Thoughts on Turning Points and Scientific Innovation

Scientific research has always been global to some extent, with major contributions coming from around the world. But globalization has sped up, with increasing exchanges of ideas, research tools, and scientific collaboration, all made possible by the development of the internet. Micro Photonics has played its own part in this transformation since its founding in 1992, and we are proud to take a look back at some of the milestones over that period.

Consider these events …

-The first website on the World Wide Web went live in August, 1991. The site explained the concept of the Web and purported to provide links to “everything there is online about W3.”

Figure 1: Screenshot:

-Adobe introduced the PDF or portable document format in 1992 as a way to share computer documents. It was officially released as an open standard in 2008 and has a Multilanguage reader for international use.

-The early commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) appeared in the early 1990s, making it possible for more users to access and utilize the Web.

-Netscape Navigator launched in 1994, the first real web browser with a graphical interface that made the web broadly accessible. Netscape is considered the gateway to the early Web, and is said to have evoked a new frontier.

-AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe arrived on the scene in 1995, greatly expanding access and use of the early internet. Popular webmail services (such as Hotmail) appeared on the scene in the late 1990s.

-By 2000, we were just beginning to understand the impact of the internet—on the science and technology industries, the global economy, and how people access information and collaborate in this changed world.

In these first years of the developing internet, Micro Photonics was born, evolved, and has been making contributions to research science over the last 25 years.

Our CEO and founder, George Ferrio, recounts Micro Photonics’ key milestones since 1992:

Micro Photonics was formed in September 1992 to distribute innovative products developed and manufactured in Europe to the U.S. research market.  The original product list included scientific CCD cameras; mechanical properties testers for film adhesion, hardness, and scratch resistance; and end point detection equipment used in the semiconductor industry. We handled the transit costs, import duties, and foreign currency conversion, so, from our customers’ point of view, it was as easy to buy the products we offered as a domestic-made product.  We also handled first line technical support, which was often a concern when buying products from Europe.

My background was in technical sales.  I started with the Advanced Products Department of Air Products, which manufactured a range of products based on cryogenic cooling.  From there, I worked as a product manager for Microscience, a Boston-based company that imported innovative products but also manufactured its own line of deposition equipment for thin film deposition for semiconductor, diamond-like carbon, and high temperature superconductivity applications.

In 1992, neither the internet nor e-mail were in general use for business communications so press releases, brochure mailings, and trade show exhibitions were the main marketing methods; phone and fax were the main communication methods.

Turning points in Micro Photonics’ growth:

-Hiring technical support staff in January of 1995 and January of 1997 to handle the increasingly complex instruments we were offering. These staff members provided on-site installation and training for the instruments we sold, and provided after-sales support as well.

-Creating and launching our own website in spring of 1996.

-Opening a California office in Irvine in the fall of 1997. With this move, we made a decision to have each office specialize in one or two application areas rather than to using the two offices as geographic locations offering all products. The California office specialized in instrumentation for mechanical properties testing (hardness, scratch adhesion testing).  The Pennsylvania office handled the products for end point detection, surface roughness measurement, and film thickness measurement.

-Investing in demonstration equipment for both offices, starting in 1998. The impetus was to allow customers to try the instruments for their particular applications before purchase. This allowed our customer to justify the funding for their purchases by showing specific results on their samples.  The instruments also allowed us to offer backup to our customers if their instruments were temporarily down.

-Developing a secondary market for contract testing. These were customers who were not interested in buying an instrument, but had occasional requirements to test samples. Our applications experience greatly increased with the growth of the contract testing market.

-Distributing Skyscan Micro-CT instruments in 1999. At the time this CT technique was mainly performed at synchrotron facilities at Brookhaven National Labs and Argonne National Labs.  Skyscan pioneered desktop instruments which could be used in users’ labs rather than at these facilities.  Our demonstration systems helped us to quickly qualify new applications benefiting from this technique.  We’ve sold over 180 instruments in the U.S. for material science and life science applications and are currently operating four instruments in our applications lab.

Our success over 25 years has been based on three things:

First, we are a company of engineers who are focused on understanding our customers’ applications and recommending the most suitable instrument for them.

Second, we provide installation and customer training, which enables our customers to maximize the benefit of the instruments.

Third, we provide long-term support through service contracts and training, which helps to ensure that these laboratory instruments can remain useful over an extended lifetime.

Further thoughts:

Much like the instant peer-to-peer capability provided by today’s social media, the scientific research community has always been very close-knit during these 25 years. Our customers communicate with each other about their experiences with instruments they’ve purchased.  If the experience is negative, colleagues may be less inclined to purchase that instrument.  If the experience is positive, colleagues may be inclined to purchase the same instrument.  So, our focus has always been to provide a positive experience.

Success on the support side requires a sense of urgency, good teamwork, and good communication.  We’ve been successful in educating our more successful vendors about these requirements. We’ve also ended our relationship with vendors with very innovative products who were unable to meet our standards for reliability.

If we, as a distributor, are competing for an instrument sale with a manufacturer of another product, we cannot afford to be seen as less knowledgeable about the instrument or its application. Some of the key benefits of our application lab are the product and application knowledge it brings to us.

~ George Ferrio
Founder and CEO, Micro Photonics

Micro Photonics Lab

Looking forward:

“None of us can see the future, but we can count on the fact that innovations will continue to abound,” says Tim Sledz, President and COO of Micro Photonics, “and we will endeavor to remain on the cutting edge of that innovation.” Scientific American, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, published a special report in June 2017 on the top ten emerging technologies. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) are at tip of the iceberg, along with a wide array of advances in biotech, medicine, environmental science, agricultural science, pharmaceuticals, and quantum computing, among many others. Some will be disruptive and world-changing; others will bring quiet, incremental change. We at Micro Photonics will continue to play a vital role providing research instruments, installation, training, lab services, and support to the research community.

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