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Optica Corporate Member Profile - Ibsen Photonics A/S

Samantha Hornback, Research & Program Development Coordinator, Optica

Founded in 1991, Ibsen Photonics A/S, based in Farum, Denmark, is a well established developer and manufacturer of transmission gratings and OEM spectrometers. The company thrives among long-term and new customers and provides top-notch customer service. Optica spoke with CEO Henrik Andersen to get some insights into the company’s success. Below is an edited version of the conversation.

What’s the value proposition for Ibsen Photonics A/S? What markets does the company serve?

Ibsen Photonics is highly specialized in the OEM business for transmission gratings and spectrometers. We serve diverse industries, including medical, pharmaceutical, chemical, food and agriculture, energy, security, and telecommunication. In addition, we are the world leader in the design and manufacture of spectral interrogators for optical fiber sensing systems.

Our engineering teams have more than 200 years combined tenure with Ibsen and offer a short time to market for new gratings and spectrometers tailored to specific customer requirements. In addition, we have a dedicated OEM support team to assist our customers through product development and into volume manufacturing with high quality, consistent performance and flexible delivery.

Our transmission gratings are etched in fused silica, which offers high efficiency, high dispersion and extremely high-power damage thresholds. They are used for telecommunication devices, as diffractive elements in lidar systems, for high-power laser applications, as phase masks for the manufacture of fiber Bragg gratings, and for spectroscopy.

Our spectrometers cover the wavelength range from 175 nm to 2.5 µm. They offer unequaled optical throughput and sensitivity in compact, environmentally robust and thermally stable optomechanical benches with low unit-to-unit variation, enabled by our in-house-manufactured transmission gratings. They are used for optical coherence tomography, Raman spectroscopy, laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, HPLC analysis, PAT and other applications in the UV, visible and NIR.

Where do you expect Ibsen to be in ten years?

This year is our 30th anniversary, and, to be honest, I expect Ibsen to be in pretty much the same place we are today, but on a larger scale. We have very stable ownership, are committed to long-term partnerships with our customers, and have grown more than 25% per year since 2014.

We will undoubtedly add new products to our product line in the next ten years, like photonic integrated circuits. However, in the short-term, we expect our PEBBLE range of low-cost, ultra-compact spectrometers and our PEAK spectrometers, based on DMD technology, to be highly competitive in our markets and be significant sources of growth.

How do your customers help shape your business?

More than 90% of the products we develop are based directly on customer use cases and requirements, and the services we offer are also derived directly from our customers’ needs. So you can say that our customers directly shape our business. We have positioned ourselves as spectrometer specialists, and as such we do not compete with our customers in the market. In this way, we can serve our customers and collaborate with them on precise instruments to fit their unique needs.

Can you talk a bit about your company values and how they influence your day-to-day decision-making?

I am delighted to talk about our company values, as they really are an essential part of Ibsen. In Denmark, we have robust social security coverage, so people don’t just work for the salary. People are motivated to make a meaningful difference and have a high level of job satisfaction.

We put a lot of trust in our employees, and they, in return, take full ownership of their processes and contribute to a great work environment. We want our employees to feel like they have a purpose from day one. Two of the company value statements are “Obligation to Dissent” and “Assume Positive Intent.” I believe that everyone wants to do a great job, and by approaching conflicts with that mindset, we can preserve a happy and productive environment.

What, in your view, is the best decision that Ibsen has made to date?

The best decision so far, back in 2005, was to venture into the OEM spectrometer business with FOSS A/S as the lead customer. We built a very open and collaborative partnership, which has served as the model for other customers since then. Today, large-volume spectrometer customers account for 80% of our turnover and consider Ibsen their trusted advisor for new spectrometer applications.

How about the worst, or riskiest, decision?

That is a difficult question. Perhaps our worst decision is that we haven’t taken more risks, and we have tried to operate the company in a relatively conservative manner. Essentially, we haven’t made enough decisions.

When we do take risks that don’t work out, we try to learn from our mistakes. For example, back in 2011, when I had just joined the company, we decided to pursue a business opportunity with a company that also runs a competing business. After several years of effort, our joint product failed in the market and was discontinued. However, by that time, we had built a strong relationship, and today the company is our largest and most important customer.

Tell me a bit about your career path. How did you get to this point?

My career path has always been to look for challenging positions where I can help create value. When I graduated from business school, at the age of 24, I took the lowest-paid job I was offered—in the highly competitive automotive industry—where I had management responsibility for 90 people in a factory in Alsace, France. It was a huge challenge and the experience shaped me as a manager. Since then, I have worked with medical devices and in several IT startups before joining Ibsen in 2011. I learned an important lesson early on in my time at Ibsen, and that is, “Good things take time.” I keep this in mind in my work still today.

Ibsen is a corporate member of the society. What do you see as the value of that membership?

Optica is, first and foremost, a vital network of customers, competitors, and partners. We make invaluable contacts through this network, facilitated by a great group of Optica employees through participation in corporate member industry events. In addition to this, the market update reports are very insightful.

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