Out of pure stubbornness


 Photo source:sdelanounas.ru

Exclusively from its own resources a small company from Novosibirsk reached the level of the world market leaders of night vision. At the decisive moment "clean" the designers were able to become serial producers


 Photo source:sdelanounas.ru

Even in his native Novosibirsk Company "Cathode" few have heard.

"Did you know that your city has company — almost a world leader in the production of night vision equipment?" — I asked Novosibirsk, the majority of respondents responded negatively. I explained that the "cathode" was a small design office of one of the well-known factories in the city, and the natives were amazed: "Wow! So were able to grow? Is it true? "

Could not — and it’s true. In a remote industrial area of Novosibirsk, a nondescript building without any "unmarked" located — no less — one of the world’s leading manufacturers of night vision. A small company was able to achieve what could never have achieved great Soviet industry.

I must admit that we, too, have learned about the "cathode" quite by accident. It was true. In the edition of "Expert" for the last year has developed a strong opinion that the modern Russian economy is the explosive growth of new market structures — small dynamic companies that have arisen in the course of reform. There are those companies in all industries, are characterized by high rates of growth (more than 50% per year) and low turnover — to tens of millions of dollars.
In order to "feel" it is an economic phenomenon, we turned to the experts of the Expert Institute, which constitute the basis for goskomstatovskih data directory "Thousand best enterprises of Russia" with the request — send us some names of dynamic small firms. Among them, we selected the most problematic for the small business sector — mechanical engineering — and is accidentally poked in saying nothing called "cathode". And he was on the occasion of a domestic leader in the field of opto-electronic instrument.

Today turnover "Cathode" small — only 173 million rubles, and while nothing is certain about its prospects can not be said — will he global giant, or will be absorbed by one of the existing ones. Nevertheless, the story of "Cathode" — a typical story on the start of the stage, the stage of development when people can only rely on their own intuition and innate stubbornness.

Our army was blind
The company "Cathode" grew out of a special design bureau, established in 1959 at the Novosibirsk plant "Ekran", which produced the picture tubes. Nothing particularly noteworthy that CB did not stand out, such in the Soviet Union had thousands. His main task was to help "screen" to develop new products, like the majority of the factory CB, narrow specialization, he was not. Its engineers were at the same time with a dozen different directions, among them were electro-optical converters (tubes of).

A few words about what the EOC. Electro-optical converter — a key element of night vision devices (NVD): sights, binoculars and so on. It allows the EOC to see in the dark. Therefore the technical excellence of any night instrument is essentially determined by the technical perfection of the tube.

By the beginning of the 80 leaders of the Soviet defense industry, it became clear that the Soviet Union is far behind the West in the development of night vision. While our opponents are likely already familiar with the latter, but "in the drawings" were examined third and even fourth-generation night vision, the Soviet Army were instruments of zero and first generations. That is the night our army was blind. Bridge this gap the government has instructed the Moscow Electric Lamp Plant in conjunction with the Institute of Applied Physics. Simultaneously with them for the development of new generations of EOC and engineers took OKB "Display", on its own initiative.

The decision to do EOPami virtually single-handedly took the then chief engineer KB Roman Bagduev. He also insisted on the fact that the development of new generations of EOC has become a priority of the KB. "By the time it was already clear that research in this area is very promising: States and Europe have recovered a great deal on speeding up the work in this direction", — says Roman Isaacovich that prompted him to accept the first solution.

The management of "Screen" required the subjects to close their KB EOC, believing that it "has taken on the daunting task," but Bagduev stubbornly stood his ground. It was the beginning of the strategic line that turned the state into a private company CB and eventually led her to the world’s leading companies — manufacturers of night vision.

By 1985, it became clear that it was the Siberians, not officially designated developers of the tube, the furthest advanced in the task — they came up with not only the principle of the creation of a new generation of the tube, but also the technology of its manufacture. Despite the apparent success of the Novosibirsk KB, the state did not order it, and funds are not allocated. Because of this, our army has received new night vision devices for ten years later than it would otherwise.

But experts KB so conspicuous lack of recognition of the development of EOC is not averted. They themselves now argue that there is "only thanks to the stubbornness of chief engineer Bagdueva." Not having read any Western textbook on management, Bagduev intuitive bet on the fact that it turned KB do better than anyone else, and forced the staff to develop themselves. The responsibility he took on enormous: there comes a time when this development to anyone except the KB, was not needed.

Survival
Eighty-fifth eighty-seventh were the hungry years for the company. Funding KB virtually stopped: "Display" to curtail production — helping engineers KB he is no longer needed. Did not make new orders and Minelektroprom.

In 1988 he became head of CB Head of SCADA Vladimir Loktionov. After Bagdueva it — the second key figure in the history of the company. "We could not engage in several directions as before. It was necessary to narrow the topic. I decided to focus on the development of EOC of 2 +, — says Loktionov. — Why do I say that? Because in this area, we were pioneers. By that time we already had gained a serious hurt on the subject, and has developed a very strong team. "

It was a risky decision. In economics prevailed mess. It was absolutely clear how things will develop further. At KB’s not been a single stable source of funding. No guarantee that the research and design stage of the work will be productive. As to who these new tubes of will then produce and how to sell them, and does no one thought — to think about the future in this way, Soviet engineers were not able to. But the developers are aware that further work on EOPami necessary — when all the risks it promises a breakthrough.

From 1988 to 1993, the company survives thanks largely to participate in a unique project of the Russian Academy of Sciences — the creation of Baikal huge detector for neutrinos coming from distant galaxies. "Cathode" develops and manufactures photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) — key instruments of the detector that
scientists unfold in the depths of the lake. On the "cathode" PMT give a resounding name — "quasars." Katodovskie "Quasar" on the main characteristics of the devices have far exceeded the Japanese company Hamamatsu (the world leader in the development and production of PMTs). Note that to this day no one has managed to surpass the unit, created to "cathode".

"Quasars" have become the latest "non-core" child of Siberians. They supported the "cathode" is not only financial: some breakthrough technical solutions born in the process of working on "Quasar", were used in the new EOPah.

In 1991, the "cathode" becomes an independent company. Aiming at all costs keep the staff, Loktionov and Bagduev are resorting to all their communications and eventually convince the military that "cathode" is able to do what they, the military, sorely lacking. So the company will reappear budget money. But this financial trickle is very poor — it is only enough for very little money. The struggle for survival continues, but the development of a new EOC is in full swing.

All the powers of the company were thrown to the development of a new EOC, but no one was taken to predict that sooner: the project will be finished or people flee in search of a more "bread" places.

Its production
Gone are indeed many: four hundred employees left only one hundred and eighty. But it was the key frames, and by 1993 the development of the tube of 2 + has been completed.

At this stage, before the project-type companies, as a rule, there is a question: "Who would sell this development?" To tell the truth, it is this question — the eternal stumbling block post-Soviet techies: they dream only deal with "their business", that is, to develop ideas, but who will implement them in the "hardware" — God knows. In this "break" hundreds of research companies. Find someone who would buy at the stage of development of project documentation, it is very difficult. And even if such a buyer and is, money for life of the developer is not enough, because we are still the main income does not bring the design and drawings, and finished goods — the "glands".

"Cathode" is also probably could have sold to someone for a penny a new, while still a "paper" IC. But that, fortunately, did not happen. A year before the completion of the image intensifier 2 + Loktionov made a decision — to create their own mass production of the new EOC. It was an incredibly difficult task. After all, it was necessary to convert research organization with multiple machines and devices, manufacturing "on the knee" a couple of prototypes, the company with the full technological cycle of production of complex high-tech products. The caller will agree, is a challenge even in normal times. "Cathode" is engaged in the creation of its production base in 1993 — is it worth to remind, as they all collapsed in a circle. Expand the production of high-tech dual-use products without solid guarantees of its sales, even if it was not risk, and pure madness. These words and many Loktionov said. But the "cathode" definitely lucky to stubborn leaders.

Becoming a manufacturing base went from 1993 to 1996. Engineers "Cathode" themselves have developed the basic link in the technology of tubes of 2 + — a unique automatic setting in which tubes of the assembly is carried out in a vacuum. Several units from drawings "Cathode" produced at the Novosibirsk Akademgorodok. "In ‘The cathodes’ production cycle organized somewhat differently than is customary with other manufacturers EOC. Novosibirsk have used a number of unique technical solutions that would eventually become their advantage, "- says Exiled Kulov CEO" Baspik "partner" Cathode ".

Solve the technical part of the task was easier than to deal with the "human factor" — to refocus on the production team. Spoiled flexible schedule employees KB difficult to get used to the monotony of work and to comply with strict technological discipline. "At the moment I first acutely aware how much the developer is different from the worker in production: the psychology is completely different, and to the work, — says Vladimir Loktionov. — For me it was a very difficult time. I was not sure I could make the team work so as required by the assembly-line production. And I had to constantly convince myself and what I am going in the right direction. "

In the end, he won twice — persuaded themselves and their subordinates. "Cathode" as a result of this transformation was complete high-tech company: in addition to the intellectual asset, which is the new tubes of, the enterprise has emerged manufacturing base and formed the core staff.

In 1995 was released the first large party of 2 + EOC. The market for their sales, "Cathode" created in 1993. In the new Russia EOPami could be interested only opto-mechanical plants that have produced night vision equipment on the basis of tubes of previous generations. "We started working with potential users of our EOC long before it was established mass production — says Mr. Loktionov. — The first samples of the new EOC we gave the plants for free, so they can create on their basis of new appliances. But the financial position of the plants at the time was very heavy, it was not until the introduction of new technology. We had to persuade them, ‘Guys, do it!’ ".

And persuaded. On the basis of the Novosibirsk tubes of 2 + were created binoculars and scopes of the new generation — the Russian army came last night-vision equipment, which is not much inferior to the west. Only in Chechnya during the two campaigns, it saved a lot of lives. Almost all this — the merit of a small and very stubborn company from Novosibirsk. "If it were not for ‘cathode’, Russia now would lag behind the U.S. and Europe in night vision technology at least pyatnadtsat.dvadtsat years. Thanks to ‘The cathodes’ it is behind by only three to five years ", — told us Ari Prilik, vice-president of the Canadian company Newcon Optic, partner Siberians.

Instruments — also their
In 1996, Loktionov again mobilizes team to climb one more step — to produce the final product now — own night vision devices.

This solution has matured almost immediately after the start volume shipments of tubes of 2 + plants: management of "Cathode" it became clear that EOPah funds for the development of the company can not earn: in the processing chain of production NVG products Siberians, though without them there can be no night vision — just only components, and all profit goes to the factories — manufacturers devices themselves. "Cathode" is very much like to grow: the company survived the years of perestroika and learn to make their own tubes of, a minor role of a supplier of components did not want to settle.

"I reasoned that — says Loktionov — we develop and manufacture tubes of. If you learn how to design and manufacture, and the instruments themselves, will be able to modify themselves and do both, and if need be, do EOC under the instrument, while the optical-mechanical plants can only be done by the unit purchased, for example, we have IC. In other words, we can change the parameters of the devices on request. These capabilities have become essential to our advantage. "

"Cathode" and took this height — have themselves mastered the production of night vision devices. However, the benefits that are expected Loktionov, you had to find a market where they could be implemented. And before the "cathode" got up the next task — to enter the global market. Only develop at the expense of the domestic market the company could not — he was too
narrow. By and large, it had only one buyer PNV — Armed forces. And the buyer preferred to work with their traditional suppliers — Optical and Mechanical Plant, which had already made instruments for the army on the basis of the same katodovskih EOC.

In an environment of real competition
The foreign market, "Cathode" went long. For four years — from 1996 to 1999 — combined Loktionov has traveled dozens of specialized exhibitions, but was not able to sell anything. Only in 1999, he found his first buyer: foreign partner "Cathode" became a Canadian Newcon Optic — Distribution company, founded by our compatriots who emigrated from the Soviet Union. They made Siberians literally "lick" the appearance of their products — to alter and revise the housing cover all rezinochki, cogs and other details. Now Canadians are buying large part produced "cathode" EOC and Plan.

Newcon not just "roll out" Siberians products in the markets of many countries. The main thing that made Canadians — "wrapped" products "Cathode" in the usual buyers of such equipment, "wrapper": given a guarantee of quality and ensure proper service. Portfolio of "Cathode" gradually filled orders. In 2000, in fact seventeen years after the start of the project, Siberians have its first ever profit. By 2002 the volume of production, and with it, and profits have more than doubled. The year 2003 was even more successful: in comparison with 2000, issue of PNV has increased almost four-fold.

Let us say a few words about the "playing field", which broke "cathode". The world market of night vision is divided into two unequal parts: the U.S. market, which consumes nearly 100 million devices a year, and the rest of the world, where every year about 50 million sold units. In the U.S. market only operate domestic producers, the rest of the market is divided between five major players — two American companies ITT and Litton (they sell to "rest" the market about 20% of its production, while 80% are sold within the country), two European firms — DEP (Holland) and Photonics (France), they produce no night vision, but only tubes of, and our "cathode".

This market is very specific to work on it hard. The lion’s share of night vision (up to 90%) is consumed by army and okoloarmeyskimi structures — hence all the "charms" of arms and military equipment: government control, the invisible border areas of military and political influence, black lists "unreliable" countries, etc . This market must be able to maintain long-term skilled marketing — fast transactions on a "money in the morning, evening chairs" did not happen. The Russian exporter is in addition to the above there are additional complexities. In particular, the long and troublesome procedure to obtain an export permit. And there are the legacy of the cold war — the number of states for ideological reasons still avoids Russian products.

On the structure of the world market is very different from the PNV Russian — there besides the military segment, there is also quite capacious civil segment. "Night" willing to acquire police and rescue services, security units, as well as hunters, fishermen, tourists and participants in various research expeditions.

Given the specificity of high-tech business and market characteristics, it can be argued that the company from Novosibirsk is very well positioned in the global market. Already, "cathode" — the five leading firms able to develop and produce tubes of and Plan. According to Ari Prilika, tandem "Cathode»-Newcon now holds 10.15% of that part of the world market, which we called "rest." A potentially qualify for 20.30%.

Competitors in the small Russian companies more than respectable. American ITT, for example, is a large corporation, for which the technique of night vision — just one of the lines of business. All four companies — ITT, Litton, DEP and Photonics — so far superior to "Cathode" in quality. But the "Cathode" there are advantages: its instruments and easier, and cheaper than their Western counterparts.

Products "Cathode" has been recognized the world’s most demanding customers: Party glasses bought Britain for NATO units, long-term supply contract signed with Siberians tubes of the Israelis. By the way, Israeli experts, who came to the signing of the agreement in Novosibirsk "to examine the situation on the ground", did not hide his surprise: "We never thought that the production units of this level is possible in Russia."

Ambitions and Limitations
With ambitions of the company, "Cathode" all right. They grow in proportion to the volume of production, profit and fame. Siberians are prepared to make the next step and kill three birds with one stone and a half times increase production, significantly increase the global market share and capture the domestic market. To get things done, to be launched in the next series of EOP — t rd — generation (devices based on these EOC allow you to see much further and with much less light).

This expansion of production would require about $ 1 million investment. But profit immediately increase significantly as the third-generation technology about twice the price of the second generation and the world is in great demand. Although U.S. companies have two years supply in different countries on the basis of PNV EOC third generation market is far from saturation. In the domestic market situation is also favorable. It is planned to upgrade the army and other security forces, and therefore in terms of domestic market PNV promises to be very significant. Now night vision devices based on tubes of the third generation of the Russian market only supplies firm "Geophysics HB" (this is the company purchased a production line in the Netherlands), but the volume of supply is very low. So that the "Cathode" is a chance to take the domestic market is almost entirely PNV.

Production of tubes of the fourth generation Loktionov scheduled to begin in 2005 — stubborn "cathode" is struggling to catch up with competitors. The pace of this "pursuit" accelerated if the launch of the series between the second and third generations has been almost nine years, the fourth off the assembly line, "Cathode" in just a year or two after the third.

What’s next? "Cathode" is not waiting for the arrival of foreign investors and is committed to develop exclusively from its own resources. Is no doubt that the "cathode" will grow and grow very vigorously, no — the company from Novosibirsk, who managed to survive the turn of the 90s, that’s enough for this, and intellectual capacity, and corporate obstinacy, and the safety margin. Remarkably, this small by traditional standards, the company itself develops and manufactures process equipment for the production of new generations of EOC, that is, puts its products at the same done for them "conveyor" and no one in this case does not. In the near future, "Cathode" — establish its own production and those parts that still have to be purchased on the side.

If we consider the whole story not from the point of view of the success or failure of a single company, but from the point of view of the interests of the whole country, a country that wants to catch up to the West in this strategic area, it seems logical to the following: as soon as there is in Novosibirsk so much potential as a "cathode" to strengthen it — to create on its basis a powerful holding company, which would specialize in the design and manufacture of electro-optical technology. The idea is that in a significant proportion of the holding should belong to the state — that is how it is done in the U.S. a
nd Europe as the first and main consumer of night vision devices anywhere in the world have been and remain the army structure.

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