Type to search

Innovation

Manufacturing & Logistics: Bringing the Future to Delaware

Avatar photo
Share
Michael Quaranta | DBT PHOTO BY JIM COARSE/ MOONLOOP PHOTOGRAPHY

Michael Quaranta | DBT PHOTO BY JIM COARSE/ MOONLOOP PHOTOGRAPHY

When Michael Quaranta wants to look into the future, he need only travel as far as the warehouses and manufacturing plants in Delaware.

“The future is here,” says Quaranta, the President of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, which includes the Delaware Manufacturing Association.

One of the futuristic technologies he sees Delaware manufacturers embracing is the concept of “Digital Twins.” Companies are able to create replicas of their facilities on computers and then propose various changes to their processes and run the simulations to see whether the new ideas will be effective. So, instead of spending time, money and manpower on these exercises, they are able to let computers handle it for them and see whether the results improve efficiency and cut costs.

“Rather than test it in the real world, companies can actually see how it works on the screen,” Quaranta says. “You can get a pretty good idea of whether something will be successful in reality.”

Add to those technologies the manufacture of products that are essential to the global economy or transformative in their uses. DuPont, a giant of Delaware’s economy for more than 200 years before a significant downsizing, is once again investing in Delaware. In 2022, the company announced the opening of a new, 385,000-square-foot semiconductor manufacturing facility in Newark. Semiconductors are essential components of most electronic circuits, including those found in computers, smartphones and medical equipment. New Castle-based Superbrewed Food makes a fermentation-enabled alternative protein that could make global nutrition more secure and sustainable.

Delaware manufacturers also are becoming more invested in analytics in terms of providing services for consumers and for business customers, Quaranta says. As a result, processes are being improved, and new positions are being created for people who can synthesize large amounts of information.

It’s no surprise that Delaware manufacturers are on the forefront of embracing innovative technologies. After all, Delaware is home to such powerhouses as ILC Dover, which designs novel products ranging from space suits to inflatable space habitats; and W.L. Gore & Associates, whose GORE-TEX fabric is world-renowned, but which also produces cable assemblies that can withstand the harshest environments on Earth.

Tech innovation is essential in the logistics sector as well, where companies depend on analytics to track shipments for customers. And Delaware, with its central location to I-95 and the Port of Wilmington, is an ideal hub for logistics companies. One example of a local company innovating in this field is Milford-based Burris Logistics, whose Supply Chain Portal allows customers to do everything from tracking purchase orders to getting real-time information on the temperature and condition of shipped produce.

Another interesting trend is in additive manufacturing, which includes 3-D printing. Companies no longer have to spend great amounts of time and money on prototypes. If they can create something on the screen and print it on site, they can evaluate the result, make necessary changes and continue the process, thereby streamlining improvements.

“It’s going to be deployed more regularly to help innovation,” Quaranta says.

The same goes for augmented reality, which allows companies and educational institutions to train employees on site, something that feeds efficiency and keeps Delaware’s manufacturers moving forward.

There are quite a few companies in Delaware making use of the latest technology to create innovative results. Read on to meet a few of them.

Adesis: Building Something New

If Andrew Cottone had followed the typical pattern of a business owner after his company was acquired, he might be on a beach somewhere or perhaps involved in another startup project.

Instead, he remains the president and CEO of New Castle-based Adesis, which was born in 2004 and was purchased 12 years later by Universal Display Corporation (UDC) of Ewing, NJ, which paid approximately $36 million in cash for it.

“Usually, an entrepreneur, after one or two years following the sale, gets himself thrown out,” Cottone says. “I’ve been here seven years because of the partnership with UDC and the dream of building the business.”

There is plenty to look forward to for Adesis, which Cottone reports began with 16 people, swelled to between 35-40 employees in 2016 and today is approaching a staff of 170. The company considers itself an extension of its clients’ — and UDC’s — chemistry and manufacturing departments, while providing strategic production.

Adesis chemists work through three stages of product development. The discovery portion determines what product is needed. The process area figures out how to make it. And the manufacturing portion makes the material reliably and with high attention to quality.

“With supply lines being chaotic, a nimble company like Adesis can be a valuable ally,” Cottone says.

The alliance with UDC has allowed Adesis to scale up its operations while still maintaining autonomy over its everyday operations. Although Cottone has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, he did not have a business background. That was okay when Adesis was a smaller, private concern, and the lab work was the thing. But as the company grew, there was a need for more professional management. Being part of the UDC universe has allowed Adesis to recruit and retain talent that might not have been interested in joining the company before it was acquired.

Adesis focuses on “high value, low volume” manufacture of products, and its annual output is from 50 kilograms to five metric tons a year. One of its areas of influence is the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) materials that are used in cellphones, watches, TVs and even on the dashboards and taillights of cars. Adesis doesn’t make the watch. It is part of its parent company’s innovation engine. UDC, a leader in the OLED ecosystem, invents, develops and delivers energy-efficient OLED materials and technologies that can be found in virtually every consumer OLED product in the world.

The company can also create specialty chemicals that can be used in pharmaceutical products. And Adesis is known for its ability to handle and apply deuterium, a hydrogen isotope that is extremely rare. “For every liter of heavy water [which contains deuterium rather than hydrogen with the oxygen], you need to go through 3,600 liters of normal water,” Cottone says. Deuterium can be used in certain compounds in the pharmaceutical industry.

As Adesis continues to grow, there are big future plans. Its 40,000-square foot property at the DuPont Experimental Station serves as a hub for discovery work. Eight miles down the road is a 50,000-square-foot space that houses the process chemistry and manufacturing parts of the company.

“We want to build something that doesn’t exist in Delaware,” Cottone says. “We want to create a niche manufacturing facility. We’re going to bring new, high-tech manufacturing to Delaware.”

W.L. Gore & Associates: Mining Data to Make the Best Products

When developers at Gore are looking for exact specifications for the materials necessary to create new products, they rely heavily on the company’s data mining techniques designed to enhance efficiency.

That means the information must be pristine. And Dr. Vishnu Marla knows that.

“The pillar that this initiative rests on is data integrity,” says Marla, a senior scientist who has been at Gore for 17-plus years. “That’s absolutely critical. We take great pains to make sure the quality of our data is at the highest level.”

The data scientists at Gore are committed to making sure the information they provide for the production arm will fulfill a variety of different characteristics, the better to boost efficiency, reduce costs and improve overall product quality. In order to do that, they must develop protocols capable of updating information constantly, the better to cull the proper materials for use.

“We make thousands of different tools and materials,” Marla says. “We want to identify the right ones for a situation. That requires mining huge quantities of data across multiple dimensions.”

Marla provides an example of the manufacture of venting that can be used to cover headlights, the better to reduce condensation on the lamps. The materials require certain properties, especially porosity, which is a quality of many Gore products. Marla and his team may be asked to find something that has specific pore sizes, with a certain level of strength and thickness.

Thanks to the vast databases the scientists have curated, the requirements can be combined into one search, and the top five or 10 materials can be identified. The product developers can then debate the various pluses and minuses of the preferred materials, based on price, availability, supply chain concerns and where they are made. (Gore has manufacturing plants in the U.S., Europe and Asia.)

“We can zero in within a few seconds and provide that short list,” Marla says.

The benefits of such a system are substantial. By eliminating dozens of potential components, Marla’s team can cut the time and cost of developing a product, because fewer prototypes must be developed. That shortens the time from concept to final product and can save customers money.

“It really speeds things up,” Marla says. “We are helping to streamline the process and to reduce redundancies.”

It may seem to some that the quickness of the process would make it something that just about any company could do. But few have the extreme commitment to the work necessary to assure the databases are completely accurate and current that Gore does.

“We have standardized methods with checks, double checks and triple checks,” Marla says. “That way, we can give the best data to colleagues across the world.”

Moonprint Solutions: Innovation for NASA, the Coast Gaurd

Dover-based Moonprint Solutions has been in business for less than three years, but the company, which produces highly specialized textiles and coated fabrics, has already landed some high-profile clients.

One reason: Moonprint’s six employees boast some serious experience in the field of textile (also known as “soft goods”) technology. Two have been at it for more than 30 years, and another for more than 20.

“We are a collective of soft-goods tech experts who decided to get together to do what we love,” says President and CEO Dave Cadogan.

That collective expertise is a big reason why Moonprint has acquired contracts to work for NASA, the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard. It’s also a reason why last year, Moonprint was awarded an EDGE (Encouraging Development, Growth & Expansion) Grant from Delaware’s Division of Small Business.

Moonprint doesn’t make clothing or items with direct consumer applications. Instead, it uses various specialized textiles, coated fabrics and membranes to create products with specific uses that could at some point be adapted for public consumption, but for now have other uses. For instance, Moonprint is creating an ultra-lightweight, durable raft for the Coast Guard to use in the event of a large-scale sea disaster, like a sinking cruise ship.

“The Coast Guard wants a product it can put on a Dolphin helicopter and fly it out to the sea, put it in the water, have it self-inflate so that 150 people can get on it,” Cadogan says. “A lot of rafts out there are too heavy. We’re drawing on experience with materials and design technology to make [the product super lightweight]. The multi-layered material has to resist penetrations and punctures.”

When Navy personnel are loading munitions onto aircraft, they some times do it in weather conditions that feature searing heat. As the weapons are being assembled on a conveyor, the sun can be an adversary to those working. So, Moonprint is creating a lightweight canopy that not only protects people from the sun and rain but avoids creating a conductive apparatus that could send an electrical charge to the people working.

“It mitigates the heat and doesn’t allow static electricity to build up,” Cadogan says.

In a job that seems torn from the headlines, Moonprint is also developing a “stratospheric airship” for NASA that is 120 feet long, can carry a payload of 25 pounds and fly up to 65,000 feet above ground. It has solar panels to provide power and engines that can be programmed to fly to a certain area autonomously or be controlled remotely.

“We combine existing materials into new solutions,” Cadogan says.

The EDGE Grant has helped by allowing Moonprint to purchase a $77,000 cutting table that can accept computer-aided designs and make them into products without human involvement — beyond the setting of materials on the table.

“It not only reduces labor time, but it allows us to more quickly iterate things so we can get solutions faster,” Cadogan says. “It reduces costs and the potential to have to scrap things that are constructed.”

Solenis: Working for Sustainable Change

Phil Patterson checked in for our interview from Brazil, coffee cup in hand. The purpose was two-fold: he was getting his morning jolt of caffeine while also showing some of the work Solenis has been doing.

“When people used to get their cup of coffee in the morning, the paper cup was not recyclable, because there was a polyethylene liner inside that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to recycle the cup,” Patterson says. “We’ve got technology that allows the cup to remove plastics and a liner using Solenis technology, so it can be recyclable.”

Patterson has been CFO and senior VP at the Wilmington-based company since 2018 and was visiting South America because Solenis has a presence in 130 companies across the world. The company was launched in 2014, when Ashland Water Technologies was acquired by a private investment firm. Its mission is to help customers maintain clean and healthy water, which can manifest itself in many different ways.

“Our tagline is that we are a force for sustainable change,” Patterson says. “We help customers meet their operational and sustainability goals.”

Solenis has three primary areas of focus: consumer solutions, industrial solutions and pool solutions. Water is involved in all of them, and Solenis’ technologies can help companies use and reuse water. Companies want to improve their sustainability profiles, and Solenis can help them do that.

When that Amazon box ends up on a doorstep, it includes Solenis technology that makes it lighter, sturdier and easier to recycle. Those who favor burrito bowls at Chipotle restaurants used to get the meal in a plastic, lined bowl. Using Solenis solutions, the company was able to manufacture a container that is PFAS-free and compostable.

Solenis has made tremendous progress in the creation of technology, and beginning in 2024, it will be an even greater force for sustainable solutions, thanks to the opening of a 108,000-square-foot research center at Chestnut Run that will be about 35% larger than its current R&D space. It sits on a parcel of real estate that could attract other research-oriented companies and create a “campus” atmosphere that would spur innovation. Of Solenis’ 325 Delaware-based employees, about 140 will work there.

“The center will allow us to spread our wings,” Patterson says. “It will allow us to attract top talent. Having new facilities can do that. Eighty-six percent of our product development done in our current research facility is around sustainability. That is interesting to researchers, who will be able to thrive there. It’s also great for the state, which wants to see investment in science and technology.”

As Solenis grows and becomes more of a force nationally and around the globe, it remains proud of its Delaware roots. Its plans for the future will provide opportunities within the state.

The new research center “is a fantastic testament to Delaware,” Patterson says. “It’s going to create quality jobs. … We are all now so ESG [environmental, social and corporate governance] and sustainabilityconscious, and it’s good to be growing that in Delaware.”

AstraZeneca: Moving Towards Carbon Zero

In 2020, when AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot announced that the global pharmaceutical giant would achieve carbon zero status by 2025 and be carbon negative five years later, he reported the plan would require a $1 billion investment. And some pretty creative thinking.

At the company’s 300-person Newark manufacturing site, a couple of engineers started wondering about the water used in some of the products made there. Thanks to standards established and enforced by the governing body U.S. Pharmacopeia, the water had to be extremely pure. Because of that, the wastewater produced after manufacturing was also very free of contaminants. Why not put it to use, too?

“That water is cleaner than the tap water we drink,” says Shamus Whyte, executive director and GM of the Newark site. “We captured it and ran it through our boilers, which now run at a higher efficiency and run longer because minimal deposits build up.”

Reusing ultrapure water in boilers may not light up the carbon-zero scoreboard, but it is a great example of how AstraZeneca’s corporate commitment to sustainability has triggered innovation down the line.

“It’s forced people to think differently about everything we do,” Whyte says. “We see it beyond the work we do at the manufacturing site. We see it in development, packaging and distribution, and the choices people make in how they work.”

For instance, Whyte’s job requires him to travel. But he can’t just go anywhere, anytime, due to a carbon budget within which he must stay. There is a lot more.

In 2015-16, the Newark site had close to 20,000 tons of carbon emissions per year. That number has been reduced by two-thirds. Whyte says the plant is down to 5,500 tons now, and the number is dropping. AstraZeneca has consolidated the workforce on the grounds, so some buildings aren’t being used — and were even demolished — while others are not heated or cooled to normal levels when they aren’t filled with people.

AstraZeneca has invested $10 million in a solar farm on site that contains 8,000 panels and will later this year go online to generate six gigawatts of energy, enough to power 550 residential homes and provide a third of the site’s electricity. Another way to save power is to capture the 3,400-degree gas fumes emitted by boilers and use them for heating. “We’re trying to recycle things that had been getting lost in the process,” Whyte says.

The site has instituted a more concerted recycling effort and has installed LED bulbs throughout its buildings. The benefits have been tangible, but there is more to do. One final step will involve the use of renewable natural gas, which is developed from animal and food waste. The resulting biogas will provide huge sustainability benefits. It may require a sizeable initial capital outlay, but it will pay big dividends.

“Innovation reduces costs and will increase efficiency long-term and in the middle term,” Whyte says. “It could even bring benefits in the short term. Everywhere we are, there are reminders of the great things we are doing for the planet and the next generation.”

Get the free DBT email newsletter  

Follow the people, companies and issues that matter most to business in Delaware.

You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Premier Digital Partners

© 2024 Delaware Business Times

Flash Sale! Subscribe to Delaware Business Times and save 50%.

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.

SUMMER FLASH SALE!

Subscribe to Delaware Business Times and save 50%