Motion Control Specialist Turns 50
Aerotech, a manufacturer of high-performance motion control and positioning systems, is celebrating it’s 50th company anniversary this year. The company’s history is directly related to the founder Stephen J Botos (82).
It all started in 1956 with the Hungarian uprising….
Stephen, an 18-year-old trained toolmaker at this time, was on the front line and supplying the insurgents with food. When the uprising was put down with the help of the Russian army, he had to leave his Hungarian home for fear of his security. On a foggy night, he hid in a hay cart and crossed the Austrian border undiscovered. It was easy to see that there was no longer any hope in Hungary, he later commented.
From toolmaker to designer of positioning systems
From Austria, the toolmaker, via detours, came to the USA with a few dollars in his pocket on a ship. After only a few months there he had his American high school diploma in his pocket – his Hungarian school leaving certificate had not been recognised. He started his professional career at Goerz Optical Co. in Pittsburgh as a designer. At that time, Goerz Optical manufactured optical lenses and systems for NASA, among others. The products in which he participated as a designer included test devices for highly developed inertial control systems in the aerospace industry. His sense of high precision in production already developed here. However, since his previous Hungarian degrees were not recognised, Botos took evening courses in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, while working as a designer. Immediately after completing his mechanical engineering degree in 1969, he and two of his engineering colleagues teamed up and founded Aerotech, Inc. in Pittsburgh in 1970.
Aerotech, much like Microsoft, came from humble beginnings in that the company also started life in a garage. The first development was a $ 20,000 prototype location system for industrial use. The first positioning system manufactured was a simple two-axis electromechanical application and was available for around $ 300.
The first renowned customers such as Du Pont and IBM opened the door to industry for Aerotech. According to company founder Stephen Botos, Aerotech was the first company to use closed-loop servo technology for its linear positioning systems. This was four times the performance of conventional stepper systems.
Excellent lifetime achievement
In the course of his working life, this mechanical engineer was able to register eleven US patents and received numerous awards. He is particularly proud of the “ACMS Benjamin Rush Award”, which was given to him for the further development of intraocular lenses to improve eyesight. He was also awarded the ASPE Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society for Precision Engineering in 2019. This prestigious award is only given annually to one person who has made an important contribution in the field of precision engineering.
Aerotech precision technology in use worldwide
Aerotech saw rapid growth in the first few years. The first patent and the subsequent introduction of a manual optical holder contributed significantly to this. This enabled an extremely high resolution as well as a large range of motion. The initial manual positioners were soon followed by the first electronic controls and driven positioners. As a result, demand in the commercial sector for precision manufacturing and testing technology increased noticeably. The first subsidiaries in the United Kingdom and Germany in the 1980s heralded international expansion. Thanks to the product range of positioning systems that have now been achieved, Aerotech was able to cover a wide range of industries, from medical technology and life science applications, in photonics, automotive, data storage, laser processing, aerospace, as well as verification and testing to assembly. With subsidiaries in Taiwan and China and a joint venture in Korea, the company entered the growing Asian market and thus in electronics manufacturing, semiconductor and flat-screen production. New air-bearing and linear motor-based positioning applications ensured the required high precision and throughput in these areas.
From it’s early beginnings in a Pittsburgh garage to today, Aerotech has worked out a solid niche in the field of high-precision motion control. “With our wide range of products, we specialise in machining in the nanometre range”, explains Simon Smith, European Director Aerotech. The vertical range of manufacture is enormous; almost all components from the positioning system to interferometers and drives to motion control and software are mainly manufactured by Aerotech itself.
The company has now grown to around 500 employees worldwide but has remained a family-run company, something that has always been important to the Botos family. Together with son Mark Botos, who heads the company as president, Stephen’s other son Steve Botos also works for the company as Chief Officer Communication & Strategy.