Manufacturing & Logistics: Finding New Ways to Thrive
In Delaware, manufacturing is big business, with $3.63 billion in manufactured goods exported in 2020, according to the national association of manufacturers.
It’s also an industry where innovation abounds. Take, for instance, ILC Dover, which designed and manufactured a protective hood for health care workers within months after COVID hit. Its other products range all the way from spacesuits to flood-control barriers.
Or W.L. Gore & Associates, which is best known as the inventor of GORE-TEX, but continues to innovate with new solutions such as high-performance aerospace wires that could improve the fuel efficiency of air travel.
Or Agilent Technologies, which has positioned itself as a leader in life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemicals. One of its most recent innovations: testing cannabis products for metal contamination.
Then there’s Miller Metal Fabrication, a long-established family business that uses LEAN manufacturing techniques to eliminate waste from the manufacturing process for the wide range of metal products it makes on behalf of clients such as Volvo, Vulcan and the Department of Defense.
But not all of Delaware’s manufacturers run the kinds of factory floors most people picture when they think “manufacturing.” In fact, Delaware excels as a home to smaller manufacturers. There are 525 manufacturing firms in the First State with fewer than 100 employees, or about 91% of all manufacturers, according to data from the Census County Business Patterns compiled in 2021. About 7,600 people work at these micro-manufacturers.
With the recent disruptions in the global supply chain, Delaware’s manufacturing sector is poised to grow further, given Delaware’s central location for shipping along the East Coast and to the Midwest. Meanwhile, those manufacturers who are already here are working to find ways to make their entire process, from discovery to production to distribution, more efficient. For some, such as Haberson-based JennyGems, that’s meant expanding in Delaware to make more components closer to home. For Bear-based AWSM Solutions, it’s meant pivoting from a business model that’s heavily based in logistics to one that embraces in-house manufacturing.
The state has encouraged growth in this sector by means of its Encouraging Development, Growth and Expansion (EDGE) Grant program. One recipient, Wilmington-based CM Materials, is among the vanguard of new, exciting manufacturing companies in the state — as is Superbrewed Food, which makes a protein that has the potential to help solve global food-supply issues. The company’s process also yields a byproduct with a truly endless laundry list of potential applications, ranging from animal health to automotive coatings.
In the logistics sector, companies like Trinity Logistics help hundreds of clients ship around the country and the world even in the face of massive disruptions, while the Port of Wilmington remains a gateway to Delaware and for companies eager to spread their wares beyond the state’s shores. A massive new Amazon warehouse has made Delaware a key spoke in that company’s distribution system.
It all adds up to an innovative future.
Superbrewed Food: Making a Better Protein
Bryan Tracylikes to say that Henry Ford didn’t invent a mechanical horse — he invented a car. Similarly, Tracy’s company Superbrewed Food makes a protein that doesn’t try to mimic existing proteins. As he puts it, “Why make whey protein when I can beat whey protein?”
So, like all the best innovators, Newark-based Superbrewed Food exists to solve a problem in a new way. In this case, the problem is global in scale: how to feed people in a way that’s sustainable, nutritious, affordable and equitable?
Tracy’s answer is the Superbrewed Cultured Protein, a versatile ingredient produced by means of an anaerobic fermentation process — think the same kind of process that turns cabbage into kimchi. In addition to protein, the product is a significant source of essential vitamins and minerals, including B-12, which is essential to human survival, but is found mostly in meat products. From a nutritional perspective, that makes Superbrewed Food’s protein superior to plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, Tracy says.
Tracy also emphasizes that Superbrewed Food’s manufacturing process doesn’t use any genetically modified organisms. In fact, the fermentation that results in Superbrewed Cultured Protein is conducted using microorganisms that live naturally in the human digestive tract. “They’re already playing a critical role in converting the foods we eat into the nutrients we need,” Tracy says. Another bonus: unlike plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, Superbrewed Cultured Protein doesn’t contain any known allergens.
“We’re working with several of the largest consumer brands in the alternative dairy space. You’ll see us in the consumer market in the coming years for sure.”
While you won’t be able to find foods made with Superbrewed Cultured Protein on store shelves just yet, the potential applications are numerous. Tracy envisions the protein being used to produce dairy and meat alternatives, but also nutrition bars, tortillas and a whole range of other food products. “We’re working with several of the largest consumer brands in the alternative dairy space,” he says.“You’ll see us in the consumer market in the coming years for sure.”
As for scaling, Superbrewed Food uses existing infrastructure that’s setup globally for fermentation, such as its current production facility in Minnesota.
“That provides us with a pathway to ramp up the scale of production quickly while keeping the cost low,” Tracy says. “To have a real impact on equitable access to food, you have to have scale.”
In the spirit of being sustainable, Superbrewed Food also makes use of the byproduct of its fermentation process: butyrate. Last summer, the company announced a partnership with Acme-Hardesty to distribute its butyrate in the form of a nutritional supplement. Butyrate can supplement the diets of both humans and animals, and it also has countless other applications. “It goes into composite materials, it goes into replacing oil-based products with more cost-effective alternatives, it goes into things such as automotive coatings,” Tracy says. “We’re addressing multiple industries simultaneously and maximizing efficiencies.”
And, he notes, Superbrewed Food is poised to do it all in Delaware. “Delaware is in our DNA and in our heart,” he says. “We’re utilizing the native ecosystem of brain trust and talent, and the wherewithal of the multi-billion-dollar companies that are headquartered here or have a significant presence. We have such capability here, and we tap into that knowledge all the time.”
CM Materials: Creating Better, Greener Power Sources When Aminul Mehidi, founder and CEO of Wilmington-based CM (Clean Magnet) Materials, was working to develop the material that would eventually lead to a product that can make batteries run more efficiently, he was extremely careful. Mehidi knew he had a breakthrough concept, and he didn’t want anybody else to figure out how it worked.
So, he spent three-plus years engaging several foundries and labs around the country in the development of part of his idea, giving each a bit of the work necessary to create the final product. That way, no one spot had enough information to put it all together.
“This material has a very high electric resistivity. It provides better magnetic efficiency. It also allows companies to make smaller devices that run more efficiently.”
The result of all that hard work is a powder that has two patents pending and will allow companies that make power components to make them smaller and more effective. CM Materials, which Mehidi started in 2021 with $400,000 of seed investment and which is located in The Innovation Space in Wilmington, has the potential to improve the efficacy of power sources for a variety of applications — and to do it in a greener way. Those power sources include motors, generators, transformers, power converters and sensors. “This material has a very high electric resistivity,” Mehidi says. “It provides better magnetic efficiency. It also allows companies to make smaller devices that run more efficiently.”
Mehidi was born in Bangladesh and completed his undergraduate studies there. In 2012, he came to the U.S. to complete master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Minnesota, where heal so co-founded his first company, Minnealloy Magnetics, which produced a soft, magnetic material that he co-developed for use in power converters, motors and sensors.
After the company licensed the material to another firm, Mehidi worked for Tesla and then Philadelphia-based Carpenter Technology Corporation. He began his journey with CM Materials in 2017 and in January of this year, the company received a $100,000 EDGE Grant from the state of Delaware. Mehidi is excited about CM Materials’ potential for future sales, but he is also extremely proud that it can help produce cleaner energy.
“This material is made from sustain-able sources,” he says. “Because it can make devices smaller, it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I’m from Bangladesh, and that country is affected heavily by those emissions.”
Thanks to Mehidi, that could change.
Agilent Technologies: Investing in Digital Capabilities Agilent Technologies is best known for creating solutions that serve its clients in the pharmaceutical, forensics and energy industries. For instance, Agilent devices test “70% of the world’s water for impurities,” says Steve Cohan, the company’s vice president for customer service.
Recently, Agilent has also carved out a space for itself in the growing cannabis and hemp sector. Its ICP-MS Cannabis Analyzer, bundled with a proprietary analysis process, has been approved by the AOAC, formerly known as the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists. It is the first heavy metals testing method for cannabis products to receive that seal of approval.
However, when asked to name one of Agilent’s most significant recent innovations, Cohan emphasizes internal changes made during the COVID pandemic.
“What we have done is invested in digital capabilities to help customers,” says Cohan. “COVID accelerated our ability to help customers solve issues without being on site.”
“Customers can log into an app and reach a remote tech person. They can show the problem, which the tech support person will annotate on a tablet. The customer can get input, put the phone down, work on the problem and then go back for more advice and help.”
The investment growth and ability to connect with customers despite the challenges of the pandemic has paid off handsomely for Agilent. In late February of this year, The Wall Street Journal ranked Agilent second among its Management Top 250 for customer satisfaction. Agilent’s score was 77.1, just a bit behind Cisco (77.7).
This was something that has been in the works for a while. Prior to 2020, Agilent began the pilot program for CrossLab Virtual Assist, an integrated approach to creating solutions for those working with Agilent products and technologies. “It’s like FaceTime on steroids,” Cohan says. “Customers can log into an app and reach a remote tech person. They can show the problem, which the tech support person will annotate on a tablet. The customer can get input, put the phone down, work on the problem and then go back for more advice and help.”
According to Cohan, the company —which has a presence in Wilmington that employs 1,000 people — answers 7,000calls a day worldwide and makes 2,500on-site visits to work with customers.
The future has plenty of possibilities for Agilent, but much of it is dependent on how well the company continues to develop its digital capabilities for distribution, support and solutions.
“I call them triple plays,” Cohan says. “When we invest in digital capabilities, we improve the employee experience, we improve the customer experience, and we improve financially. It’s all three benefits at once.”
AWSM Solution: Pivoting to Local Growth If anybody wonders why Bear-based AWSM Solutions will be opening a 34,000-square-foot facility in July, they should think about logistics, not just a business expansion.
In previous years, the company received a substantial portion of the supplies it needs to make its products — which are distributed to companies that produce cleaning materials, pharmaceutical products and paper — from overseas. The timeline was reasonable and allowed for success.
Last year, that changed.
“We did 11 full planes filled with chemicals that we were transporting, due to logistical issues, instead of shipping by sea,” says John Logue, CEO of AWSM, which is pronounced “Awesome.” “It was much more expensive.”
In the past, a shipment from Shanghai, where AWSM has relationships with suppliers, used to take 25 days. Now, it takes 50. So, the company is trying to figure out ways to tighten the timeframes and find out what materials are available so that it can produce as much as it’s able.
“In manufacturing now, you’re not making what you want to make,” Logue says. “You’re making what you can make.”
AWSM was formed in September 2020 as part of Royale Pigments and Chemicals, a company founded by Logue’s father that moved recently from New Jersey to Delaware. It employs 30 people and plans to expand starting in July when the next facility opens.
Because the larger facility is set up for larger-scale work, Logue expects AWSM to become more of a manufacturer, rather than a company that takes others’ materials and blends them together for distribution. “We have a bigger space, so we can do serious manufacturing,” Logue says.
“We can make chemicals, instead of just mixing chemicals together.”
That doesn’t mean AWSM will be irresponsible as it grows. Logue reports the company has a large emphasis on environmental health and safety. And though the company will continue to work with companies in Asia, particularly China and India, where it has strong relationships, Logue recognizes that “geopolitical and logistical issues” have forced AWSM to look at doing more work with U.S. partners, as well as increasing what it is able to manufacture.
“We have been waiting for a piece of equipment for six months, and we were told we would have it in eight weeks,” he says. “I can hire six or seven people when I get this part.”
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