Why do you ask? I asked him.
And then he explained something in a way, with a new perspective that I hadn't thought of. My (simple) assumption was that the intellectual property was the target, but this guy, a technologist presiding over a large manufacturing company assured me that my assumption was flawed. Here it is...
So this company manufactures heat sinks. My assumption was that attackers wanted the heat sinks. NOOOO!
Think complex. Heat sinks are manufactured to run coolant through channels that are cut into the metal. They may be really small, but at electrically significant spacing. This precision is incredibly hard to do. Attackers don't want the fish, they want to learn how to fish! They want to learn how to do this type of precision machining so they can pump them out themselves.
The same holds true with optics --lasers, scopes, and any kind of high precision optic grinding. They want the process.
I feel like I've been whacked in the head to make the lightbulb come on!