Optics, from the inside looking out
Ross Optical president Divi Mangadu discusses the challenges and opportunities in today’s optical components business.
“…Most of the newer designs that I’m seeing are aspherical lenses; these cannot be made by a conventional shop. This requires CNC, and we need to grow into that direction.” – Divi Mangadu, president
How do you transition from being “just another supplier” to become a valued, trusted partner? Texas-based Ross Optical has done just that by positioning the company as a provider not only of components but of full-blown solutions. The difference is in the services aimed at supporting customers every step of the way – from concept and design through engineering, prototyping, assembly and testing.
Divi Mangadu, a manufacturing engineer by profession, has been with Ross for 27 of the company’s 30 years. In the following interview, he takes us for an insider’s view of how the strategy has been working.
What’s your 25-word definition of Ross Optical?
We are a unique optics supplier specializing in hard-to-find optics. We assist in optical design and we manage inventory so our customers’ parts are always in stock, even if it is custom OEM.
Ross Optical has expertise in all stages of development, from conceptual design to final assembly in their in-house white rooms.
Most companies have their ups and downs. What’s that been like for you?
We’ve had a lot of downturn in the last few years – not the last two years, but before that. And I was able to keep the company running, at the breakeven point. Even though we had to really cut back on everything, and sales were low, we managed to get through without laying off anybody.
Right now we’re really growing; we’ve had almost 20 percent growth in the last two years. Military spending is increasing, and as a direct result of that, everything else is increasing. Medical – there’s a lot of growth in that area, too – endoscopy, surgical microscopes, for example.
Optical add-ons to smart phones looks like a big market for micro optics. We helped a customer develop an otoscope phone attachment for examining patients’ ears in remote locations. The on-site caregiver then sends the camera image to a medical doctor, who can make a long-distance diagnosis. It’s kind of “a doctor in your pocket.” For projects like that, we provide the optics, and we also have the facilities to combine the optical components and mechanical components into a sub-assembly that is ready to go into the larger device. We never do the full consumer application.
What do you see as your next big challenge?
We need to get back to manufacturing. When I talk about optics manufacturing, I’m not talking about the conventional process. We need to get back to CNC-based optical manufacturing. That’s where the industry is really going, because most of the newer designs that I’m seeing are aspherical lenses; these cannot be made by a conventional shop. This requires CNC, and we need to grow into that direction. Outsourced production on aspheres – there’s not too many people overseas that can do it. Plus, a lot of these newer designs are coming from the military, so they’re ITAR-controlled (the US government’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations). Parts for ITAR-controlled products have to be made here in the States.
We also struggle finding skilled optical technicians. It’s difficult to recruit people. Every one whom we’ve hired, we’ve had to train. The University of Arizona is near us, and they have a very good optics program, so there is no shortage of engineers. It’s hard to find technicians, though. Fortunately, we have good people here; we don’t have a lot of turnover. Some of our people have been here for 17 or 18 years.
When someone asks why they should do business with Ross Optical instead of a competitor, what do you tell them?
One of our key selling points is our customer service. Every survey that we’ve sent out rates our customer service at the top. At Ross, we make sure that we get a response to the customer the same day. Quotations sometimes come within a couple of minutes of getting their email. Our customers are looking for a quick response time and good service on their orders.
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To learn more about Ross Optical, visit their website here.