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OSA Industry Member Profile - Zurich Instruments

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OSA Industry Member Profile - Zurich Instruments

By Samantha Hornback, Research & Program Development Coordinator, The Optical Society


OSA Industry Development Associates (OIDA) member Zurich Instruments, Switzerland, is a test and measurement developer and manufacturer that puts customer service first. Founded in 2008 as a spin-off company, Zurich Instruments has grown into a successful and independent business. Jan Benhelm, the company’s CMO, offers insight into the company’s success and future growth.

How would you describe Zurich Instruments?

Zurich Instruments is a test and measurement company established in 2008 as a spin-off from ETH Zurich to disrupt the lock-in amplifier market by utilizing the latest field-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology. We were the first to integrate many tools—such as PID controllers, PLLs, Boxcar Averagers, Spectrum Analyzers and Scopes—into a single measurement instrument in addition to the lock-in functionality.

Furthermore, we brought innovation to the user experience by eliminating the knobs and buttons on the instruments and providing instrument control entirely through a graphical computer interface and APIs on a PC. Scientists and engineers loved this new approach from the start because the instruments made their lives easier, helped them progress faster and obtain high-quality results. Whenever people need to measure periodic electrical signals, we have a very attractive offer to make.

More recently, we entered the impedance-analyzers and quantum-technologies markets. In 2018, we launched our first Quantum Computing Control System to support researchers building quantum computers based on superconducting and spin qubits.

All in all, we are strongly focused on serving the scientific-research market. Most of our customers have a physics background, and many of them work in optics and photonics and related applications.

What are the most important developments for Zurich Instruments in the near future?

Right now, we are focused on the development of the next-generation Quantum Computing Control System that allows the control of more than 100 qubits. At the moment, we offer the most convincing solutions in terms of room-temperature electronics and software for this application. With many countries and companies investing heavily in this area, we see a huge growth opportunity for us. At the same time, quantum computing is at the very edge of science and technology, which leads to considerable uncertainty and risk.

Zurich Instruments’ website highlights customers and employees in short profiles. How do these relationships influence the company?

Strong relationships with our customers are at the heart of our enterprise. In fact, the majority of our customers are engineers and scientists, mostly physicists, just as we are. About one third of our employees have a Ph.D. in physics, and most of them work in marketing and sales. Our customers enjoy deep and meaningful discussions on their applications and requirements with experienced people who provide them not only with the most suitable instruments, but also with valuable advice on how to bring their measurement strategies forward.

Can you talk a little about how your values shape the company culture?

A couple of years ago, the entire company worked as one team to distill our values. We came up with three points: (1) lead the change, (2) be the reference and (3) develop and grow together. We live by these values, and everyone can experience them on a daily basis. They are also important in a business that is based on continuous innovation, where everybody is encouraged to take responsibility and make a difference. Our values illustrate nicely the collaborative spirit that rests on mutual trust. With a team of 100 people from more than 20 nations and spread across the world, having a strong culture where everyone can contribute their talents and flourish professionally is a very important asset.

What, in your view, is the best decision that Zurich Instruments has made to date?

Many good decisions have brought us to this point. One of the most important and recent ones is to enter the area of quantum technologies and collaborate with strong scientific partners. This decision gave the company an entirely new scope and growth potential in one of the most exciting fields to be in today.

Tell me a bit about your personal career path. How did you get to this point?

I joined the Zurich Instruments’ marketing and sales team in 2011 as an application scientist. Since then, I held numerous positions before being appointed CMO in April 2019. Prior to joining Zurich Instruments, I spent two years at Malik Management Center in St. Gallen, Switzerland. As a management consultant, I developed a passion for a systemic management and leadership approach that puts people at the heart of the enterprise. My background is in physics, having earned my Ph.D. on trapped-ion quantum computing in Innsbruck, Austria.  

Zurich Instruments is an OIDA member. What do you see as the value of that membership?

Looking at our lock-in amplifiers, AWGs and PLLs, we have a large and important customer base in optics and photonics. Membership organizations that group people with common interests help us tremendously to maintain existing contacts and build new relationships in a specific community. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, we regularly participated in OIDA’s conferences and trade shows. Starting in 2021, we will engage with OIDA members through webinars offered in collaboration with the organization.

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Posted: 16 December 2020 by Samantha Hornback, Research & Program Development Coordinator, The Optical Society | with 0 comments

The views expressed by guest contributors to the Discover OSA Blog are not those endorsed by The Optical Society.

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