When I think of Italian companies whose designs fire up my imagination, the names Lamborghini, Ferrari or Maserati immediately come to mind when I think of cars, or Armani, Zegna or Versace when I think of clothing. In addition to them, there are countless other designers and design firms in Italy that make it the center for design in much of Europe. So when Nick the owner of Elos asked if I would like to see the facilities and see what he was working on I jumped at the chance.
To me Elos has long been one of the European aquarium companies that I considered at the forefront of the hobby. I have been using their products for well over a decade, but to be honest I knew little about them, so when the opportunity to spend a day with Nick at Elos arose during my recent trip to Italy I tried to make the most of my visit.
While I have been able to visit some US manufacturing companies in the past, most of these companies generally focused on one or two things like lighting or pumps or additives or salt. From what I know about Elos, they make everything from amino acids to test kits for our tanks, (yeah I could not come up with a Z word) so I was interested to visit such a diversified company. As a result of their making such a wide variety of products, I was curious as to not only how they did it, but also how the entire process worked from design to final product and then eventually the release of the product to us.
Having met Nick a few times at various shows and chatted with him online it was quickly apparent that he had a vision of where he wants to take Elos, and also that he has the obsessiveness that I have seen in many of my fellow hobbyists. And after hanging out with him in his home town it was obvious that he not only wants to make Elos the premier aquarium company in Italy, but he also is trying to develop products that will not only do it there, but also in all of Europe, and eventually in all of the US as well. His training as an electrical engineer seems to serve him well, in that after spending time with him it was quite clear that he has a fine eye for small details and that he understands that there are still holes in the hobby that he is trying to get his company to fill.
In this regard, he has started with the very foundation of the hobby: the tank and stand, and tried to bring them up to a new level. While to most of us a tank is merely the vessel into which we house our fish and corals and the stand is almost completely forgotten or an afterthought, Nick is trying to make the Elos tanks and their stands something beautiful in their own right that add to the beauty of the homes they are in, so that the whole package is visually appealing, not just the inside of the tank.
I must admit that this was kind of foreign to me as I have always worked under the assumption that if someone even noticed the tank I was not doing my job of making the inside of the tank spectacular. To help explain his vision, Nick brought it to my attention that over 95% of the people that walk into our homes do not have tanks, so to them the tank, stand and the tank’s inhabitants are an entire package that cannot be separated from these viewer’s point of view.
So when the tank and stand do not add to the overall aesthetics of the room, at least for these people we have failed. And by failed I mean that despite how nice our tanks may look on the inside, to these individuals if the tank and stand look poorly what is inside the tank really doesn’t matter.
So to work from the simplest part of the hobby, Nick has tried to make his tanks and stands not only be more visually appealing than most of the tanks on the market, but he has also taken steps so that these tanks are also easy to work on and maintain. As with most Europeans, Elos products are designed to work over the long term, and by that I mean ten years or longer.
So for the tanks, Nick has enlisted the help of some of the top glassmakers in Italy to come up with low iron glass, called Diamondline glass, that has the highest clarity approximately 92%, of any glass, I have seen. At the same time, he has also managed to have them make the glass so it is structurally stronger than most of the other glass in tanks out there to reduce the risk of the glass cracking or chipping, unlike other low iron glass out there. Having done this was not enough for Nick however, he recently has taken it one step further and has developed what he calls crystal silicone that is visually clear and that is stronger than conventional silicone.
He is now using this silicone on some of his tanks to that when they are viewed the distracting black or colored line that is present along the seams on most tanks is no longer present. This may seem like a minor detail, but when you look at two tanks side by side and one has been made with this material it is clear, no pun intended, which tank is more appealing to look through.
By the same token, Nick has spent years developing and designing stands that are not only structurally superior but that are also very appealing to look at as well. To this end, Elos stands have evolved significantly in just the relatively short time I have been looking at their products. No longer is cheap compressed wood or particle board used as the major component in their stands, but instead they are made of waterproof melamine panels so that over time they do not lose their visual appeal or warp or mark.
The panels can even be constructed out of carbon fiber if one desires and wants the latest technology. While in Italy, I saw that his stands had been taken one step further in that Nick had recently come up with a design where the tank itself rested on a skeleton of stainless steel tube and then the panels were attached to the tube vie strong magnets.
This unique modular design allowed not only for the panels to be removed so that the sump or refugium underneath the tank could be worked on from all sides, but it also allowed for the panels to be changed so that if the color of the room or furniture around the tank was changed the color of the stand could be changed to match it as well. As I have mentioned, the Europeans, and especially the Italians are far more aware of the aesthetics surrounding a tank than we are, so it was good to see a company focusing on having a tank add to the look of a room and not just what is inside the tank.
Lastly in this regard to aesthetics, Nick did not just focus on the look of the tank, but he also paid attention to another factor that we often overlook: the noise a tank produces. So to make his tanks as unobtrusive in terms of noise as possible he developed the Quiet Drain overflow system and the Silent Flow pump.
Since many of us keep our tanks in our family rooms where a television or sound system may be located, having a tank that is silent is another benefit of his tanks. My switching to an Elos tank with this overflow design has been a welcome improvement. I can say that as a result of switching to a tank using this system I have been able to turn down the volume of my tv significantly.
More importantly however, this overflow can handle a significant amount of water passing through it as well so the tank has not lost return flow as a result of it getting quieter. So when you add these three relatively unique aspects to a tank, it is easy to see why Elos is considered in the same light as the other great design companies of Europe.
While Elos is well-known for their tanks and stands, they are little known here for their lighting, which is interesting. I say that, as when I was there I was shown their first model of an LED light, and it was developed and put into production a full three years before the Solaris LED was introduced here. In fact, they have now been producing and selling LED lights for longer than virtually any other lighting company.
Unfortunately, the lighting market is now so loaded with producers that it is difficult at times to really differentiate between them. To be honest I have not used any of their LED lights on my tanks, but from the tanks I saw them on they seem at least comparable to some of the lights I have used. I may try one out in the future as I always like to see and compare products in my seemingly endless quest to set up the perfect tank.
Just as there are numerous suppliers of lights for our tanks, so too are there numerous makers of test kits. I have now been using Elos test kits for over ten years, with the main reason being that I have found them to be accurate, repeatable and for me easy to read when the color changes.
So when I got to visit Elos I was interested in seeing how they were developed and if there really were any differences between these tests and the tests made by other companies. In talking with Nick and the developers of the kits I was delighted to see that my use of these kits was worth it for several reasons.
First, I found out that the company Nick works with for developing and providing these tests is one of the most highly regarded in Europe and take great pains to make sure their test kits are as accurate as possible. They not only make test kits for aquariums, and exclusively for Elos, according to Nick’s specifications, but they also produce many of the kits for the water companies, environmental agencies and government agencies throughout Europe.
I also found out that when they are working with Elos, Nick demands that the kits not only be environmentally friendly when they are used, but that they are also eco friendly when they are being developed. That is, these kits, unlike some others I have used are so safe that if a vial of test liquid or even a bottle of reagent should fall into an aquarium or be consumed by a child they will not be harmful and wipe out a tank or be lethal.
Now I do not recommend dumping them in the tank or drinking them, but to me it is good to know that Elos takes great pains to make sure that no harm in any fashion comes from using their tests. It was even pointed out to me that one of their tests took over 3 years to develop, as Nick demanded that they not use cadmium, a known toxic heavy metal, in the processing of their reagent, unlike what is used by another company.
While Elos may have lost money by not having this kit on the market, Nick was more worried about what effects using cadmium in his test could have on the environment. So just as I care about what happens in my tanks and as well as on the reefs of the world, it made me feel good that at least one company was trying to make their products in an environmentally friendly manner as possible.
While these kits are a bit more expensive than some of the others on the market, I now feel better about using them knowing how they are designed and made. To me the extra 25 cents or less that a test with these kits may cost me is more than justified. I also got to see some of the tests that Elos is working on, as well as how they are trying to make them even more user friendly so this further made me feel good about relying on them for my tanks. While water testing isn’t sexy, I’m glad to know that the test kits I am using really are not only good but also that I am not hurting anything when I use them.
While water testing is not a fun part of the hobby, feeding our corals and fish and watching them grow and even spawn is. And just as I have been using their test kits for a while, I have also been using their amino acids and various foods as well. While Nick enlisted a top lab to develop his tests, he similarly uses one of the top fish food producers to produce his fish foods and amino acids. This company produces much of the food used for feeding fish that are consumed. So they are very conscientious in making their food be as healthy for the fish and eventually the end consumer as possible.
And because of this they have access to virtually any foodstuffs that go into fish food and they have been in the business for a very long time. So again as with the test kits, I was quite pleased to see what goes into their foods and amino acids and to learn that a significant amount of testing occurred before any of these items were brought to market. Some of these foods were even used during the early stages of development for these food fish and seeing them in different stages of development showed that these foods seemingly did provide the necessary elements not only for growth but also for optimal coloration of the fish.
In my own case, I often take the food I am feeding my fish for granted, so seeing this confirmed that I had made a good choice. Having chosen Elos as my amino acid supplement was much easier as I knew immediately when I added it to my tank or even smelled it that it was different than the other amino acid supplements on the market. I say that, as when it is added to my tanks it immediately turns the whole tank yellow, but more importantly within an hour or two much greater polyp extension occurs in many of my corals, so apparently it contains something that they like.
Seeing all of this first hand was quite an eye-opener and added to the enjoyment I had during my entire trip to Italy. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I also learned while I was there that Elos does a lot of work and has a lot of products for freshwater planted tanks. And while I have had reef tanks seemingly forever, I like many of my fellow hard core reefers also have a planted freshwater tank too.
So when I saw the Elos products to successfully maintain a planted tank, I was delighted, as I really did not know that they did these products with the same zeal that they do marine products. Also they have enlisted one of the top freshwater plant specialists in Europe as a consultant with the goal of making keeping a planted tank as easy as possible. Having kept a planted tank for almost two years now, I can attest that it can be easier than a reef tank, but it also can be more work if not done right. So seeing that Elos was trying to make it easier I has made me want to try some of these products as well.
One of the classic comments I have heard is that while you may enjoy sausage, you don’t really want to see how the sausage is made. Luckily in getting to visit Elos and not only getting to see how their equipment was made, but also getting to see how it was developed and how much effort is made to produce the best products, I was quite happy to see how the sausage is made.
It was quite impressive to see that virtually all of the products were designed, made and shipped from Italy. And being of Italian descent gave me a sense of pride that such a company exists in Italy and provides products not only to Italy and Europe, but also to the states as well. As I said at the beginning of this article I have been lucky in that I have gotten to see just about every aspect of the hobby and getting to see how Elos does it only adds to my knowledge of why this hobby is so great.
Hopefully in the future as I visit other companies and other individuals involved in the hobby I will continue to see why and how the hobby is continuing to evolve and become better every seemingly every year.