In this interview, Benno Oderkerk, CEO of Avantes, talks to AZoM about recent projects that are using Avantes spectrometers, and Avantes’ plans for the future.
How does Avantes think it can help make the world a better place?
Avantes supplies innovative measurement equipment such as spectroscopy spectrometers in the photonics area. These devices are being used to monitor; air quality, our health, and can be used for early diagnosis. In this way you can make the world a better place, also a safer place and a healthier place to live in.
Avantes collaborates in the InSPECT 2020 project. Can you explain to our readers the project mission and the role of Avantes?
The InSPECT project is a Horizon 2020 project and it started four years ago. The project involves placing a photonic needle inside of the body so you can measure tissue in the nerve or near the nerve. This is aimed at local anaesthesia, and that means that when you use spectroscopy in this photonic needle, then you can basically have a much more accurate way of providing anaesthesia to a patient.
This is basically what the project is about. The role of Avantes is to support the research with our spectrometers, which are then coupled to the photonic needle through fiber optics. We measure the tissue in or at nerve. These different signals we measure with spectroscopy from the visible and the near infrared range spectrum.
InSPECT: real-time cancer diagnosis with miniature spectrometers (European project)
What features of Avantes technology make them beneficial for use in projects such as InSPECT?
In this project, we focus primarily on miniaturization. This is a typical requirement for OEM customers in the medical field, they need very small instruments, preferably handheld type of instruments. As a result, we need to miniaturize those instruments, and in this project we have been able to reduce the size of the instrument by more than a factor of 10, we call it a cubic inch spectrometer, for these specific projects.
How does Avantes plan to further assist innovation in the bio-medical field in the future?
We look at the biomedical field as a lot of critical care early diagnosis, and we stand by our mission statement, “making the world a better place”. As such we design equipment to be able to measure all kinds of critical parameters. For example, when a baby is born too early outside of the hospital, you need to have a spectrometer type of system to do a quick blood analysis in an ambulance. That means you need very small devices like spectrometers incorporated into blood measurement devices that can be used inside of an ambulance. They need to be very small. They need to be very reduced because you carry them around. They need to be very precise. That is something that Avantes does, it is in the core features of our products and our product development.
Are there any other applications in the medical field that Avantes are a part of?
We have a lot of OEM customers in the medical field. They use our spectrometers for so-called critical care analysis. That means that when they need to have a very quick reading, sometimes via a non-invasive procedure, for example through the skin to get a picture of the blood values, they come to use to use our spectrometers. They come to us because our instruments present clearly visible information in a spectral range that covers, amongst other things, the oxygenation of the blood, or other parameters inside of the blood. Our instruments can measure this very quickly. This allows for early diagnosis of skin cancer or other sorts of tumors by measuring the tissue in the human body.
Can Avantes instruments also be used for environmental monitoring purposes?
Yes! The environmental monitoring systems that we provide are Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems (CEMS). They are used to measure NOX and SO2. We have a couple of OEM customers in the environmental sector that use our spectrometers to measure emission in cities, at power plants and other places like these. We have a large number of clients in China, and Chinese regulations are fairly strict for emissions, so that means that every power plant has to prove that it doesn't emit more than a certain amount of emissions. This is measured by spectroscopy, and our instruments are perfect for these types of measurement.
The spectroscopy technology used is called Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy (DOAS), which is basically using a spectrometer and a UV light source, like a Deuterium source, right next a chimney, or even in a chimney, to provide a very accurate measurement of the levels of NOX and SO2. So, that is one of the applications which Avantes succeeds in.
Are there any other areas of environmental monitoring that Avantes succeeds in?
Within the environmental/Green Technology sector Avantes is particularly good in providing solutions for precision farming. This is basically measuring, first of all, fertilization. We assist farmers with monitoring their fertilizer that is being dispersed on the ground by having spectrometers on the tractors. So, there is a tractor going over the fields, mapping the fields and measuring the amount of biomass, as well as the amount of chlorophyll. If you measure that, it gives you very good indication to whether you need to add some additional fertilizer, like nitrogen as a fertilizer, or conversely it indicates if you already have enough of nitrogen. That is an incredibly good applicational use of spectroscopy in the agricultural field, what we call green tech.
Another application is to measure how much fertilizer is being dispersed on the grounds, measuring the components of the fertilizer itself that are mixed directly in the waste tank. A further application is with the harvesters, we can measure their combiners by using spectroscopy as a way to measure the ingredients that they are harvesting. As a result, not only to get paid by kilo or kilogram mass but to get paid by kilojoule. If you are measuring, for example, corn, you want to know much protein is in there, how many whatever carbohydrates are in the corn because that gives you a clear indication on how much energy is in this corn. All these kind of applications call for spectroscopy as a very quick means to measure the values at line or on line in these processes.
On a personal note, last year you were elected President of the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC), can you please describe to our readers what EPIC is, and your vision of moving it forward as President?
The European Photonics Industry Consortium is really a network of photonics industries across the value chain within Europe. We have all kinds of contributions from companies that are either component suppliers, instrument integrators, or they are complete measurement system parts manufacturers. These people work closely together in this consortium.
For the most part it is for the CEO's to get to know each other through networking together. We have some combined activities coming out of it, like research projects. It is a big boost for innovation, working together on a European scale within the photonics industry. We have seen that EPIC is very successful in attracting a lot of new members, recently we have been growing at very fast pace.
The vision is to move it forward to add value to our members, our quickly growing organization, and to have a lot of added selling workshops with end-users. We want to have more selling workshops with end-users because photonics is basically a supporting technology. It supports all kinds of things, that's why photonics can be used in all kinds of application like agriculture, health, food safety, and plenty more. The nice thing is that if you have workshops with end-users, you can provide the whole value train to these end-users to get to photonic solutions working closer together within Europe.
What does the future hold for Avantes?
We grew by more than 30 percent last year, which is very exciting. We see a future where spectroscopy is a standard technology for a lot of measurements that are being done in the field. So, there is a need for faster measurements. There is a need for more reduced and miniaturized devices. Our challenge is to make these in a semi-automated way, or even in a completely automated manufacturing process, that is what we are focusing on right now. To have the capability to increase our production on a much faster scale, without the need of hiring a lot of new production people. Finding qualified personnel is a huge challenge by itself. We need to take the step into automatization; basically, having small robots making very small spectrometers. That's the way we look at it.
Interview with Benno Oderkerk
About Benno Oderkerk
Benno Oderkerk is the cofounder of Avantes, a spectroscopy company in the Netherlands, with offices in the USA, China and the United Kingdom. He is the CEO for the total operations of the company.
Benno Oderkerk obtained his master’s degree in Electronic Engineering at the Twente Technical University in Enschede, the Netherlands, in March 1988. He worked from April 1987 until December 1988 at the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. In 1989 he became a research associate in Munich, Germany, at the University of the Bundeswehr.
From Autumn 1989 until 1994 he worked as a technical Director at STM Sensor Technology Munich, Germany.
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