Optimum NV was founded on 14 July 2017 by sector veterans Paul Berghmans and Steve Raskin, together with investment company Pentahold - three partners with years of experience in the development, production and sale of optical sorting machines. Technology expert Jan De Jonghe, who also boasted extensive experience in optical sorting, joined the team to lead the research and development department. Shortly after its establishment, the Dutch Concept Engineers from Eindhoven, founded in 1999, was taken over. That company specialised in optical sorting systems for the food industry. The managers and owners of Concept Engineers at that time took a stake in the capital so that Optimum could get off to a flying start with a team with more than 200 years of experience in optical and electronic sorting at the helm. A new head office/demonstration hall was opened under the trade name Optimum Sorting in Hasselt, Belgium.
The market of optical sorters is a niche market which was dominated by a few major players before the arrival of Optimum. With dozens of patents to his name, CEO Paul Berghmans is responsible for many of the innovations in the sector in which he has been active for 35 years already. "Optimum was founded with the intention of becoming a leading reference. The market could use a new, progressive and above all reliable partner," he said. "We are not trying to become the biggest, we want to become the most innovative - the trendsetter in terms of technology, quality and reliability. We have therefore resolutely drawn the map of innovation and investment in the future."
The first priority after the launch was obvious: to build a technological lead. Optimum did this by developing a completely new sorting platform by the name of Cloudsorter. The most advanced laser scanner in the sorting market, a high-resolution multispectral scanner, was then developed and launched. Not only does it still have the highest resolution today, it also combines a large number of laser wavelengths and associated sensors. The detection sensitivity could also be improved by a factor of 4 thanks to the patented technology. This laser scanner was first developed for a scanning width of 1200 mm, then for 900 mm, and the current generation, which will be launched this year, can be used for a scanning width of 1800 mm without sacrificing performance.
Originally, the new laser scanner was added as an option for the existing FOCUS and TRIPLUS product lines in the autumn of 2017, which immediately boosted performance, especially in terms of detecting foreign objects between various foodstuffs. At the beginning of 2019, the FOCUS 2400 was also equipped with two adjacent 1200 mm laser scanners, which resulted in the widest belt sorter on the market up to that time. This summer the first machine with a 1800 mm laser scanner will be commissioned.
The technology has meanwhile been further developed and refined so that Optimum's laser system can also detect invisible but seriously harmful substances, such as aflatoxin on nuts.
In 2019, the range of Optimum sorting machines - FOCUS, TRIPLUS and NEXUS - was expanded with a new product line: the VENTUS. This advanced optical sorting machine combines a free-fall infeed with a high-resolution laser scanner. The VENTUS is currently available in widths of 900, 1200 and 1800 mm. With a maximum inspection width of 1800 mm, it is the widest of its kind and the first machine to use the current generation of laser scanners. It won a gold medal at the premiere of Alina, which is a trade fair that is held for the food industry in Bordeaux. It is important to note that the 1800 mm wide VENTUS has the same high resolution as the narrower models in the range.
"The fact that we have achieved so much in only three years is partly due to the support of a financially strong shareholder like Pentahold, who knows the sector well," explained Berghmans. "In total, all shareholders have already invested € 15M in building our technological lead, and consequently in our future. And we plan on continuing this"
Optimum has not only made progress in the technological field. "Pretty soon after our establishment, we expanded production capacity in Eindhoven. Our sales grew by 31% and 23% respectively in 2018 and 2019, and the start in 2020 was also promising."
The workforce has nearly doubled over the same period. The number of sales persons also doubled and the sales network has expanded to more than 30 sales representatives in as many countries. Investments have also been made in the United States with the opening of a local branch in Denver, Colorado. American customers can visit a fully equipped demonstration centre there and, like in Asia, there is a local service department. Currently Optimum is active throughout the world in more than 50 applications.
Quality and service are high on the agenda. This is exactly why Optimum has invested heavily in the expansion and support of its service departments. Since the start, the number of service technicians has quadrupled. "We do not offer expensive service contracts at Optimum to get the service that customers deserve. All of our customers can count on 24/7 remote service at no extra cost", Berghmans emphasised. "That's what truly sets us apart from the competition. As a smaller player, we have another ace in our hand: each production line is unique. Our organisation is versatile and flexible, so we can easily adapt our sorting solutions to our customers' needs and integrate them seamlessly into an existing environment. Customer focus is not simply a hollow slogan for us."
It is undisputable that Optimum is the most innovative developer and manufacturer of optical sorters - belt sorters with cameras, free-fall laser sorters and solutions that combine these different technologies. Optimum may still be a start-up that is slowly moving beyond the investment phase, but thanks to the experience and financial strength of its shareholders, this start-up is ready for the future. "Management and shareholders will continue to engage and invest in the key pillars for our further growth, namely technological innovation, a global sales network and optimal service, so that we can be a true alternative to the established values", said Berghmans, and he concluded with a message for current and future customers: "Optimum is your reliable partner!"