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Interview with Jay Anzellotti

What’s your job function at Semrock, Jay?
I am the Principal Coatings Engineer, which essentially means I run the process engineering team for coatings, reporting to the Director of Operations. 

Our #1 job is to develop new capabilities and continuously improve our current processes. We also make sure that when new custom filter requests come in, we are putting the right rules on the specifications to ensure that the design is manufacturable. At Semrock, making a coating once is not good enough. We want to understand what our yield is going to be so that we can provide both security of supply and consistently high quality for our customers. We pride ourselves on not having to renegotiate specifications after manufacture. This is a company-wide philosophy that penetrates to the deepest levels – it’s part of the culture. All the players need to be dialed in to make that work, and my team of six engineers and technicians are a big part of that.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background? 

I graduated from the University of Rochester (UR) with a BS in Optics in the early 90’s, where I started working in coatings in my junior year. I was part of the optical manufacturing group for the UR laser lab – a training ground for a lot of students. It’s a coating manufacturing group that supports the needs of laser experiments at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. In fact, I worked at UR for 4 years after getting my degree, then moved on to Bausch & Lomb, where I did coatings for industrial optics and lighting.

Editor, Prashant Prabhat, Ph.D.
Semrock Catalog, Business Line Leader

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“The people at Semrock never really left me.”
Jay Anzellotti

What appealed to you about joining Semrock?

When I joined Semrock at its founding in 2000, it was a telecom company, and telecom was at its peak. I could see that the leaders were talented and were going to bring in great people, and it seemed like a great chance to do something exciting. I knew I would get to be part of assembling operations from scratch, and that’s a career opportunity that does not come along very often. By joining Semrock at the beginning, I was involved in getting a lot of systems established – ones we continue to refine today. When telecom crashed, I was lucky enough to stay on. The company really hit a crossroads in spring of 2002, which is when it began to reinvent itself as an IBS coating provider leveraging telecom coating technology and metrology to create steeper, brighter filters for fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy applications.

You left Semrock for a few years. Why leave? 

I wanted to see what life was like at a larger, more established company. I had been with Semrock through its startup years, and though that was incredibly fascinating and rewarding, it also involved a lot of extra hours. I became a dad during those years, so I was looking for the pace of life to slow down a bit, and curious to see how things were done on in a highly structured company with multiple locations.

Why come back to Semrock?

I love making optical filters, and I really enjoyed the role I held at Semrock. I like that we do everything at one site – design, manufacturing, metrology, and even environmental testing.

 The executive team at Semrock always insisted on only making products that fit our manufacturing model so that we could apply standardized processes and materials to all of our orders. It’s a very focused approach, one where you’re not trying to do every single job that comes in with customized instructions, but you do every job well because you have complete control of the design and process. Our choice of market also helps with this – biotech is pretty stable, which allows us to devote part of our time to continuous improvement instead of just managing the ups and downs of military funding or the telecom or semiconductor markets.

There’s a fast-paced energy at Semrock that you don’t get at a larger organization with bigger projects, and immediate gratification knowing the products you design today are going to be in a customer’s hands in a few weeks. Anything you learn on one project gets applied in a very practical way to another project almost immediately. 

How did Semrock change while you were gone?

The biggest thing was the purchase by IDEX, which meant new management, and quite a few new people. Many of the systems that were fairly limited when I started had been drastically improved; the company infrastructure was much more developed, more automated. It wasn’t as necessary to wear as many hats anymore, as more redundancy had been built into the system, from manufacturing processes to knowledge and skills of the staff.  This further ensures the security of supply for our customers, and means that the senior staff can serve to help the main staff optimize and fine tune processes rather than working on the systems themselves. I was particularly impressed by the quality system and the consistently high quality of product going out the door.

What’s different about Semrock now compared to when you started 15 years ago?

It’s a much more mature company, and noticeably bigger. We’re spread across two buildings now, so it’s a little more divided up physically, but much of culture is the same. Of course it was a little more informal when we were small and everybody knew everybody, but the core philosophy of designing high performance, innovative products for manufacturability and then executing on it is still there. I still interact with the rest of the company a lot via the leadership team and engineering community. Overall, I’d say we’re more of a manufacturing company now than ever. We designed our systems to be scaled, and we’re seeing the success of that now.

What keeps you working at Semrock?

It’s simple – great, talented people. The company moves at a fast pace, one where you’re conceiving products and delivering on a short time scale. A lot of our products are used in biotech, so we’re working on things that improve health outcomes for people, and that’s gratifying. It’s also a fairly stable industry, which means we don’t have to change gears constantly. There is so much new in life science that you really have to keep growing and improving products.  The challenges are constantly evolving; there’s always something that scientists want to do or a new instrument design that needs a special filter.

Can you tell us about some of the most interesting products you’ve worked on?

We’ve had a lot of great projects that we just can’t share – both startups and major players doing things that Semrock filters were needed to enable. But one that stands out is a multi-bandpass filter for looking at the fluorescence peaks generated in the blue when formaldehyde is excited at 355 nm (FF01-CH2O-25). It has eleven different passbands so that it can capture a fingerprint of the fluorescence, as well as blocking at all visible and NIR wavelengths. I just don’t know any other companies that could do that.

The other one that comes to mind is our tunable bandpass filter, launched in 2010. For me, it’s probably the most interesting product that we’ve created, just in terms of coating innovation. Interference-based coatings are known to shift their edge with angle, but you’re usually penalized with polarization splitting and spectral degradation. The fact that we were able to develop a bandpass design that takes advantage of angle-tuning and actually optimize it with no polarization splitting or bandpass degradation over a full 60 degrees is pretty incredible. We were the first to do it, and have since expanded on the product line with tunable edge filters to create our VersaChrome series. These kind of products have really pushed us to improve the stability of our coating processes, and show how the design and manufacturing teams are constantly working together to push the envelope.

Any thoughts on the deep UV filter sets that were recently launched?

It’s a really great example of how we’re leveraging a lot of the design and coatings know-how that we’ve continuously been improving to seize a new opportunity in the market. It’s exciting to see that. Even though UV filters can be challenging to make due to the thin layers involved, these products came through our coating systems and performed really well from the outset. This wasn’t an OEM design turned catalog product. Our product management team went to the customers and market to find out what they needed, which shows that we’ve hit the point where our growth is truly organic and we understand our users. Then engineering just needed to execute and use existing tools to make the best possible product.

It’s what we do.