Focus on growth

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Trioptics has grown rapidly in the past three years, as Warren Clark discovers

It’s been an exciting three years for Trioptics, a company last profiled in Electro Optics during 2009. Now, in 2012, the company is celebrating 20 years of successful operation, and has more than doubled its workforce in the past 36 months.

The company was founded by Eugen Dumitrescu in 1992 in the town of Wedel, close to Hamburg, north Germany. It quickly established itself as a leading provider of optical test equipment across a range of fields, including photonics.

‘We have experienced very steep growth,’ says Dumitrescu. ‘For example, in 2011, our revenues increased by 100 per cent compared to 2010. We’ve grown from 40 employees to 95 in our head office here, and we’ve made huge investments in research and development. In fact, more than half of our employees are engaged in R&D, including those with degrees in engineering, those with PhDs, software engineers and so on.’

R&D is at the heart of the Trioptics operation, and the department is now at a size when it can cope with between five and seven concurrent research projects at any one time. ‘These projects come about in different ways,’ continues Dumitrescu. ‘Often, we are researching a product type in response to a customer need, and where we see market potential. We’ll work with potential customers, and develop products right through until the point at which we can introduce them to the market.

Eugen Dumitrescu, general manager of Trioptics

‘We also engage in paid research projects funded by other parties, such as the EU or government organisations, where we work as part of a much larger group of companies and institutes. One of these, for example, is a European project involving 14 organisations aimed at developing technology to produce micro-optics on wafers. Another example here in Germany is looking at ways of measuring varifocal lenses based on wavefront technology.’

The result of this commitment to R&D in recent years has been the introduction of several new technologies in the field of photonics. Trioptics built its reputation in photonics by providing products for measuring centration errors, alignment of optics, optical components, and anything to do with the assembly of optics. It has also introduced products for automated assembly, enabling these measurement functions to be carried out during the manufacturing process.

More recently, the range has been extended to include products aimed at semiconductors and microlithography, as well as those for specific purposes such as endoscope optics up to 0.5mm.

‘Our capabilities have improved to a point where we can measure optics for microlithography up to 800mm in diameter, and objective lenses up to 2 metres in height, weighing up to 2 tonnes,’ says Dumitrescu. ‘So, we now have an assembly area dedicated to the huge instruments needed for such measurements.’

Specific product developments have included the OptiCentric 3D, which is capable of measuring centration errors in objective lenses, and incorporates technology to measure air gaps between lenses. ‘This has become one of our best-selling products, with a very steep growth in revenue,’ says Dumitrescu. The company has also introduced the TriAngle 3D, an enhanced version of its successful TriAngle product that can now measure angles in three directions – pitch, yaw and roll.

Up until fairly recently, Trioptics’ products catered for the visible range, but another development within the last few years has been the introduction of products for the UV and infrared markets.

Perhaps the most significant driver for revenue growth has been the company’s involvement in the smart phone market. These devices require specific types of objective lenses for use on the camera element of the phones.

‘We developed a technique that allows us to measure these very specific types of lenses, and over the last three years, we’ve provided measurement equipment to just about all the major suppliers to the mobile phone market,’ says Dumitrescu. ‘We’ve made huge investments here – we’ve increased the ability, accuracy and speed of measurement of this equipment. Also, because of the instant popularity of our products, we’ve had to invest in manufacturing capability ourselves, as we had to produce hundreds and hundreds of products in a very short space of time. We have been over to Asia to see production lines that are outputting two million lenses per day, and it’s very impressive to be able to see so many of our instruments in use.’

The rate of growth of the past three years is showing no signs of slowing up. ‘We are still hiring new people every month,’ says Dumitrescu. ‘We’re already working on the next challenge, which is to integrate our measurement technology for mobile phone lenses directly into the assembly production line – at the moment the checking at our instruments is a separate process.’

The automotive industry has also driven growth, with vehicles using an increasing array of cameras and optical sensors, and Trioptics has supplied measurement modules for the alignment of optics in this sector. ‘We believe that the growth in this sector will be similar to that we’ve just experienced in the smart phone sector,’ concludes Dumitrescu.

The company structure has also evolved, with Trioptics strengthening its position in the US via the acquisition of the California-based Davison Optronics. Importantly, Davison was already an established name, particularly in the military sector, and the acquisition has given Trioptics a foothold in this key market. This year, there has been a further acquisition in the form of Wells Research, a small company on the East Coast of the US with expertise in MTF equipment. ‘This not only gives us a presence on both sides of the US,’ says Dumitrescu, ‘but it also enables us to provide local technical and sales support for our own products that are sold over there.’

Trioptics has also extended its presence in China, which has become a major market for the company. It has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chengdu. Also, the company’s presence in Japan has extended beyond an office to also include a small R&D facility. Trioptics also acquired a product line of interferometers from Swiss company Fisba Optik, as part of which it gained a small company in Berlin that had previously looked after these products for Fisba.

After such a period of rapid growth, Trioptics is looking to consolidate its position as a leading name in optical measurement techniques, and the ongoing improvements to its product portfolio are putting it in the very best position to do just that.