Industrial Automation



This year, Microscan celebrated its 30th year anniversary, recognizing the diverse legacy we have built through innovation, partnership, and acquisition since our beginnings in 1982. Several of my colleagues have shared their stories from Microscan's machine vision timeline on this blog, extending back from Siemens Machine Vision (acquired by Microscan in 2008) to ground-breaking innovators like Itran, I.D. Matrix, and Automatix. Now, as one of the original resident " Microscanners," I would like to commemorate this year with my personal history from my years at this company. My story begins 6 years after Microscan was founded by Mike Mertel, who had just invented a new kind of barcode scanner while working with laser diodes in his basement. This is the Microscan I remember, from its earliest days.

When I started my career with the company back in October of 1988, Microscan was very young and so was I. I had just spent the previous year and a half fixing photofinishing equipment at a large photo lab down the street from the original Microscan headquarters in Tukwila, WA. For all of you too young to remember, this was back when the 35mm film canisters were placed in paper photo bags and shipped out from your local drug store to be processed. The film was processed at a photo lab, which is where I worked repairing all of the very large photo processing equipment during night operations. Much of my time there was spent making mechanical repairs and there weren't as many electronics to repair as I had hoped for. However, it was during my work in the photo lab that I was introduced to barcodes and HeNe (Helium-Neon) laser barcode scanners. This early version of the barcode scanner was located inside a machine that the photo processing equipment used to check in or sort the photo bags. The machine was made by a company called CX Processing Labs, which just so happened to be where Microscan's founder, Mike Mertel, worked directly prior to Microscan.

My connection to Microscan didn't end there. In fact, I was hired at the photo lab by a guy who left the photofinishing business shortly after I started. Coincidentally, he left to pursue an opportunity at Microscan as the Service Manager and vowed to get me in there when he could. Sure enough, in early October 1988 he called me in to interview for a technicians job at the company. I jumped on the chance to get out of the photofinishing business, eager to work with electronics and use what I learned in school.

I was interviewed by the two original founders of Microscan, Mike Mertel and Craig Landon, as well as by the head of manufacturing, Jerry Naumcheff. I got the job right away and began working part-time at Microscan and full-time at the photo lab. After two weeks juggling both jobs, I began my full-time employment at Microscan on October 31st, 1988. I was the 20th employee hired.

Being a small company, everyone pitched in at Microscan to ensure that our customers got their scanners fast and to their specifications. We all did quality control when we had to and helped ship orders when the product was ready. Our revenue that first year was good considering our small team, but a world away from what Microscan would later become. The technology we engineered at the time was also vastly different than it is today.

Back in Microscan's beginnings, the first laser scanners we manufactured used infrared (IR) lasers. To the human eye, these scanners didn't have a visible beam, unlike today's lasers. This meant that we had to use IR scopes to see if the beam was present when the units were set up so we could verify that they were working properly. We also didn't have the AGC (Automatic Gain Control) circuitry that we have in our scanners today, so back then each scanner that was manufactured had to be manually set up to decode one barcode specified by the customer. Thanks to many of our employees' professional roots, and the innovative small scale of our embedded scanners, some of our largest customers in the old days were manufacturers of photofinishing equipment and clinical diagnostics machines.

Being part of a small startup company did have its perks. Mike instilled in all of us the mantra " work hard play hard," and we all did just that. My first year at Microscan, Mike flew the entire company to Reno, NV, for a company getaway one weekend. Only after a shaky landing during a lightning storm at the Reno-Tahoe airport did Mike decide that we should split the company up on flights in the future, just in case. We had regular impromptu, all-expenses-paid parties after work, beer in the pop machine on Fridays, and some after-hours roundtable discussions with the whole staff. One of the best times we had back then was a 3-day cruise from Los Angeles, CA, to Ensenada, Mexico. Mike definitely treated the employees well and we all appreciated that.

We began really growing year over year almost as soon as I'd started, and I quickly moved from my Manufacturing Technician job to our service department as a Service Technician. Within a couple months I was moved up to Service Supervisor, where I ran the department's day to day activities. The service department back then served as the helpdesk, training department, applications department, and field service. I worked in the service department for over 5 years. Being there and managing two technicians who repaired all of the units that were returned, I learned a lot more about the products, how they were being used, and their technical specifications.

In 1990, I took my first out-of-country trip to Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and later to Europe, to train all of Microscan's distributors how to use and repair our products. That was an eye-opener for me, personally, about global culture and the trip helped me professionally to find a cadence with training international distributors. Back then, all of Microscan's international support and repairs were handled by our distributors, since we did not have multi-regional locations. Our distributor network had to be very self-sufficient during those days.

Soon after I returned from my international travels, one of the original Microscan founders, Craig Landon, left the company. At this time, we tried out some new partnerships and even temporary partial ownerships to balance our rapid growth. We were bursting at the seams in our headquarters location in Tukwila and had taken over as much of the small office building as we could with our expanding workforce. In 1994, Microscan moved to a larger facility in Renton, WA (a mile or so from our current headquarters). We had a grand opening party at the new facility with our family members, which was very nice. I continued to work in our service department for a few more years at the new Renton location.

In late 1994, Microscan founder Mike Mertel got out of the barcode reading business and sold the company to the Fairey Group in the UK. The Fairey Group had roots in the aircraft manufacturing industry, but had developed into an international instrumentation and electronic controls company. The group eventually changed their name to Spectris plc in 2001 and remains Microscan's parent company today.

A constant momentum drove the company forward, and we continued to pursue opportunities for growth, as did I. In 1996, I moved into Microscan's applications department as an Application Analyst. There, I helped customers develop customized solutions, solve application issues, perform scanner software testing, and multiple other duties. I was in the applications department for about 8 months before I quickly transferred into the sales department in 1997 as the Reseller Sales Representative. In this position, I worked closely with manufacturers who, since the early days of the company, had represented Microscan in the United States as our channel. But things were bound to change in our growing business. In the same year, we switched to a worldwide distribution model and began hiring distributors in the United States. We also moved Microscan's Regional Sales Managers out of the Renton office and into various territories in the field throughout the USA.

I spent my next 13 years at Microscan as an Inside Sales Manager supporting our growing distribution network and OEMs in the Midwest (USA) and Europe. Here, I helped many of our distributors and OEMs choose products for specific applications, triage applications and sales issues, and supported all of the Regional Sales Managers in these areas as well.

An opportunity arose in 2008 for Microscan to acquire the Siemens Machine Vision division, which moved us into the vision market and added a legacy of machine vision innovation to our corporate history. This division became Microscan's Northeast Technology Center, where many members of the former Siemens Machine Vision team still develop and support Microscan machine vision inspection and lighting technologies today. Our new AutoVISION products are a prime example of the marriage between machine vision and barcode reading, and represent the coming together of the Microscan and Siemens Machine Vision histories.

Back on the western coast of the USA, Microscan again moved our headquarters facility in 2009 to a larger location in Renton, WA, where we are still operating today. I remained an Inside Sales Manager at this location until just last year in 2011, when I had the opportunity to take on the Channel Manager position supporting our distributors and developing programs for our partner distribution network. And now, after almost 24 years with Microscan, here I am to tell you the story.

Working on the Microscan team has been a great experience so far. I look forward to making even more history as Microscan moves forward, tackling new barcode and machine vision challenges. If we haven't already crossed paths during my 24 years at this company "“ whether you are a partner, customer, or are new to Microscan technology "“ I hope we'll get a chance to share a part of Microscan's history in the future!

Happy 30th Microscan!

Matt Scrichfield

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