In this interview, AZoNano talks to Michal Rabara, President and CEO of TESCAN USA Inc., about their unique microscopy solutions, service, and how these combine to benefit researchers in different applicational areas.
Please could you introduce our readers to TESCAN and the work that you do?
TESCAN is a unique microscope manufacturer. It combines the vitality and flexibility of a smaller, younger organization with decades of experience in electron microscopy. TESCAN was established in 1991 but its memoirs are much longer than that. The people that started TESCAN came from Tesla, a Czechoslovak firm that have been developing electron microscopes since the 1950s. They had advanced technology even then. One of their first TEMs was awarded the Gold medal at the Expo in 1958. The engineering tradition is one of the factors that made TESCAN successful. Then there is the enthusiastic nature and likeable personality that has remained with us until today. We are particular about keeping our animated spirit for years to come.
What different microscopy solutions do TESCAN provide to researchers?
The company product portfolio ranges from electron and ion microscopes, through optical to 3D micro-CT imaging tools. The microscopes are designed with great versatility and flexibility. For example, we offer several chamber sizes from small to the largest on the market.
This versatility enables adaptation of each tool to a specific problem. If we do not have a tool that we can easily adapt to customer’s needs, we create one. TESCAN was the first company to add the plasma ion column onto a scanning electron microscope, the first one to combine Raman and a scanning electron microscope, or to add ToF SIMS on to a FIB, and offer those as standard products. Being unafraid to go to uncharted waters is what separates TESCAN from the rest of the pack.
The needs of each different research group are unique – how does TESCAN ensure they provide the best microscopy solution for each researcher?
Many of our employees, including myself, have done research in their professional careers. We understand each laboratory and each researcher has different needs. Rather than forcing the customers into a predefined solution, we work with individual customers. This starts from selecting the best tool for the job and tailoring it from factory customization to working with the users after delivery.
For example, we had a semiconductor company that needed a cavernous chamber for their field emission SEM. So, we built them the MIRA AMU. They liked it and they bought several of these huge FE-SEMs.
Does TESCAN work with other instrument manufacturers to provide unique systems to your customers?
Naturally. TESCAN manufactures the mainstay instruments but we are aware customers need more than that. We respect the individual customers’ needs and have worked with about every accessory manufacturer there is to ensure our customers get the options they need. We pride ourselves in offering the broadest analytical functionality - from EDS and WDS, through EBSD, Cathodoluminescence, EBIC to ToF-SIMS and Raman - all on one tool. I am not talking about a concept here. We already integrated EDS and WDS with Raman and ToF SIMS on a FIB 3 years ago. It was the ultimate “Christmas tree”. Surely, not many customers need such complete configurations but we proved we can do it. The subsets of this configurations are readily available as well.
What different modifications and innovations have TESCAN introduced to their microscopes for use in different application areas?
There are quite a few but let me highlight two examples:
The first one would be from Li-ion batteries. We are living in the world of portable electrical devices and cars. These depend on powerful batteries, hence much of the research focuses on improving the capacity and safety of these batteries. They are very sensitive to air – the lithium in these batteries react with the oxygen in air causing degradation and damage. So, we introduced a modular ultra-high vacuum platform that enables users to combine different types of electron and ion columns with a variety of analytical techniques to enable research while protecting the battery from air.
The second example I would like to share is from the semiconductor industry – in certain applications they need to excavate large amounts of materials (large in this context means hundreds of microns). In order to achieve that, we introduced the first dual beam plasma FIB. However, the speed of material removal causes another problem – an uneven surface, called curtaining. We solved it by introducing a device called the rocking stage. The stage “rocks” the sample, which comes under attack from different angles smoothing out the surface.
TESCAN’s microscopes are an open platform – what does this mean for your end users?
Flexibility. This is again about respecting individual research needs and enabling customization. Our philosophy is to give complete microscope access to users through scripting so they can develop their own procedures and routines. We have customers that developed their own user interface and do not use the standard one. Not that the standard UI would be bad! It is simply because their experiments are so unique. Without the scripting capability these studies would be very difficult. We have pioneered the idea and offered the functionality for nearly a decade. It has been so popular some of our competitors are trying to imitate it.
How much guidance can TESCAN provide to researchers looking to invest in their first advanced microscope?
As much as they need. Demonstration of the capabilities is only the first step. After that we engage prospects with one of our scientists, application specialists or technology gurus. We learn about the prospect’s problems or goals, and together uncover the solution. This may take weeks or months. Remember the MIRA AMU mentioned earlier? We had another customer interested in that solution but for them this microscope, even though already unique, was not enough. We had to go back to the drawing board and make changes to accommodate their needs.
How easy is it for researchers to process and analyze the data acquired by a TESCAN microscope?
I think data analysis starts well before the acquisition. Time to data is an important concept – how quickly can one get what he needs. Microscope alignments are easy and demystified – everything is electronically controlled and software assists in calculating and optimizing the target beam conditions. TESCAN instruments and the user interface have different levels – from a very basic one to full functionality that includes advanced patterning for electron and ion microscopy applications or 3D analysis. We can acquire 3D EDS and EBSD data in static configuration. Without the sample moving, the data acquisition is much faster and there is no need for data registration. A user will obtain the data quicker and in better quality.
What level of aftercare does TESCAN provide for your customers?
Our relationship with a customer does not end with a sale but elevates to a new level. We pride ourselves on being available when customers need us and in providing the knowledge and services to support them. Satisfied customers are not only our goal but simply a way of conducting business. A large number of positive testimonials and the growth of our business attest to that. How do we do that? Well, TESCAN microscopes are very reliable – to the point that customers sometimes do not opt for service coverage. To those that select our very reasonably priced service contract we offer a guarantee of tool uptime.
And, the coverage does not end by selecting a service contract. We provide users with free software updates for the life of the instrument. Also, if they want to upgrade their computer to a newer model, it is as simple as buying a new one, connecting the internet cable to the microscope and reinstalling the software. If help is needed, we can connect to the PC and troubleshoot remotely. We solve many problems even without a visit to the customer site. And when we do visit, typically we have a prior understanding of the problem, its solution and parts at hand.
What sets TESCAN apart from other advanced microscope providers?
I believe it is its people. Yes, we have advanced and unique technology but I think people are even more important. Any organization is only as good as the people that work there. It starts with the interview process which is very thorough. We choose people that enjoy their work, that like to engage and care about their customers. We practice teamwork and a competitive spirit in a fun way. Last year we went together to one of the escape rooms and kart racing. We had a blast and discovered hidden talents! We care about each other like one big family. Here I would like to take the opportunity to thank our employees for their hard work and dedication to our customers.
The second main differentiator is flexibility. TESCAN is a nimble company willing to work with customers and develop new solutions. I believe this is critical to scientists.
What are TESCAN’s plans for the future? Can we expect to see any exciting developments?
One of the things I personally like most about TESCAN is its relentless development. We introduce new products every year, typically at the M&M conference. The company is privately owned and it is the owners and the management that decide how much to spend on R&D. So far, they have invested generously and I expect that to continue. In the near future we will add a couple of new models to our fourth-generation microscopes. There are other projects in the pipeline that I cannot talk about just yet. Be assured we will keep you updated.
Where can our readers find out more about TESCAN’s microscopy solutions?
The easiest way is to go to our website at tescan.com. It contains valuable and useful information as well as contact information. We also encourage your readers to contact us directly with their research needs.
TESCAN is also present at all relevant conferences around the world. I am looking forward to meeting your readers personally at these conferences. The next opportunities will be at M&M in Baltimore and then IMC in Sydney.
About Michal Rabara, Ph.D.
Michal Rabara has nearly 20 years of experience in charged particle technologies. Michal joined TESCAN in 2016 as the President & CEO overseeing the company operations in North America. Prior to joining TESCAN, Michal was with Gatan Inc. in Asia for 16 years serving in several positions, including Managing Director responsible for all aspects of the company operations in Asia, account management and their distribution network.
Michal holds a Ph.D. in Quantum Engineering and System Science from the University of Tokyo, Japan, a Master of Science in Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Informatics from Slovak Technical University, Bratislava, Slovakia and an M.B.A from the University of Bradford, England.
(Pictured from left to right): Michal Rabara, President & CEO TESCAN USA, Wolfgang Baum, Managing Director, Ore & Plant Mineralogy LLC, Paul Gottlieb, TESCAN Business Development Manager-TIMA
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