ITK Dr. Kassen

Precise. Dynamic. Reliable.

Cutting-edge technology from Germany requires intensive development. This applies in particular to the successful development of electromechanic precision systems. The Lahnau company ITK is setting a good example.

Dr. Folkert Kassen, founder and Managing Director of ITK. (Images: Ralf A. Niggemann)
Dr. Folkert Kassen, founder and Managing Director of ITK. (Images: Ralf A. Niggemann)

We meet early in the morning at ITK. In his office, Managing Director Dr. Folkert Kassen tells us how he started more than thirty years ago and where his company stands today. Walking round the firm, you get the distinct feeling that the area of business in which ITK operates is so complex that it cannot be described in words. You have to experience it for yourself.

In the test room of ITK, the microscope stages are being prepared for action. Black metal plates are moving continuously to and fro on guide rails. Driven by ingenious algorithms, they travel to predefined positions with an accuracy better than 1 micrometer. They are designed for research and heavy duty industrial use and have to demonstrate the precision, dynamics and reliability for which ITK microscope stages are so highly reputed.

From production of electronic components to mechanical production

Measurement. Control. Movement. Positioning. These are ITK’s core competences, competences which the Lahnau company has steadily perfected. When Dr. Folkert Kassen set up his company over thirty years ago, he was still a student. Concentrating first on the production of electronic components, he went on to add mechanical production. ITK grows on the job – a development one can trace by counting the extensions that have been made to the company building.

The business idea, in which the areas of competence described above mesh seamlessly, has remained the same, it has just been continuously developed: mechatronic systems for high-precision positioning. The provisional spearhead of this development is an innovative microscope stage concept with which ITK is still setting standards today – most of all with the positioning stages of the LMT series. They differ from conventional positioning systems in two main points.

Benefits of ITK positioning systems

Firstly, their design is based on an absolute measuring system whose benefits are noticeable the moment it is switched on: the control recognizes the absolute position without any loss of accuracy. The system is immediately ready to use. Without an absolute measuring system, the system always has to travel to a reference point, and the reference point will always be subject to a certain inaccuracy. That means there will be a position difference the next time it is switched on. ITK has remedied this deficiency.

The second plus point of ITK microscope stages concerns the plate drive. The plates are driven by a linear motor with unsurpassed dynamics in terms of speed and acceleration. This enables the plates of the positioning systems to be moved much more quickly and easily. Moreover, the linear motor is much safer than spindle drives; this linear motor drive eliminates the risk of injury due to carelessness. The high-quality processing of each static and dynamic component guarantees extremely high reproducibility. The sophisticated concept is rounded off by a CAN handwheel, with which recurring tasks can be programmed manually, if wished, at the press of a button.

Dr. Folkert Kassen is justifiably pleased that the technological advantage of ITK linear motors has been officially acknowledged by the granting of a European patent. Secretly, however, he has a different focus: “Our main goal is to develop market-oriented and innovative products that support users in their work and convince our customers.” Apart from the technical features already mentioned, ITK systems also score points for their super-flat design combined with an esthetically pleasing exterior. And the fact that the positioning systems can be adapted to any microscope vouches for their extreme flexibility. They also feature outstanding user convenience, making microscopy not only more precise, but faster and more efficient, too.

Exact and intuitive user comfort

The CAN handwheel is an excellent example of the importance that ITK product developers attach to user convenience. Strictly speaking, two wheels, one on top of the other, are moved by hand. The position of the wheels is recorded and transferred to the control. The extremely high position definition of the wheels enables ultra-fine movement of the sample under the microscope. Sample movement is synchronized with the rotary movement of the user’s hand. This intuitive handwheel positioning is clearly superior to joystick control, which demands a continuous transformation process of the brain.

In the early stages of the CAN handwheel development, says Dr. Kassen, specialists at the company hotly debated how and whether users would handle a manual control like this at all. Gradually, the handwheel was perfected. “When we let a selected group of customers test it, the users were very reluctant to give it back.” It is this keen sense of exact and intuitive user comfort that makes the hardware and software of all ITK systems so special.

The systems are developed and manufactured in Lahnau. Here, electronics and mechanical engineering specialists work closely together, here ideas are born and brought to series maturity. Dr. Kassen’s eyes shine as he stops beside the prototype of a new 3-plate microscope stage where not only a new concept for mechanical operation is being tested, but a totally new construction. “Ideas like this often arise from practical application,” relates Dr. Kassen, “and our product development efforts concentrate on bringing applicative benefits.” They work in close cooperation with industry, but also with innovative research institutes like the Fraunhofer Institute.

Cutting-edge technology from the Wetzlar region

Dr. Kassen has the necessary expertise in his company. He has never considered outsourcing it. “This knowledge is the heart of our business. We have steadily developed it and have to keep updating it in concrete projects for our customers, particularly when we have to adapt our positioning systems to specific customer requirements.” The know-how of ITK is the product of nearly 30 minds, each one driven by a motivation that, like the linear motors of the microscope stages, can think quickly and flexibly in different directions. And they all work together to optimize products and components or to streamline the production process.

For Dr. Kassen and his company, this expertise is irreplaceable. For their customers it is a blessing. Based in the Wetzlar region, they sell their microscopes with the automated stages all over the world. Together, they export the technological lead that makes Germany such a strong location in the global market. “The fact that this cutting-edge technology comes from the Wetzlar region and that we make a significant contribution is something quite special,” says Dr. Kassen, pleased. And ITK means to continue along this road.


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