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Maine MEP Brings Possibility to Light at Applied Thermal Science

When the researchers at Applied Thermal Sciences developed a new laser welding process that had significant possibilities for commercial use in many industries, Executive Vice President Jack Smith turned to the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Maine MEP) for assistance. 

"We are always looking for ways to commercialize the products we develop," Smith said, "but we also realized we would have to spin off a separate company in order to further develop and market the laser welding technology. That’s where we needed help from the Maine MEP. After all, we are researchers and developers," Smith said. "Starting a new commercialization from scratch was something we knew very little about."

"Applied Thermal Sciences is a very interesting company," Bob Doiron, Project Manger for Maine MEP, said. "It’s mainly a research and development lab that does classified work for the Navy and the Department of Defense. However, the laser welding project should have a huge impact in a commercial market and has a great potential for growth and employment opportunities."

Located on two sides of Route 109 in Sanford, Maine, Applied Thermal Sciences (ATS) is an engineering research and development firm whose primary client has been the U.S. government since it was founded in 1989. ATS currently has 25-30 employees, including some part time and student interns.

Identifying Commercial Opportunities
"ATS knows how to facilitate government work, write patents, and win government contracts," said Doiron. "However, they did need assistance to commercialize or interface with the commercial market. They did not have expertise in that area, nor the time it takes to develop it. As a result, a major focus of the Maine MEP work with ATS was assisting them in identifying opportunities for commercialization and possible ‘spin offs’.  ATS then focused their training efforts towards the commercialization goal, which ultimately led to Precision Light Systems (PLS)," Doiron added.

The new company – Precision Light Systems (PLS) – actually was up and running by September of 2005, according to Smith, and it couldn’t have happened without the help of the project managers at Maine MEP.

"So much of doing business these days is sorting out how to get things done," Smith said. "It all comes down to dollars and using combinations of resources to get things accomplished and to solve overall problems."

Obtaining Training Funds
The first step for Maine MEP was to conduct a Strategic and Technical Roadmapping Assessment. Based on the results of the assessment, US Department of Labor Technical Skills Training Funds were awarded to ATS. Those funds assisted the company in the daunting task of starting up the commercialization process.

"The Skills Training Fund has a category devoted to commercialization of new products," Doiron said. "It specifically asks for an assessment phase, which is used to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for a new company. We also look at workforce development strategy and how the company can take its invention to the next level – commercialization."

"We have an incredible opportunity here," Smith said. "We have done lots of market surveys and the potential for our new laser welding machine is enormous, especially in the transportation sector with rail cars, truck beds, and tractor trailers."

In addition, shipbuilders and the architectural industry should be major customers, he said. "We can do specialized structural beams and decking for flooring that will reduce the height between floors in large buildings. That will lead to a major cost reduction," Smith said.

Establishing Partnerships
PLS has also partnered with Esab, the largest welding company in the world. "We have licensed them with our technology to sell the laser welding machines worldwide," Smith said. "After all, they have the contacts and the market."

According to Smith, laser welding is faster and produces a better weld, and it is all done by diagnostics and without a person having to stand right there and do the welding.

"Conventional welding is fine," he said, "but costs are a factor."

Smith is excited because PLS is now producing the largest laser welding machine in the world and he knows the market potential is huge.

"Thanks to the work Maine MEP did with us, we know the potential is enormous and we have set up PLS in the proper way," Smith said. "We are ready to go. This is absolutely an exciting time for all of us."

The Maine MEP is an affiliate of the NIST under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The national MEP is a network of manufacturing extension centers that provide business and technical assistance to smaller manufacturers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Through MEP, manufacturers have access to more than 2000 manufacturing and business "coaches" whose job is to help firms make changes that lead to greater productivity, increased profits, and enhanced global competitiveness. For more information on the Maine MEP program call 1-800-637-4634.


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