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Toledo's MicroDevices grows on strength of advanced materials used in tiny devices

Chris Melkonian, the CEO and founder of Midwest MicroDevices, says if you don't know too much about micro-electro mechanical systems, that's OK. He thinks you will soon enough.

The downtown-Toledo-based company has continued to grow at a steady pace since its founding in 2004. Melkonian says Midwest's niche is a new and emerging MEMs market, focusing on unusual materials and incredibly tiny wafers but the company can just about do it all.

There are a dozen employees at Midwest MicroDevices. Most of them suit up head-to-toe in a "bunny suit" in what's known as a clean room. These employees work on devices often smaller than a human hair (think miniscule sensor of a car's airbag).

"You won't find too many companies doing the kind of hi-tech work we're doing here in Northwest Ohio," Melkonian says. "I am very proud of that."

The company has received a healthy dose of support from area and state institutions. Melkonian and Co. are graduates of the Regional Growth Partnership, which offered support, marketing and financing. The Ohio Department of Development provided an Ohio Innovation Loan to the company. The University of Toledo's Science, Technology and Innovation Enterprises have also partnered with the startup. "We've gotten a lot of support from University of Toledo," he says. "We collaborate with professors, we select students for internships and we hire graduates."

Melkonian says he hopes to considerably ramp up business in the next couple of years, adding two more shifts and as many as 10 skilled positions.

"I started a startup company at possibly one of the worst times you can," he says. "If the economy can start to turn around, and as we add more business, we'll definitely have a real jump in employees."

Source: Chris Melkonian, Midwest MicroDevices 
Writer: Colin McEwen

Ferro transcends time with technology, adaptation

Take a quick look around you. Chances are good that something you'll see has a part in it made by Ferro in Cleveland. That's because Ferro is almost everywhere. In fact, the computer on which you're reading this issue of hiVelocity probably contains some Ferro parts. Ferro parts are also in your cell phone and in your car.

Ferro was established in 1919 to produce porcelain enamel frit. Today, Ferro is a leading global supplier of advanced materials for a broad range of manufacturers. What Ferro makes today enhances the performance of products in the electronics, major appliances, building and renovation, pharmaceuticals and industrial markets.

Ferro manufacturers and markets electronic materials in the form of high-purity powders, pastes, and tapes for many electronic applications. It also supplies innovative glass colors and coatings, which add value to automotive, flat and container glass in the global market.

Ferro's Pfanstaiehl Laboratories produce high purity chemistry for health and beauty products. Polymer additives by Ferro improve the characteristics of plastics. Ferro is one of the world's largest suppliers of porcelain enamel, which protects cookware, small and large appliances, and building panels.

Ferro also makes liquid colors, dispersions, gelcoats and CordoBond plastic colorants for filled and reinforced plastics. Finally, Ferro is the world's leading supplier of ceramic glaze coating and a major supplier of ceramic color.

The company has grown to 5,200 employees around the world.

Source: Ferro
Writer: Lynne Meyer


Advanced Energy Manufacturing Center in Lima slated to become first of its kind

When up and running, the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Center will represent a first-of-its-kind effort to make Ohio a leader in creating clean energy jobs.

A groundbreaking is planned for October for the new 20,000-square-foot Center in Lima. The center, a non-profit incubator, will initially house a flexible fabrication and robotic assembly demonstration project. It will focus on several technology clusters including design and development, sustainable energy, advanced materials, agile tooling, additive manufacturing technologies, simulation software and others.

The center is designed to create new, high tech manufacturing jobs in Ohio. The state has a history of manufacturing and innovation, but has lost some manufacturing jobs like much of the Midwest as global economic conditions have shifted. State economic development leaders and government officials in Lima see the center as way to recapture the state's manufacturing tradition by creating new manufacturing solutions and processes.

The center is backed by state and federal dollars, including $1 million the federal government awarded the project in 2009.
 
It's just been awarded a $457,375 state Roadwork Development Grant, and the center has applied for a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.

A site for the center was chosen and secured within Lima's Ohio Job Ready Site program site located on South Main Street, says Judith Cowan, the center's president. 

Sources: Ohio Department of Development and Judith Cowan, president Ohio Advanced Energy Manufacturing Center
Writer: Feoshia Henderson




Akron Polymer rides growth, plans new $3-million building

Frank Harris, a professor emeritus of polymer science at the University of Akron, knows what it's like to be the bona fide poster child for the growing high-tech industry in Ohio. And he's OK with that.

He co-founded Akron Polymer Systems in 2005 (with Dr. Stephen Cheng, dean of the UA College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering) and the company has enjoyed steady growth since.

The company now says it's within a year of taking its polymer product with uses in fuel cells, liquid-crystal displays and solar cells to the market.

APS has attracted the attention of several companies, including Lockheed Martin, Kent Displays and solar powerhouse Xunlight.
And to think the company was this close to leaving Ohio.

"We were approached by the state of South Carolina, but we stayed, primarily because of the Third Frontier," says Harris. "South Carolina could offer us some incentives, but they couldn't come anywhere close to the help that the Third Frontier could offer us." APS has received about $350,000 in direct funding from the state program for fuel cell technology, but through subcontracts it has also been awarded more than $2 million for several other projects.

Harris says another benefit is that the company has been able to match Third Frontier funding with industry funding, something he calls the "doubling effect."

There are currently a dozen people employed with APS, but Harris says once a product is on the market within a year, there could be more than 25 positions added. In more good news for the company, APS has been approved for a $1.25 million loan to build a new $3 million facility in downtown Akron.

Source: Frank Harris, Akron Polymer Systems
Writer: Colin McEwen

Bioformix develops new class of materials needed for adhesives, coatings and sealants

Using proprietary new monomer chemistry, Bioformix, has carved out a based of sustainable products using natural raw materials, such as plant products.

Based in Blue Ash, Bioformix' new class of "benign monomers," resins and polymers could be used in a range of plastics and adhesives.

Unlike other competitive product initiatives that are limited to a single chemical structure or require tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in new technology investment for each product, the Bioformix platform uses existing capital infrastructure and know-how, thus radically reducing the costs to initiate and grow the business, says Adam Malofsky, president and CEO.

Initial markets include high value-added adhesives, coatings and sealants and Bioformix has already initiated several retail partnerships for sale of their products. These adhesives would be aimed at the consumer marketplace for use in ordinary home applications, says Malofsky.

Bioformix was founded by Malofsky, Bernard Malofsky, CTO and chief scientist, and Steve Levin of Acara Global, who now serves on Bioformix's board of directors and was the initial seed investor.

The company has raised $1.05 million in venture capital funding from the Queen City Angels and CincyTech.

Malofsky says he expects to be producing and selling products in the next 24 to 36 months. By the end of 2011 he says he plans to hire eight to 10 employees. In the next five years, he expects to have added 30 to 45 professional jobs in the Greater Cincinnati area, and within 20 years he predicts the company could be producing 10 to 30 million metric tons of product, essentially a multi-billion dollar venture.

Source: Adam Malosfsky, Bioformix
Writer: Val Prevish


"Fuzzy fiber" poised to revolutionize composites behind Third Frontier funding

A news release calls it "a game-changing new nanomaterial that will allow composites to multitask - a wind turbine tower that can de-ice its own blades in winter, or store energy to release on a calm day, powering a grid even when its blades are not moving. Or a military vehicle whose armor can serve as a battery - powering some of the vehicle's electrical components."

Khalid Lafdi, who discovered the material, says it's not hype. He says his "fuzzy fiber" could revolutionize everything from water treatment to electronics to the manufacture of airplane parts.

Lafdi, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Dayton and group leader for carbon materials at the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), says the new carbon nanomaterial surfaced eight or nine years ago while he was working on subcontract with the U.S. Air Force. But the material has drawn more attention recently because of a $3-million Ohio Third Frontier award to UDRI to fund scale-up and production.

Most carbon nanomaterials are used purely for structural purposes. They are stiff, light and strong. But they are poor conductors of heat or electricity because they are locked inside a flat sheet of resin. Sort of like slicked down hair.

But, Lafdi says, imagine if you put that gel into your hair and tousled it for a rakish, stylish Hollywood look. Voila -- more surface area, which makes for a better conductor of heat and electricity and provides other functionality that traditional carbon nanomaterials can't approach. All without lessening the structural benefits.

The Third Frontier award will help fund creation and equipment of a full-scale production facility for the hybrid fabric. The award will be matched by UDRI and Ohio collaborators Goodrich and Owens Corning -- potential end users of the material -- and Renegade Materials -- which intends to commercialize the product.

Source, Khalid Lafdi, UDRI
Writer: Gene Monteith




Halo lights up the night with reflective safety coatings

Halo Coatings is hoping to cut through the red tape. Well, tapes of all colors.

The Norwalk-based company is rethinking how coatings are applied retro-reflective, nano-technology powder coatings systems in particular. All with safety in mind.

The most practical uses for the technology are highways signs and bicycles both currently use a reflective tape coating.

But really, the possibilities for Halo's patented reflective technology are endless. Think guardrails, poles, baby strollers and wheel chairs.

"There are things we haven't even thought of yet," says Halo Coatings CEO Aaron Bates. "We set out to work on the highway and on children's bicycles. But it's come so far so fast, we've now seen a whole gamut of applications where we can be used."

There are several advantages for Halo in addition to being the first, and only, retro-reflective powder coating supplier in the world. Bates points out that the coating won't flake off Halo's products and is able to withstand extreme temperatures. "And you can be seen from a 1,000 feet away at night by a car traveling 70 mph."

"It's not only safer than any powder coating out there," Bates adds. "It's that there are no coatings in the world like this."

The company launched in 2008, added two large customers in 2009 and two more in 2010. Halo, a Rocket Ventures portfolio company, currently employs only a handful of employees, but in the next two years the company is expected to add as many as 15 jobs. Those positions include sales, tech-support, engineers, chemists and lab-techs. Bates expects the company to reach $100 million in sales within five years. "The question becomes 'how do we grow smart?'" he adds.

Source: Aaron Bates, Halo Coatings
Writer: Colin McEwen


HyperTech rides superconducting material toward new MRI markets

Michael Tomsic calls his Columbus-based HyperTech "a poster child" for how the Ohio Third Frontier should work. Not only has his company benefited from numerous state and federal grants, but since 2005 has increased employment from two to 25.

Tomsic says HyperTech is one of two companies in the world working to commercialize magnesium diboride wires, a superconducting material that could eliminate the need for high-cost helium baths needed to keep magnetic resonance imagers cool. The other is located in Genoa, Italy, and named, ironically, Columbus Superconducting.

In 2001, the company won an $800,000 grant from the Ohio Technology Action Fund to demonstrate that the magnesium-boron compound could be made into a useful wire.

"That was first major funding anywhere around the world to actually try to commercialize this magnesium diboride," says Tomsic, HyperTech's president.

That project helped paved the way for a three-year, $5-million Third Frontier research and commercialization grant in 2009, which in turn has helped HyperTech strengthen its collaboration with Siemens, Philips and General Electric -- who Tomsic says "have 95 percent of the MRI magnet market" -- as well as with the Ohio State University Wright Center of Innnovation in Biomedical Imaging and the OSU Center for Superconducting and Magnetic Materials.

Along the way, the company has garnered more than $18 million in federal funds to continue to improve the performance of magnesium diboride wire for MRI companies.

While most of HyperTech's focus today is on MRIs, Tomsic says the wires have great potential for upgrading and protecting electric power grids. In anticipation of further growth, the company moved into a 45,000 square foot facility in February.

Source: Michael Tomsic, HyperTech
Writer: Gene Monteith


MAR Systems finds faster, cheaper, better way to strip bad stuff out of water

The presence of mercury, as well as other heavy metals, in our drinking water can lead to serious physical injury over time. Fortunately, new regulations are strictly limiting the quantities of these metals that companies can discharge into waterways. And fortunately for MAR Systems, the Cleveland-based enterprise has developed a "faster, cheaper and greener" way to strip these contaminants from water.

Made from highly engineered but readily available materials, Sorbster is a granular media that removes heavy metals from any aqueous stream. As water percolates through the substance, mercury, arsenic and other metals chemically bond with the media, making conventional disposal safe, explains Melissa Hayes, business development manager.

"Because our product is extremely fast-acting, it requires a smaller footprint," adds Hayes. "And because it is so inexpensive and easy to use, it helps companies solve the conflict between industry and the environment."

MAR Systems, which was founded in 2008, is benefitting not only from more stringent drinking water standards, but also new testing procedures. "Mercury was always a difficult thing to measure in water," notes Hayes. "And if you can't measure it, you don't have to treat it. Now companies have to address mercury discharge."

The product is manufactured at the company's Solon lab, which will be in full commercial production sometime this year. At present, MAR Systems employs eight people, but that number is likely to jump to 15 by year's end. Hayes estimates that within a few years, the company will climb to 50 employees.

Source: Melissa Hayes, MAR Systems
Writer: Douglas Trattner


Graphene pioneeer sees a frontier full of promise

Imagine a material that conducts electricity at 100 times the speed of silicon -- the standard material used in computer circuits. Now, THAT would be a fast machine, wouldn't it?

However, the substance -- known as graphene -- has uses beyond the computer world. Dayton-based Nanotek Instruments, whose researchers patented the material in 2002, says nano-graphene platelets (NGPs) show special promise in such applications as batteries, fuel cells, supercapacitors, composites -- even as a shield against lightning strikes.

Bor Jang, co-founder of Nanotek Instruments and its production subsidiary Angstron Materials, says Angstron is the largest producer of NGPs in the world. He says the future looks bright: Experts say graphene has the potential to replace nano carbon tubes in many applications because it has the highest intrinsic strength and highest thermal conductivity of any known material. Depending on how material using NGPs is made, it can serve as a conductor or an insulator -- and It can also be mass-produced cost-effectively when compared to carbon nano-tubes.

While Angstron continues to mass-produce NGPs for a variety of customers, including composite compounders (those who combine engineered resins to meet specific applications) and specialty fabric or fiber producers, Jang sees some of the highest potential as a material used in advanced and alternative energy. Nanotek received a $350,000 commercialization grant last year from the Ohio Third Frontier to develop NGP electrodes for lithium ion batteries and other energy storage applications. If successful, the project will help get electric vehicle manufacturers over an important technical hurdle -- giving an electric vehicle the burst of power it needs for rapid acceleration.

Nanotek moved to the Dayton area five years ago from North Dakota with two employees. Today, the company has 16.

Source: Bor Jang, Nanotek
Writer: Gene Monteith


Promise of wind powers WebCore toward growth

If today's climate favors wind energy, WebCore Technologies may be the barometer.

The Miamisburg company, formed in 1991, went commercial in late 2004 and 2005 with its innovative TYCOR material, says Rob Banerjee, the company's vice president of business development.

TYCOR, a fiber reinforced composite core, is used in a variety of industries. One of WebCore's largest customers builds a cargo ship for the Navy -- using components made of TYCOR. Other military applications include military shelters, in which WebCore materials have been used for several years. And the company is working with the Air Force to develop a portable runway that would allow a plane to land where no official runway exists.

But wind turbine blades is where WebCore sees the real growth potential.

Most wind turbine blades to date have been built with balsa wood or PVC foam core, Banerjee says. "Our business has been to replace balsa wood or PVC foam with TYCOR. It's a better product, lighter weight, lower cost, makes a stronger blade, more reliable supply, so that's our primary focus."

In 2008, when it received its first wind-related order, WebCore quadrupled its capacity and ran 22 hours a day, six days a week. Like a lot of companies, WebCore's business fell off during the 2009 economic downturn, but Banerjee says things are looking better for 2010.

Funding from the Ohio Third Frontier -- a $1-million advanced energy grant last year to further develop its wind-related capabilities and participation another Third Frontier-funded project to develop a composite tower for wind turbines -- has helped put the company in the thick of things.

The company employs 32.

Source: Rob Banerjee, WebCore
Writer: Gene Monteith


Move into composites powers growth of Brooklyn Heights' North Coast companies

Rich Petrovich describes his company's transformation from an old-school tooling company to a high-flyer in Ohio's advanced materials industry as "quite a paradigm shift for us."

Petrovich is president and chief executive officer of Brooklyn Heights-based North Coast Tool & Mold, founded in 1976, and North Coast Composites, launched in 2003. He says North Coast got involved in high-performance composites about 20 years ago "but as a tool maker."

North Coast took a giant step forward seven years ago when it moved into production of composite parts. North Coast Composites, which manufactures carbon, Kevlar and fiberglass parts, primarily for the aerospace industry, shares 65,000-square-foot building with its sister company -- and the two work hand in hand, Petrovich says.

While Petrovich can point to a number of customers, competitors and suppliers who have gone out of business during the current recession, the Companies of North Coast are growing. In the past year, the company has increased employment between 24 and 27 percent, to 33 employees. 2009 sales were up 75 percent from the year before, and Petrovich expects them to double this year over 2009.

Two years ago, North Coast was included in an Ohio Third Frontier-funded consortium managed by the University of Dayton to develop a new process to include nano-enhanced materials in a composite inlet guide vane for military aircraft. The $5-million grant, of which North Coast received a part as a subcontractor, "has supported our growth in nanocomposites," Petrovich says.

The company is currently negotiating for serial production of a rudder it helped develop for the new Gulfstream G250 aircraft and is producing low-cost, lightweight containment cases for jet engines.

Source: Rich Petrovich, North Coast Companies
Writer: Gene Monteith


Wind power collaboration looks at composite towers

Adding next-generation wind production to Ohio's energy mix presents several technical problems, but one boils down to this: Getting to the best wind will take taller towers, and using steel structures to get there will add significant weight and transportation costs.

But what if we could make the towers on site using lighter-weight composites? A new $1-million Ohio Third Frontier grant is aimed at finding out.

Managing the project is Ershigs, a Bellingham, Wash.-based company with expertise in building composite structures on site and which has operations near Manchester, Ohio. Other partners include the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) and Edison Materials Technology Center in Dayton; Miamisburg-based WebCore, which makes engineered core materials for composite sandwich structures; Owens Corning's Columbus operations, which make an advanced, high-strength glass fiber; and Ashland Performance Materials in Dublin, which makes high-performance resins. A successful project could lead to new Ohio jobs, partners say.

UD, WebCore and Owens-Corning worked on an earlier Third Frontier project that looked at new markets for advanced materials in a variety of areas -- including windmill blades, says Brian Rice, Division Head for Multi-Scale Composites and Polymers at UDRI.

"And we also funded an engineering study to say does it make sense to make towers with composites . . . and we wanted to find out at what point does it make economic sense to switch from steel to composites."

Steve Hettick, a vice president of manufacturing for Ershigs, says the first year of the two-year grant period will be concerned primarily with "technical development and with materials testing validation." He said the team will perform extensive computer modeling and build sample laminates to first prove out the design. Eventually, the team's objective is to build and test a full-scale tower.

Sources: Brian Rice, UDRI and Steve Hettick, Ershigs
Writer: Gene Monteith


New institute plans to link manufacturers with needed resources

Manufacturers have been forced to go "lean," meaning they must take cost out of the parts they make or lose their customers. The resulting focus on internal efficiencies has often hamstrung their ability to develop new processes, new technology and new products.

That's one of the catalysts behind the Ohio Manufacturing Institute, based at Ohio State University's College of Engineering. Another is that universities -- which have the resources to do what manufacturers increasingly can't do in house -- haven't always been good at interfacing with manufacturers, says OMI Director Glenn Daehn.

OMI is just getting its legs. Daehn describes the institute's formation as a "soft launch," with a website, some initial partnerships and some big plans.

OMI views one of its important roles right now as "priming the pump" with short-term projects as a bridge to long-term relationships. It also is acting as broker to bring manufacturers together with needed expertise.

"What I'm hoping is five years from now we have faculty engaged from across the state, bringing along their expertise and local physical resources. Faculty from the University System of Ohio will work with other state resources like Battelle, EWI, MAGNET and TechSolve, who network together," Daehn says. "When projects come in we have project managers and others who assess what (manufacturers) need, we align them with the right resources and they are able to generate new technology to generate more efficient manufacturing processes. A small professional staff will assure that these projects take place at the 'speed of business.'"

In the meantime, OMI has also launched a light structures initiative geared toward the next generation of lightweight vehicles.

Source: Glenn Daehn, Ohio Manufacturing Institute
Writer: Gene Monteith


Success of Boogie Board boosts jobs at Kent Displays

When Kent Displays launched Improv Electronics as a new business unit Jan. 21, the company expected its first direct-to-consumer product to be popular. What it didn't expect was that, in a matter of days, its U.S. distributor -- Amazon.com -- would be sold out.

Buyers are boogieing toward what, at first glance, is a big step up from the Magna Doodle and giant leap from the Magic Slate -- that plastic-over-wax tablet that kids once used to sketch animals and nasty notes to siblings.

It's the Boogie Board, and unlike lower-tech, paperless writing tablets, it capitalizes on Kent Displays' "ReflexTM, no power LCD technology."

"The image is completely produced by the ambient light reflecting off of the display," explains Kevin Oswald, Kent Displays' communications director. "And because it reflects off of the display, there's no power required. When you write on it, that writing will stay on there indefinitely until I push the erase button."

The company sees the Boogie Board as an alternative to sticky notes, memo pads, and other paper-intensive writing tools. At half the size of a steno pad, it can fit into a purse, briefcase, or backpack.

People with physical disabilities might also find the Boogie Board useful, Oswald says. "If you've got a speech problem due to an injury or a birth defect, this is a board you can write on."

Oswald declined to say how many of the units have been sold, but said the company is working to keep supplies ahead of demand. In the meantime, the new product has contributed to a boost in employment from 60 last fall to more than 75 now.

Source: Kevin Oswald, Kent Displays
Writer: Gene Monteith

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