10 years ago. In his previous job as president and CEO of South Florida-based Sensormatic Electronics, Loof, who has extensive experience in management, consulting and technology, led a successful turnaround at Sensormatic and negotiated the company’s sale to Tyco International in 2001.
Loof and other company executives are constantly traveling to Kemet facilities and meeting with customers at their home offices in and outside the the country, he said.
“We’re close to three international airports, so that makes Fort Lauderdale very convenient. And recruiting is easier here than in South Carolina.”
Aside from personnel working on production lines around the world, Kemet needs highly specialized professionals in this competitive, high-tech sector.
“We invest about three percent of revenue each year in R&D and need to attract top engineers and scientists,” said Loof, who has served as Honorary Consul of Sweden for Florida since 2006 and was recently elected to the prestigious Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Scientists.
Kemet currently employees about 600 engineers and some 35 PhDs in material science, chemistry and other fields.
Kemet works in a highly competitive sector, vying with companies like AVX Corp. and Vishay in the U.S., and several others – like Panasonic and Sanyo – in Asia.
But the industry will grow as demand for newer electronic devices expands in consumer electronics, military and aviation, manufacturing and other areas.
A 2014 study by Paumanok Publications, a market research firm that concentrates on the passive components industry (capacitors), predicted that the global capacitor market would grow substantially in coming years, with a volume increase of 29 percent between fiscal years 2014 and 2019 and revenue growth of 24 percent.
The study, cited in Kemet’s 2014 annual report, estimated as a base that global capacitor sales in fiscal 2014 were $18.3 billion and totaled 1.59 trillion units.
“Capacitors are getting smaller and more powerful,” Loof said.
Loof, who is active in local civic and charitable organizations, is particularly proud of his company’s investments in a conflict-free tantalum mine in Kisengo, an isolated village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has large natural deposits of the metal.
While Kemet makes several types of capacitors, tantalum is essential for one of its main product lines.
“We partnered with a mining company in the Congo to develop a comprehensive, socially and economically sustainable sourcing model,” said Loof.
The supply chain begins with tantalum ore sourced from the conflict-free Katanga Province of the DRC using a special, closed-pipe system that keeps ore from other sources out of the mining process.
Conflict free means that Kemet and its partners monitor the operations to ensure that there are no human rights or labor abuses, such as child labor or forced labor, and that the tantalum ore comes only from approved mining sites.
“We have created jobs for the region. And we’ve contributed to building schools and hospitals and staffing them with Congolese doctors. This is a sustainable project.”
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Business: A global manufacturer and supplier of a wide range of capacitors — electronic components — that are essential parts of most circuit boards. Capacitors are used in communications systems, data processing, PCs, cellphones, auto electronics, defense and aerospace systems, consumer electronics and other electronic devices. With 20 production facilities in North America, Europe and Asia, Kemet shipped 35 billion capacitors in fiscal year 2014, which ended March 31, 2014. It also owns a majority of common stock in NEC Tokin, a Japanese capacitor manufacturer.
Founded: In 1919 as a part of Union Carbide Corp. to make components for vacuum tubes.
Headquarters: Simpsonville, South Carolina (manufacturing and innovation) and 101 NE Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale (executive offices).
CEO: Per Loof
Employees: About 9,800 worldwide and more than 35 at the Fort Lauderdale headquarters.
Revenues: Nearly $834 million in fiscal year 2014.
Customers: Alcatel-Lucent, Bosch, Cisco Systems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Heico, IBM, Intel, Jabil Circuit, Nokia, TRW and others.
Ownership: Publicly traded (NYSE: KEM)