Motion Control Specialist Turns 50

Company founder Stephen J. Botos before his first patent in 1973: a positioning mechanism for coarse and fine adjustment (Source: Aerotech)

High-performance motion control and positioning systems manufacturer Aerotech is celebrating its 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 Austria, the toolmaker, via detours, came to the US with a few dollars in his pocket on a ship. After only a few months there he had his American high school diploma – his Hungarian school leaving certificate had not been recognized. 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 recognized, Botos took evening courses in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, while working as a designer. Immediately after completing his mechanical engineering degree, he and two of his engineering colleagues teamed up and founded Aerotech Inc. in Pittsburgh in 1970.

Aerotech came from humble beginnings in that the company also started life in a garage. The first development was a 20,000-dollars prototype location system for industrial use. The first positioning system manufactured was a simple two-axis electromechanical application and was available for around three hundred dollars.

The first renowned customers such as Du Pont and IBM opened the door to industry. According to 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.

Chief officer communication & strategy Steve Botos, co-founder and partner Stephen J. Botos, and president Mark Botos (Source: Aerotech)

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 intra-ocular 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 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 Germany and the UK around 1980 heralded international expansion. Thanks to the product range of positioning systems that has 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 its 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 specialize in machining in the nanometer range,” explains European director Simon Smith. 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, who heads the company as president, Stephen’s other son Steve works for the company as chief officer communication and strategy. (Source: Aerotech)

Link: Aerotech Worldwide, Aerotech, Inc., Pittsburgh, Penn., USA

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