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Company News Motion control specialist celebrates 50th anniversary

| Editor: Steffen Donath

Aerotech turns 50 this year. The motion control company can trace its roots back to its Hungarian origins and to its founder, Stephen J. Botos (82). The firm originally started in a garage.

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

It all started in 1956 with the Hungarian uprising. Stephen, an 18-year-old-trained toolmaker at this time, was on the front line, supplying the insurgents with food. When the uprising was put down with the help of the Soviet army, he had to leave his Hungarian home for fear of his safety. 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 came, via detours, to the USA on a ship with only a few dollars in his pocket. 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 on which he worked as a designer included test devices for highly developed inertial control systems in the aerospace industry. His sense of high precision in production began to develop here. However, since his previous Hungarian degrees were not recognised, Botos took evening courses in mechanical engineering at 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 dollar prototype location system for industrial use. The first positioning system manufactured was a simple two-axis electromechanical application available for around 300 dollars.

The first renowned customers, such as Du Pont and IBM, opened the door to industry for Aerotech. According to Botos, Aerotech was the first company to use closed-loop servo-technology for its linear positioning systems, which offered four times the performance of conventional stepper systems.

Humble beginnings

From its early beginnings in a Pittsburgh garage to present day, Aerotech has found 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 of Aerotech. The vertical range of manufacture is enormous. The majority of components — from the positioning system to interferometers and drives to motion control and software — are manufactured by Aerotech.

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

The company has grown to around 500 employees worldwide but has remained a family-run business, something that has always been important to the Botos family. Together with his son Mark, who heads the company as president, Stephen’s other son, Steve, also works for the company as Chief Officer Communication & Strategy.

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