Interview by Will Soutter
Ardic Instruments is a new analytical instruments company with a fresh approach to their pricing, support and service. They are launching a beta program for their disruptive new P100 AFM at Semicon 2013 Taiwan this week (booth #984) - AZoNano talked to CEO Edward Chyau about the features of the new product and how Ardic plans to make a splash in the AFM market.
WS: Ardic Instruments is launching the P100 AFM this week - first of all, what are the key features of this new AFM that make it stand out?
EC: Most noticeably, the P100 AFM has a disruptive $22,000 transparent global list price. Another very important feature is our astigmatic detection optical design, which allows users to skip the laser and detector alignment process completely. We’ve also designed a highly intuitive AFM control software, which features a One-click Scan function that automates the entire tuning, sample engagement, force curve, and scanning process.
WS: What types of users is the P100 aimed at?
EC: From its price to its usability, we’ve designed the P100 to be the most accessible AFM ever made. We think both novice and advanced users will appreciate the product for its simplicity and practicality. The academic and industrial AFM users that we’ve been testing our products with were amazed by how little training was required to operate the system.
WS: One of the major drivers in AFM development recently has been reducing the barrier to entry, and it looks like Ardic Instruments is pushing hard in that direction with the P100. What are the main considerations you made in the design of the instrument to enhance usability?
EC: We believe reducing the barrier to entry for AFMs extends beyond the design of the instrument and involves everything including the purchasing, support, and repair process. Observing the other successful and ubiquitous products of this century, we understand that customers have excellent experiences only when the company pays attention to all points of interaction.
Using our online store, customers can quickly learn about the P100 and place an order. When the user first receives the AFM in a box, it should take only a few minutes to plug in the system and install the software. Since our design requires no laser and detector alignment, the user simply needs to align the AFM probe and use our One-click Scan function. Everything else is completely automated using predictive algorithms. If the user has any questions, they have access to resources including an online live chat, knowledge base, ticketing service, and can even ask us questions through twitter.
WS: AFMs are being used in more and more settings beyond the typical materials research lab - from biological research to large-throughput industrial inspection. How will the P100 cater to these broader markets?
EC: For biological research and large-throughput industrial inspection, we actually have several exciting products in the pipeline. However, when speaking of broader markets, we have seen many unanticipated markets arise due to the price and usability of our product. This includes textiles manufacturers wanting to inspect the nanoparticles on their fibers and police academies wanting to use our AFM for forensics. We are really looking forward to new markets adopting the AFM as nanomaterials become more and more prevalent.
WS: The AFM market is well established, with many companies offering already competing instruments. What new ideas does Ardic Instruments plan to bring to the market?
EC: With the next few products we’re bringing to the market, our competitors and customers will notice we are innovating on not just the product performance, but also addressing the many other facets of our customer’s needs. At a design innovation conference I went to several years ago, a brilliant consulting company taught the audience about ten different types of innovation. Of the ten types of innovation, the product itself only covers one type. They showed how brands like Zappos, Zipcar, Walmart, and Nespresso innovated well beyond the product performance. We hope to do the same for the analytical instruments industry.
WS: How do you see atomic force microscopy advancing in the next 5-10 years?
EC: Wow. A lot can happen in 5-10 years. As atomic force microscopes get faster and faster, we can expect real-time atomic force microscopy. The visual experience should be no different than an optical microscope or SEM, which will have incredible implications on life science research. It should also be as easy to use as a basic optical microscope.
We can also expect AFMs to be so accessible that almost every lab has one as a standard piece of equipment. Manufacturing equipment across many industries will probably also start integrating modular forms of the AFM into their systems.
WS: How will Ardic Instruments’ product strategy fit into this development?
EC: We have research plans and partnerships laid out to address all of the aforementioned scenarios. Fundamentally, it still comes down to the design of simple, affordable, and high performance instruments that users love to use.
WS: Do you have any plans to move into other areas of analytical instrumentation?
EC: The exciting part about Ardic Instruments is that we already have several pipelines of technologies that address other areas, such as molecular diagnostics and MEMS research. We have become experts in working with research partners to quickly commercialize their cutting-edge technology. We want to adopt the same approach to customer experience and accessibility for other areas of instrumentation. We think we can be pretty disruptive.
About Edward Chyau
Edward Chyau is the founder and CEO of Ardic Instruments. Working with leading research labs, Edward and his team brings to market cutting-edge technologies with innovative strategies. Edward specializes in growing technology companies and leveraging multidisciplinary product development processes.
He founded a business accelerator in 2008 and currently sits on the board of 9 technology companies. Edward holds a master’s degree in applied biology and a bachelor’s in materials science and engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.