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Posted: Aug 29, 2008
MikroMasch Holds 20% of Global Niche Market for Scanning Microscope Probes
(Nanowerk News) Every fifth scanning microscope in the world's research facilities or big company labs contains a micro needle produced by Estonia's most successful nanotechnology undertaking Mikromasch.
The micro needle is the most important part of a scanning microscope. A micro needle is an extremely small – its diameter is a mere 0.3 micro meters – diamond shaped silicium needle that resembles a gramophone needle. In a microscope, it moves across molecules like a sensor, enabling the makeup and structure of molecules to be analyzed on a computer.
Mikromasch's leader and owner Pavel Kudinski says a 15-20% market share in the world and a couple of thousand clients might sound great, yet it is a very narrow niche market – Mikromasch produces only a couple of tens of thousands of micro needles a year. These needles are mostly bought by research institutions, microscope manufacturers such as Seiko or large companies such as Bayersdorf or Daimler Benz. There are about a hundred different kinds of micro needles in Mikromasch's product selection.
Mikromasch's global structure is so complex that Kudinski himself finds it difficult to grasp. The outfit's headquarters is in Estonia, it has sibling companies in Spain and the US. At the same time, most of the undertaking's production is done in Zelenograd, Russia, a smaller portion in Tartu, Estonia. The company has outsourcing partners in South-Korea and the US. Furthermore, Mikromasch is one of the few Estonian companies that has a representation in Silicon Valley in the US. Thus, this outfit is extremely rich in knowledge, most of its brain, however, is located not in Estonia but Russia.
Kudinski notes that what is important is not in which country to produce but where can conditions necessary for production be found. The historic electronics center in Zelenograd facilitates an up-to-date laboratory. Setting up a lab like that in Estonia would cost a 100 million EEK which would make it too big of a task.
Scanning microscopes are used by scientists in physics, chemistry and biology laboratories around the world – it represents one of the most wide spread research methods the advantage of which over electron microscopes is that scanning microscopes do not disturb the objects studied plus working with such microscopes costs less.
Kudinski wants to develop Mikromasch into a service undertaking that is not limited to needle production. "We have operated in this market for ten years now. We have an excellent network of partners and clients wherefore there's a lot of information that flows through us: what is needed in the market or who we could offer solutions to," he explains.
According to Kudinski, Mikromasch should become a channel through which scientists can introduce in the market solutions they have developed; the company would also be a cooperation partner for students as well as an efficient innovator for clients. Kudinski mentions as one example their cooperation with Stanford University within the framework of which they are trying to ascertain how to study the magnetic and electric properties of molecules, using micro needles.
Moreover, Mikromasch is carrying on its forceful product development that reaches beyond the expert domain of micro needles. In the future, even stronger and more flexible nano tubes will be attached to the tiny needlepoint thus improving its usage for analyzing the structure and makeup of molecules of liquid or gel-like substances.
In Estonia, Mikromasch's cooperation partners include the Institute of Physics of the University of Tartu and a nanotechnology outfit Evikon MCI that received funding from the Skype founders' investment group Ambient Sound Investments. Evikon develops measuring equipment that enables the identification of toxic and explosive gases. Mikromasch supplements such measuring equipment with sensors.