Advanced Thin Films, leading the way in ultra-high performance optics. From prototype to production, Advanced Thin Films is a trusted partner for the industry’s most demanding optics requirements.
Advanced Thin Films was formed in 2013 by merging two companies that were both based in Boulder, Colorado. Precision Photonics, originally founded in 1999, began as a telecommunications company and moved into optical components, particularly for industrial lasers. AT Films was founded in 2002 and mainly performed coating of optics for medical lasers and some research applications. In 2011, the IDEX Corporation acquired AT Films, and a year later, it bought Precision Photonics. IDEX identified that these companies complemented each other, and by 2013, the two had been merged into what is now Advanced Thin Films.
Advanced Thin Films has one manufacturing facility in Boulder, Colorado with approximately seventy employees on staff and is part of a larger group within the IDEX Corporation known as Optical Technologies, which has four additional locations around the world. There is a CVI Laser Optics business unit in Albuquerque, New Mexico; a CVI Infrared Optics unit in Leicester, England; a European distribution center for another brand within this group called Melles Griot, in Didem, Netherlands and a manufacturing plant for that same brand in Rochester, New York. These groups work together to make high performance optical components.
ATF’s customers depend on them to provide their system’s most critical components. Therefore, providing excellent products and customer experience are important to the company’s ability to succeed. Through IDEX Corporation, Advanced Thin Films is part of a value system that is based on trust, team and excellence. “Trust is a big part of what makes us a great collaborative team,” says Jessica Black, global director of sales at Advanced Thin Films. “It allows us to excel.”
Critically, these values describe not only internal relationships but also how the company relates to its customers. Advanced Thin Films specializes in designing and manufacturing specialized optical components. “We’re not a commodities manufacturer,” says David Samuels, key account manager with Advanced Thin Films. “We’re not pursuing lowest common denominator manufacturing at any IDEX location. We’re focused on the critical components and subsystems that allow our customers – all of whom are at the cutting edge of their industries – to maintain their technological advances.”
The company must be able to form a strong team to accomplish this, placing itself as an extension of the customers’ engineering department rather than a distinct third-party. Advanced Thin Films is honest about what obstacles can be expected in manufacturing a solution to the problem, and so customers must be open about concerns so that the company can find the answer that technologically enhances the product and allows the customer to go to market in the most cost-competitive way possible.
Today, the company concentrates primarily on lasers for the medical, industrial and defense sectors. Industrial applications are generally related to processing metal by cutting, welding, shaping, marking and engraving. These procedures require the ability to manage high-power lasers without significant absorption or thermal effect on the optical components. As customers drive higher powered lasers through these optical components, Advanced Thin Films’ manufacturing capabilities push the limits of the technology to adapt to their needs.
In the medical industry, the most common uses of Advanced Thin Films components are in dermatology and surgical lasers. The critical concerns are control and consistency. Many of these products must be cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which requires reliable manufacturing methods and product performance. Advanced Thin Films is ISO 9001-2015 certified, which means that it can guarantee that it will be dependable in its processes and in the components it produces. This is a critical aspect of manufacturing for the medical industry and a significant factor in the company’s ability to develop products for defense clients.
For the defense industry, the company works with pulsed lasers and high-power continuous wave (CW) lasers and more. Advanced Thin Films’ ability to work to custom specifications has enabled it to find opportunities in this sector, as these products are never made with off-the-shelf optical components. These use advanced technologies, so the company’s ability to work closely with its customers’ engineering team to build these unique components is critical. The company can build these solutions as prototypes as well as for volume production.
Over the last year and a half, Advanced Thin Films has really shown the extent of this ability to carry these products into full production, which is somewhat unique in its industry. The company can take complex prototype solutions and switch to high-volume production. “There are a lot of people who can solve the problem one time,” says Black, “but we’ve demonstrated over the last year and a half that we’re able to take those complicated solutions and reproduce them hundreds of times.”
The optical component manufacturing industry is stimulating. When a customer comes to Advanced Thin Films for a solution, it is likely that Advanced Thin Films is either the only, or one of a select group of companies in the world, that could make a part to satisfy that specification. Regarding competition, it is never a matter of whether or not the company can deliver the product faster or at a particular price point; it is a matter of being able to make the product at all. Quite often, the company is solving problems that have never been tackled before.
Working like this requires a great deal of trust and teamwork between the company and the customer. Advanced Thin Films works diligently to have an open and efficient flow of information internally so that the employees who are communicating with customers are aware of the state of the process and how their particular components are proceeding along the floor.
“I know where things are,” says David Samuels. “I know where the parts are along the floor, and I’m openly communicating that information to our customers so that there are no surprises.” This commitment to cooperation between the company and the customer is a powerful approach that makes Advanced Thin Films stand out among competing companies.
Being able to work so closely with a customer’s engineering team is of vital importance, but it only works as a result of the level of expertise at the firm. Advanced Thin Films has some of the world’s best engineers working to ensure that it is making parts in the most effective way possible. It has an unrivaled team of technicians, who do an exceptional job of inspecting parts, cleaning them and making sure that they are ready for immediate use.
One of the most substantial ways it can reduce costs for a customer is by handling inspection. Often, when customers buy parts from a vendor, that vendor cannot guarantee that the parts meet the specification. In this case, the customer buys components and has them inspected, anticipating that some percent will fail. This entire trouble is eliminated by Advanced Thin Films’ inspection process.
“We’re able to remove that cost by having inspectors that, if anything, are even more exacting than our customers inspectors are,” says Samuels. “So our customers know that when they open the box, those parts are going to be exactly what they ordered. They’re going to be clean, ready for use, and they’re going to work each and every time.” In the exciting optical component manufacturing industry, Advanced Thin Films is among the best in the world.