Out of the Lab – Into the Factory

The startup known as SOPAT has developed a new measuring system. What was conceived as an isolated solution for purposes of R&D is now making its way into industry

Sondenmessung in der Parxis Foto: Sopat GmbH

In 2006, Sebastian Maaß was at an all-time low. He simply wasn‘t getting anywhere with his dissertation. At ACHEMA, the world‘s largest chemical engineering tradeshow in Frankfurt, he chatted up one manufacturer after the next, visiting roughly 30 to 40 stands. But no one had what he needed for his measurements, i.e. a system that could measure liquid particles during an ongoing process. Process engineer Maaß explains: „Everyone said the same thing: ‚too complex, too expensive, it won‘t work.‘“ This low point was the moment at which SOPAT was born.

SOPAT stands for „Smart Online Particle Analysis Technology.“ The technology is fascinating to anyone interested in analyzing particles such as droplets, bubbles, grains, cells and crystals in a quick and reliable way. And there are many such people. In fact, Maaß just got back from a business trip to Europe‘s largest ice-cream manufacturer. But even pharma companies, such as Shell and BASF, count among the Berlin company‘s clients. While some want to know how large the droplets in their ice cream are so that it‘s as creamy as possible, others want to measure their products as closely as possible to the where they are actually produced. Maaß explains the procedure in the following way: „We take the microscope out of the laboratory and into the manufacturing facility.“ His goal is to provide his clients with the precision of a lab analysis in real time. While he speaks, his hand sweeps across a SOPAT corporate flyer. It has a green design – a reflection of the company‘s environmentally friendly goals. Indeed, the startup is eager to offer a system that saves on resources and energy and makes production more efficient.

While still writing his dissertation, Maaß began developing the photo sensor and its intelligent image analysis. He asked a tech-savvy computer scientist and later co-founder Jürgen Rojahn to take care of creating the software. He also got industrial engineer Jörn Emmerich to join the team. Within three years, the first prototype was ready. The first requests from private industry came very quickly: „Only then did we realize that our system wasn‘t just an isolated solution for research purposes,“ says Maaß. „There was a lot more interest.“

These days, SOPAT has grown to 15 employees and is now an official training company. Initially, the business mail went to the same address as where Maaß obtained his doctorate, seeing as the Institute for Process Engineering at TU Berlin has its offices in the same brick building where SOPAT was founded. Maaß feels at home in City West: „The city center is right around the corner, our employees enjoy working here and our cooperation partners are close,“ explains the engineer and entrepreneur as he steps out into the hallway.

There, directly under the „Germany – Land of Ideas“ poster, lies a 40 kg silver suitcase. It‘s the measuring system. 36-year-old Maaß will be taking this on a trip to India next week. The company‘s next step is further internationalization. But not only that. Maaß is also eager to undertake a new measuring of Berlin‘s health care industry.

Susanne Hörr
Kluge Köpfe 2015