Nurturing a niche

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Warren Clark discovers how EOPC has grown its business by servicing a very specific market well

The world of photonics is filled with success stories of businesses exploiting very defined niches within the market, and then sticking to what they know and doing it better than their competitors. One such example of this is EOPC (Electro-Optical Products Corporation), based in New York City, USA.

Founded in 1992 by Ziva Tuchman, EOPC set out to serve the photonics market with a range of defined products.

Trained as an electromechanical designer, Tuchman had spent time in the industry working for other companies and spotted an opportunity to develop tuning fork choppers and resonant scanners. She felt that existing products on the market were either far too expensive or of insufficient quality for the projects on which she was working.

‘When we started the company, we always had a plan to keep it small and keep control,’ says Tuchman, the owner and CEO. Her husband, an electronic engineer, is the company’s driving force in terms of technology development. Indeed, his previous employment included making resonant devices for the scientific division of Bulova Watch Company and later for Klinger Scientific.

‘I made a conscious decision that if we ever needed extra help, we would subcontract out,’ continues Tuchman. ‘I decided to offer a mix of standard line, custom line and OEM products, all of which would be of the very highest quality. They had to be well performing and at a low price.’

Having developed its first products – initially in response to a mutual contact at an aerospace company – EOPC attended its first exhibition in Boston late in 1992. ‘I turned up with a suitcase of products,’ recalls Tuchman. ‘Everyone flocked to our products, and everything has developed since that moment.’

EOPC now has a portfolio of more than 30 products, including choppers, scanners and deflectors, and more recently, laser safety shutters.

The reputation that the company has built up in its almost 20 years of operation has ensured plenty of repeat business, with Tuchman estimating that around 60 per cent of EOPC’s turnover comes from returning customers. ‘This makes for a very stable business,’ she says. ‘Also, the diversification of our customer base helps here; we have universities, research institutes, mid and large companies. If a recession comes along, we’re not so exposed to one market or another and can cope with it well.’

The niche nature of EOPC’s core products means the company attracts business from around the world, and in a range of markets too – scientific, medical, military, aerospace and industrial instrumentation. ‘Having to serve these high-level markets keeps us at the cutting edge of technology,’ says Tuchman.

‘EOPC is committed to a few simple strategies,’ she adds, ‘starting with innovation. We always want to improve our products, so what we have now is never satisfactory. We always believe there is another line to cross, perhaps through improved materials or better performance and so on. We’re constantly looking to add new features and options to existing products.

‘We’re also committed to quality performance at every step of the production process. Every product we make is 100 per cent tested for stability, reliability and accuracy.

‘When it goes out, we don’t want to see it again. The only time we hear from customers again is when they place their next order. As most of our customers are OEMs, we work with customers until they are completely satisfied. This close relationship pays off for us, because when they want something new, they call us first – and many of our customers know us on first-name terms.’

Ziva Tuchman, owner and CEO , EOPC

The tuning fork choppers and resonant scanners EOPC produces are long life. They are good for light, plasma, X-ray and laser light, VIS, IR, UV, high temperature, vacuum and cryogenic use. This makes them attractive for many uses, not the least of which is aerospace, where instrumentation is expected to work for several decades without the need for maintenance. The inherent natural motion of the resonant devices means there is very little that can malfunction.

‘The products look very simple and elegant,’ says Tuchman, ‘yet they are complicated to build. It is not something that a layman could replicate in his basement, which is why we have almost no competitors in this market.’

Tuchman also stresses that volume makes a huge difference to price when it comes to resonant devices, especially the resonant scanners which are very different from galvos, where the price stays pretty much the same no matter how many a company orders. ‘Resonant devices can be cheaper and have a lifetime 10 or 20 times longer than galvos or rotating choppers,’ she adds.

EOPC has achieved its goal of staying small and staying in control. Every aspect of product design and manufacture is carried out on site, with occasional products sent out to OEMs for assembly.

So, what defines EOPC? ‘We’d like to think that customers see us as the home of breakthrough devices,’ says Tuchman. ‘Our products are unique. Nobody else manufactures tuning fork choppers; we’re the only volume manufacturer of resonant scanners.

‘We also have other qualities, such as our ability to achieve fast delivery, which is a huge factor for OEMs when entering production. The company tries not to be average – average is not good enough. We have high expectations of ourselves and our products. We have great confidence in the quality and lifetime of our products, so we can send them up into space or put them in medical instrumentation knowing that they will continue to work for years.

‘We know our customers respect us,’ concludes Tuchman. ‘We are constantly asked about creating new products. People have faith that we can create a product that meets their needs, that’s how our laser safety shutters came to be.

‘We were asked by a customer to design a product that turned out to be significantly cheaper and of higher quality than anything else that was available.

‘We respect our customers and keep them happy, and that keeps them coming back. When they grow, we grow with them – and they also tell other people about us. About 25 per cent of our business comes via word of mouth.

‘We talk with people all over the world, we provide them with products that satisfy their needs and if we cannot we try to point them in the right direction and that’s just wonderful.’