"Don't wait until customers demand a change," says Rickert. "Try to introduce an improvement in your manufacturing process every two years without waiting, because oftentimes, when they come to you, it'll be too late for you to get it done in the time frame that they need it."
The commercialization of nanotechnology came about because consumers wanted anti-reflective lenses like those used by the government.
"The military and space agency, at that time, didn't care how long (anti-reflective lenses) were going to last as long as they lasted for the mission," Rickert says. "So they (began) putting out these lenses that were very fragile, sensitive to the touch and easily damaged by a fingerprint. Of course, people didn't like it."
Cincinnati-based LensCrafters, which had only 20 stores at that time, asked Nanofilm to develop a coating to fix this problem. Nanofilm's products are now used to produce camera, binocular and riflescope lenses, and the company is testing it on cell phone windows and watch crystals.
To create the coating, Nanofilm condenses the ingredients into a small ampule and places it in a vacuum oven with the item to be coated. Once the door is shut and the machine heats up, the ampule breaks,. That exposes the coating material to the vacuum, where it comes out and self-assembles spontaneously into the coating material. This material attaches itself evenly onto every cold object in the chamber.
Nanofilm is working to create smaller, more reasonably priced equipment and better coating formulas. The company went international in 2003, with two installations in England and one in Italy, and has set up a warehouse in Taiwan with manufacturing potential.
Rickert says Nanofilm now has competitors, and today, no anti-reflective lenses are sold without a protective top coating.
"Isn't that an amazing achievement?" he says. "We've gone from having the problem identified to ... making it impossible to buy a pair (of lenses) that isn't protected. It made it a standard." HOW TO REACH: Nanofilm, (800) 883-6266, www.nanofilm.cc