‘I’ve worked hard to promote a team culture’

Carlos Lee, Epic’s director general, talks to Martina Mueller, CEO of 3D AG, a Swiss company specialising in micro and nanotechnology and holographic structures

What led to you becoming 3D AG’s CEO? 3D AG is a family business set up in 1989 by my grandfather. I used to do summer jobs at the company while still at school, so I’ve had contact with the company from a young age. I studied art and then chemistry for a while but always worked at 3D AG on the side until 2011, when I came to the company to work full-time in 3D AG’s marketing and design department. I then did a BA in Business

Administration at the University of Applied Sciences in Zürich and, in 2016, became the company’s chief commercial officer. In 2019 I was appointed CEO. Although 3D AG is family

owned, it’s always been third- party managed and, in fact, I’m the first member of the family to work in the company.

How has the firm developed over the last 30 years? When we started, our core competence was classical holography for high security products, such as banknotes, passports and other security applications. The technology was based on analogue laser interference holography, a recording of interference patterns. In those days, high security

features combined visible and hidden security features – but | @electrooptics

at its essence, it was a visual feature. Over the years some of our basic competences have remained the same, but we’ve evolved from analogue to high-tech to provide the higher precision, higher structure fidelity and positioning accuracy demanded by the industries we’re active in today. We had come to understand

that if you can process a hologram, which is a nanostructure, you can process any nano or microstructure because it requires similar processes of origination, recombination and replication. It’s basically transferring structures from one material into another. We’ve applied this knowledge to nanotechnology and microtechnology to create novel functional surfaces and to deliver to the industry next generation products. Today, the company has four business areas: high security (for example banknotes); visual enhancement concerned with packaging and product embellishment; brand protection (for example, security labels, digitalisation and blockchain); and micro and nano technology for functional surfaces (for example, displays, solar panels, microfluidics and more).

These four pillars are

important because they enable cross-disciplinary expertise, i.e. what we learn in high security

“It’s important to find the right balance between freedom for self-development and a more traditional management style”

can help in nanotechnology, and what we learn in brand protection can help in visual enhancement. This kind of connectivity also provides knowledge of the needs of the whole industry, which fosters inspiration and innovation – our main goals and strengths.

What have been your main challenges? Two things that brought me to my role as CEO were a straightforward, fearless approach and an open and grateful character. As a young woman CEO in the technology sector, I’ve also mostly felt respected by my peers in the industry. I’ve always seen challenges

less as problems, more as learning experiences. One area

I initially had difficulties with was understanding the concept of risk. Finding solutions for customers obviously requires knowledge of the technology and working within the laws of physics and optics, but to get good results, you also need to be creative, think outside the box and try things that may seem illogical or difficult. And it’s doing things that seem crazy, like building a new machine, which have usually been the most innovative and amazing additions to the company. The challenge is to know when and how to take risks. So far, I think my choices have been the correct ones.

What changes have you introduced? Like many companies, 3D AG’s management was top- down and old-school. Since I arrived, we’ve adopted a more modern company management style based on a bottom-up approach, and I’ve worked hard to promote a team culture,

June 2021 Electro Optics 41



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