Innovation Delaware: Advanced Materials & Manufacturing
Manufacturing has always been a driver of Delaware’s economy. But where the industry used to be dominated by a few major players such as DowDuPont and W.L. Gore, today’s manufacturing landscape looks a lot more diverse.
Some of the newer additions include Mishimoto, which makes performance auto parts used on racing circuits around the world, and DEAct, which makes bags that allow users to safely dispose of opioids.
DEAct also illustrates another trend: Some of Delaware’s most innovative manufacturers tend to intersect with other key industries in the state, such as chemistry and biosciences.
Take Agilent Technologies, a leader in in life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemicals. Or Chemours, which is the world’s largest producer of titanium dioxide.
Another promising startup, Mobtown Offroad in Harrington, makes after-market Toyota truck add-ons, using engineering principles. “We don’t just make an attractive product — we make one that is fully functional, and you never have to worry about breaking it,” says Owner Joe Arsenault. “We’ve only been in business four years, but we’re on order number 10,000 at this point. … We test all our products on our personal vehicles and in real-world situations. Once we finally agree that we can’t make it any better than it is, then we sell them.”
Newark’s DeLUX Engineering, another startup, has already landed several government contracts. The company uses a process known as additive manufacturing, meaning different materials are joined under computer control, then printed as a three-dimensional object.
Co-founders Zachary Larimore and Paul Parsons met when both were working in U.S. Army research labs. Later, they attended the University of Delaware, where they realized there was a need for an organization that could prove out whether additive manufacturing made sense for products that government agencies and private-sector companies need.
In addition to offering proofs of concept for clients, DeLUX Engineering produces components that can be helpful to defense agencies, says Larimore. Those include exceptionally powerful Luneberg lenses, which allow satellite dishes to send and receive signals in all directions, as opposed to just one. “If you have 30 or 40 satellite dishes on a roof or in a field, you could replace them all with a single device and save a bunch of money or real estate,” says Larimore.
DeLUX Engineering currently has seven employees, four of whom are full-time. While the founders are wary of growing too quickly, he says, “we have more [potential clients] coming to us than we can support, so we’re actively looking for more good researchers in this area.”
A Strong Tradition
Many Delaware manufacturers have been going strong for decades. Georgetown’s ALOFT AeroArchitects has been making specialty aviation components in Delaware since 1998. ILC Dover emerged in the 1940s from the breakup of the International Latex Corporation and today makes everything from space suits to tunnel plugs that help mitigate the effects of flooding. MillerMetal Fabrication, in Bridgeville, deploys cutting-edge technologies to produce machined products, while Atlantis Industries in Georgetown continues its 60-year work in injection-molded plastics.
All told, the First State is home to more than 550 manufacturers, and many of them are small to mid-sized businesses. Manufacturing accounts for 5.9% of the total output in the state, employing 5.7% of the workforce, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. Total annual output from manufacturing is over $4.3
billion, and manufacturing here employs more than 25,900 people. Notably, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that those workers have an average annual compensation of more than $70,000.
Paul Morris, assistant vice president of workforce development at Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC) and co-chair of the Delaware Manufacturing Association, says the gears are really turning between his organization, the Delaware Manufacturing Extension Partnership (DEMEP) and the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP). “There’s a really good synergy going on right now with those three organizations in trying to not only grow the manufacturing base in Delaware,” Morris says, “but support it and see how we can both add manufacturers and grow the manufacturers that are currently here.”
The Next Generation
The Delaware Manufacturing Association, an affiliate of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, is focused on making sure Delaware’s manufacturers don’t lose their innovative edge. To that end, it connects manufacturers to schools in the communities where they reside.
“We’ve been really trying to assist Delaware manufacturers in … building a future workforce — a pipeline of trained individuals who can meet their demands and their needs for a steady workforce for the future,” Morris says. “We’re doing that in a couple of ways. We’re trying to really connect our members to the local K-12 educational community. For instance, if one of our manufacturers has a plant near a middle or a high school, we want to make sure that they’re connected with the principal, the counselors, the teachers — and that they are building a relationship with that school. That’s important because when the students get to working age, they have a relationship with an employer, and we think that’s a positive thing.”
The manufacturing association recently signed an agreement to have manufacturing as an activity at Junior Achievement of Delaware’s interactive JA BizTown exhibit, and the organization is in its fifth year sponsoring a high school manufacturing pathway — students in the program graduate with 600 hours of training, various credentials, and advanced standing in a DTCC college program.
Strong Support for Manufacturers
When it comes to training the folks already working in manufacturing in the First State, DEMEP is on call. Housed at Delaware Tech, DEMEP specializes in helping Delaware’s smaller manufacturers stay competitive through professional hands-on assistance and expert consultation, with services in supply chain optimization, lean manufacturing, quality management and statistical analysis.
As biopharmaceutical manufacturing continues to grow globally, Delaware is poised to maintain a prominent role. The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), founded in 2017 and headquartered on the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus, looks to help bring treatments to market faster and at reduced cost, while maintaining safety and efficacy. The organization does this primarily through technology and workforce-development projects. NIIMBL is funded in part through a $70 million cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Last year, NIIMBL funded its first eight projects, with a total of $14 million in investment spread among 24 of its members.