Focused ultrasound companies rely on equipment manufacturers to provide the high-tech, high quality components when building their transducers and peripheral systems. PI Ceramic is a German company that fabricates one of the most critical parts of a focused ultrasound – or any type of ultrasound – machine: the piezoceramic elements that vibrate to produce the ultrasound. We interviewed Annemarie Oesterle, Segment Marketing Manager Medical Technology at PI Ceramic to learn more about this dynamic company.
What is the name of the company and what is your business?
PI Ceramic GmbH develops and produces high-quality piezo components for actuator, transducer, and sensor applications. We offer more than 25 years of experience in the field of piezo technology – from piezoceramic materials development and production to fully customized piezo solutions.
Where is the company headquartered? Are there any additional locations?
PI Ceramic is located in Lederhose in the center of Germany. The company is affiliated with Physik Instrumente (PI), the market and technology leader for high-precision positioning technology, with headquarters in Karlsruhe, Germany. Our 15 worldwide subsidiaries serve high tech markets in the US, Europe, and Asia. Currently, there are more than 1,300 employees in the PI group.
How was the company started?
PI Ceramic was founded in 1992, originally as an internal supplier of piezoceramics to our headquarters – PI. At that time, PI already boasted more than 20 years of experience in motion positioning technology. From the start, PI has been the market leader for piezo-based positioning solutions. To meet their increasing demand, PI decided to produce the incorporated piezo elements exclusively for its own products, essentially gaining independence from external piezo suppliers. Thus, with only five employees, the success story of PI Ceramic began. The company has since evolved beyond its origins, and today, PI Ceramic employs more than 330 professionals. Our internal supply to PI comprises only 20 percent of our annual turnover of more than EUR 31 million (in 2019); the remaining 80 percent of our business is derived from external piezo customers covering markets such as medical technology, industrial ultrasonic technology, and precision dosing.
How did you get involved in joining the company?
I joined PI Ceramic about two years ago as a product manager. After completing my Master’s degree in Materials Sciences and gaining four years of experience in fundamental research in the field of ceramics, PI Ceramic was the ideal place to apply and consolidate this know-how in an industrial environment. I am now in charge of Marketing – from segment to product marketing.
Tell us about your company structure.
PI Ceramic is owned by PI GmbH & Co. KG. Our managing directors are Patrick Pertsch and Peter Schittenhelm. The company is structured in four product divisions: piezo components, piezo devices, piezo multilayer actuators, and a tech center. Within these departments, more than 80 dedicated engineers work on our piezo solutions.
Customized development of piezo materials as well as their production is executed entirely in the piezo components division. Piezo plates, discs, rings and tubes with customized electrode materials and structures are common products that can be manufactured from small quantities to series with up to several million pieces per year. In the piezo devices division, ceramic components are used for the production of assembled subsystems, transducers, and stacked actuators. Our patented PICMA® Piezo Multilayer Actuators are developed and manufactured in the multilayer division. The tech center specializes in small series production, which requires new technology and special interdivisional know-how. Piezo spheres, hemi spheres, miniaturized piezos, and free forms are produced in this unit.
In general, what is the current status of your company?
PI Ceramic has experienced amazing growth in recent years: Especially between 2017 and 2018, the company grew more than 30 percent and gained 90 employees. With an annual turnover of EUR 31.4 million, we are in a stable situation – and we are preparing for the future. In autumn 2020, we will put the fourth expansion of our company building into operation. We invested more than EUR 10 million for this expansion. Adding more than half of the existing area, PI Ceramic will then have about 20,000 square meters of production and office area in total. To add functionality to the new space, PI Ceramic is currently improving its technical infrastructure in terms of automated production lines as well as transducer characterization systems.
What does your company offer over other similar suppliers?
PI Ceramic is more than just a piezo supplier. We are located in a German region known for its historic ceramic development and processing know-how, and our engineering teams always try to make the impossible possible. Especially in terms of therapeutic and focused ultrasound, we are well equipped with experts in the field of transducer manufacturing. More importantly, PI Ceramic has more than 25 years of experience in assembling technology for piezo elements, enabling us to assemble even sophisticated transducers such as hemispherical array transducers. We have the perfect manufacturing environment and experience for medical technology products. More than 1,500 square meter ISO-class 7 and 8 clean rooms are at our disposal. We control the complete value chain up to assembled transducers at one site. We have the competencies and technologies to develop customized composites and arrays, to glue piezos onto substrates or membranes, contact them with laces, wires, or flexible PCBs, and house or encapsulate transducer sub-assemblies. Our tech center is manufacturing piezo hemispheres and focus bowls with customized specifications, such as structured electrodes or annular arrays.
Is there anything else we should know about your company?
We have our own highway exit – come visit anytime!