We talked to Iker García on why AOTECH is the best option to apply photonic solutions to all types of industrial processes and he had the following to say about it:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Iker García: We are fine, thanks. These times are difficult for everybody, especially now that many people are losing their beloved family members. We are all healthy, and that’s already quite an achievement! However, it’s hard to be away from family for so long, especially for my mum; she is looking forward to seeing her grandchildren again. Hopefully, with everybody’s efforts, this complicated situation will end soon.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded AOTECH.
Iker García: I received the MSc and Ph.D. degrees in 2006 and 2017, respectively, in telecommunications engineering from the University of the Basque Country, where I worked as a Research Associate, developing several optical fibre sensors. My Ph.D. work focused on the development of different optical sensors for aeronautical engine characterization. As a consequence of this research work, I published 16 scientific articles and participated in 20 international conferences related to photonics and/or aeronautics.
After working in technical sales for 3 years in a company dedicated to the manufacture of equipment for the food industry, I founded AOTECH, a company dedicated to developing photonic solutions for the industry, mainly focused on the Food, Pharma, Water and Aeronautical industries.
How does AOTECH innovate?
Iker García: AOTECH started with the goal of bringing photonics to the industry. In my university experience, I realized that many innovations and investigations remained there in papers and never came true out in real life. That’s why I decided to create a company that would help bring to light all that knowledge, working hand in hand with the University of the Basque Country.
Apart from that, we are also developing our own R&D. Nowadays, we have developed a platform for the in-line measurement of different parameters based on spectroscopy for the Food and Pharma industries. This system enables us to achieve a real-time product characterization that ensures the product’s quality from the entry of raw materials to the final product. What makes our platform different is that we customize it to each client’s specifications, thus achieving an accessible cost, contrary to the expensive multifunctional platforms already in the market. With this system, we want to contribute to the food industry’s digitization and its immersion in industry 4.0.
For the water sector, in our last project, funded by European Union through the DIVA programme, we have designed and manufactured a prototype of an optical biosensor for the in-line detection of heavy metal ions in water. This sensor is characterized by its high sensitivity, short response time, specificity, and small size. Two prototypes have been designed for the detection of copper and lead, respectively. The results obtained in this project are promising, so we will find more funds that help us completely develop this innovative technology that we are looking forward to marketing.
And finally, in aeronautics, we have developed our AOTT-TC system to measure Tip Clearance and Tip Timing in turbines, compressors, and fans. These parameters are related to the performance and mechanical behaviour of the rotor blades. Currently, there are different technologies for these measurements (capacitive, inductive sensors, strain gauges, etc.), but ours is a new system based on optical sensors that increases the performance of the systems used to date. In addition, the optical sensors that make up our system allow TC and TT measurements to be carried out using the same sensor, with the consequent savings in both installation-calibration times and economic expense. They can also be designed with different operating ranges, so they are perfectly adjusted to the particular conditions of each turbine, compressor, or fan.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Iker García: Fortunately, we are deep in a product development stage, so the coronavirus pandemic has not affected us that much. Obviously, we have suffered mobility restrictions that have delayed the development of some of our projects, with our offices and laboratory closed we had to postpone some work, etc. To solve these inconveniences, we have teleworked as much as we have been able to, in fact, one of our policies is the non-presenteeism basis work; and to solve the laboratory close-down effects, we have hired an extra engineer, so our projects have gone ahead.
However, one of the main industries we are aimed at is aeronautics, which has been one of the most affected sectors due to the pandemic. That’s the reason why we have focused mainly on food, pharma and water sectors product development since aeronautics is facing great difficulties nowadays.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Iker García: We have had to adapt to the circumstances, working from home and establishing new flexibility that allowed us to face the restrictions coming.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Iker García: Well, when you are an entrepreneur, researcher, father of daughter and son and many other things, there is no time for stress and anxiety!! However, it’s true that after long hours of work, what I like most is to spend my time with my family. To see how my children grow up, my son is now learning to walk! I am really passionate about it, and it makes me forget about stress, tiredness and all.
Sometimes, taking my bicycle and going for a ride helps me calm down and relax.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Iker García: In the food sector, our main competitors are companies that commercialize general purposed systems, which result very expensive and complicated for most medium and small size food companies, which mostly lack qualified staff to manipulate them. However, our innovative system offers an affordable solution since it is customized to each customer’s specifications. Besides, we offer a calibration and maintenance service, which makes our solution available for all of them.
In the water sector, we don’t know whether any company is commercializing any product similar to the one we are developing.
And in aeronautics, our main competitors are located in the USA, which is a clear disadvantage to give a post-selling service as we offer.
Your final thoughts?
Iker García: I am optimistic about the coming years. The pandemic effects will gradually pass, and we will soon return to normal in which we can develop all our projects successfully.
For us, 2021 is a promising year, as we will start with the commercialization of our products, and we hope to have great results!!!