[From CASE Reports, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1996]


MEETING THE CHALLENGE

Breakthroughs in Science and Technology Keep State's Companies on the Cutting Edge

If a product needs to be more efficient, save time or money, overcome design challenges, or benefit the environment, then it can be-and probably is-designed or manufactured here in Connecticut. The following 14 companies have achieved all these goals and more, proving that science and technology continue to grow and flourish in Connecticut.

New Methods and Materials Help Save Costs, Environment

One company answering the challenges of industry is the Jet Process Corporation of New Haven. A team of researchers led by Director of Research Bret Halpern, President Jerome Schmitt, Chairman Richard Hart, and Director of Manufacturing Paul Tyra, has developed a highly effective, low-cost, environmentally sound technique called the Jet Vapor Deposition (JVD) process for manufacturing thin films and coatings. High-quality thin films are of critical importance in the electronics, optics, computer, aerospace and automotive industries, explained Dr. Halpern.

The process, carried out in a low-vacuum environment, involves a supersonic inert gas jet that quickly deposits a high-quality solid film of vaporized metals, semiconductors, oxides, nitrides and organics over the component part. Different coating materials are available for customers depending upon their requirements.

The process eliminates the use of toxic materials and costly cleanup procedures found in electroplating, a liquid-phase process that is a leading cause of water pollution worldwide. The Jet Process Corporation clearly fills a rapidly growing need with its safe, reliable, effective Jet Vapor Deposition process.

With headquarters in Danbury, Union Carbide Corporation is a worldwide chemicals and plastics company with advanced process technologies and large-scale production facilities.

In its constant search for technological advances, scientists at Union Carbide have succeeded in producing ethylene propylene rubber (EPR) in a gas-phase, low-pressure process primarily used to manufacture polyethylene, the world's most widely used plastic. Several complex technical challenges were overcome in perfecting this new process, but the promise of a more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly technology proved worth the effort.

The ethylene propylene rubber family of products are copolymers or terpolymers used in single-ply roofing membranes, hoses, tubes, belts and a wide variety of other applications, particularly in the automotive industry, where resistance to harsh environments is critical.

Construction of a world-scale production facility is well under way at Carbide's petrochemical complex in Texas. The 200 million pound-per-year plant should be completed and operating by the end of 1996.

Also seeking to improve efficiency and avoid costly mistakes is United Technologies Research Center of East Hartford with their development of a thermal nondestructive evaluation to detect flaws early in the production of parts made of composites, plastics and metals. For the first time heat, rather than sound, can be used to provide critical quantitative information as to the depth of a flaw. This is done by means of an infrared camera with powerful photographic lamps that heats the surface of the object, sending a heat wave into the material. The camera monitors these hot spots as they cool, recording them frame by frame in a computer. Image analysis software is used to obtain single shot depth images of composites, plastics and metals.

Engineers customarily use ultrasound to inspect three dimensional objects, but the method is slow, nonportable and sometimes cannot be used because the part to be evaluated must be immersed in water.

"This previously unattainable method is 100 times faster than ultrasound and currently half of the applications using ultrasound could use this method," says Harry Ringermacher, Senior Research Scientist. "The biggest savings for any company is in time, and we know how this adds up very quickly."

In 1995, building on its expertise in gas turbine engines, Precision Combustion, Inc. (PCI) of New Haven applied its experience in catalytic ignition to several complementary technologies. For example, although diesel engines are considered more rugged than conventional gasoline engines, their use in cold weather environments is severely limited due to the fact that several minutes of cranking time is required before diesel fuel will light. PCI has patented a cata-lytic glow plug that enables ignition at much colder temperatures, alleviating some of the starting problems. The United States Army provided funding for this technology development, which has demonstrated rapid starts in environments as cold as -40° F. Possible applications include heavy trucks, generators, and building equipment; collaboration is beginning with other engine manufacturers regarding additional uses.

PCI has also been involved in efforts to bring a hybrid electric vehicle to the market. These vehicles, which combine a gas turbine engine with an electric battery or flywheel for excellent performance and low emissions, are considered by some to be the cars of the future. PCI has developed a catalytic combustor for a small gas turbine such as those planned for hybrid vehicles that will enable these cars to produce proportionately fewer emissions than even the large power plants that produce electricity for all-electric cars. Working with cooperation from the engine developers, the goal is to create market demand by first developing the technology, in the same manner in which the telephone was originally popularized. According to Greg Jackson, Development Engineer at PCI, "We want to make people say, 'Wow, this is a good thing, we want one, too' and we are in the process of doing just that."

Advances in Software

Two Connecticut small businesses--Lorentzian, Inc. of North Haven and Scientific Computing Associates, Inc. of New Haven--teamed up to develop Gaussian 94®, the latest in the series of Gaussian electronic structure computational chemistry programs from Gaussian, Inc. of Pittsburgh. The new program is the first to support parallel execution on clusters of computer workstations and on distributed memory parallel computers. In addition to the substantial performance gains enabled by parallelism, Gaussian 94 delivers a number of new capabilities that allow users to investigate new types of chemical systems and model large molecular structures with high accuracy and efficiency.

Users can now apply Gaussian 94 to compute NMR shielding tensors and predict NMR spectra for molecular systems. Also, they can exploit a new, more general solvation model to study chemical species in solution, examining reactions in their natural state rather than through approximations via the gas phase. Finally, Gaussian 94 offers completely automated, highly accurate high-order methods for computing quantities such as reaction and activation energies.

These features, combined with the speed gained from parallel computing based on Scientific Computing's Linda® software, allow chemists to apply Gaussian 94's most advanced ab initio electronic structure methods to extremely large mole-cules like taxol and others that could previously be studied only with less accurate semi-empirical methods. According to Dr. Mike Frisch, president of both Gaussian, Inc. and Lorentzian, "With Gaussian 94 and Linda, chemists can study problems of commercial and scientific interest at very high performance levels through parallel computing on ordinary workstation networks. Computational chemistry with Gaussian has never been more powerful or cost-effective."

The research collaboration between the two Connecticut companies was supported in part by a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation and by a grant from Connecticut Innovations, Inc.

Another new product that utilizes technological advances to make work easier and more efficient is Scan-Code's software package to help companies route large volumes of incoming mail. Based in Rocky Hill, the company recently developed Inc.Ware software that, when used with Scan-Code's Dispatcher and Optimizer mail systems, can code and sort incoming mail.

"Our system does a remarkably good job in identifying who the mail is for," said William Wheeler, Vice President of Engineering. "As much as 25% of all mail that arrives at companies may be addressed to a particular person without any further direction." The Inc.Ware software effectively cuts down on sorting time in the mail room, eliminating inefficiency and non-productive use of employee time. The same system can also be configured to bar code and sort outgoing mail, allowing the user to gain postage automation rate discounts.

New Technologies for Tomorrow's Communications

Telecommunications and other wireless communications industries will benefit from Rogers Corporation's new R04003 circuit material, a composite which combines excellent electrical performance, ease of fabrication, and low price. It is the most cost-effective material available for making low-noise amplifiers, power amplifiers and antennas used in high-volume wireless communications applications such as the new personal communications systems, two-way paging systems, and automotive electronics systems for collision avoidance.

During the research and development process, the Rogers team overcame many previously reported technical hurdles by combining somewhat obscure raw materials with modified high-volume processing methods in very non-traditional ways. The resulting composite overcomes many of the processing limitations of other high-performance laminates used for high-frequency applications. According to Michael St. Lawrence, Research Engineer in the Advanced Materials Group, "The material is technically unique, setting a new price and performance standard for circuit materials in the growing wireless communications industry." A patent has been issued to Rogers, and additional related patents are pending.

Rogers sells a broad range of circuit board products, including R03000, TMM®, and RT/duroid® brand high frequency materials, and R/flex® brand flexible circuit materials. Other specialty markets include: high-performance elastomer products, manufactured by Rogers and by Rogers INOAC Corporation (RIC), a joint venture of Rogers and INOAC Corporation; and electroluminescent lamps manufactured by Durel Corpora-tion, a joint venture of Rogers and 3M.

Cellular telephone and cable television companies will be helped by Photonic Applications, Inc. of Bloomfield, which manufactures high performance fiber-optic transmission equipment for the emerging information superhighway. The company's first products are high- fidelity broadband linear transmission systems for radio frequencies in broadband cable and wireless communications networks.

Photonic Applications, Inc.'s products are based on a new generation of fiber-optic transmission technology that the founders have been developing over the past five years. This new technology enables an order of magnitude improvement in the quality and capacity of commercial telecommunications networks.

The Photonic Applications transmitter allows a cable system to deliver more than 150 channels of high-quality video plus telephony and interactive services to four times the number of subscribers that can be reached with today's equipment. The company's antenna remoting link enables a cellular network to cover dense traffic areas with lower real estate and capital costs while handling a larger number of calls with reduced interference and fewer dropped calls.

Photonic Applications will manufacture these products under private label for major equipment manufacturers (OEM).

Another timesaver, this time in the printing world, is the introduction of the 3030R PlateSetter computer-to-plate imaging system. With it, Gerber Systems Corporation of South Windsor extends its lead in the world of small-to-midsize printers, building on their successful Crescent/42 for mid-to-large size commercial printers.

The new advance allows the creation of master printing plates from desktop publishing programs, eliminating time-consuming prepress operations while significantly improving print resolution. Press printers producing brochures, magazines, advertising or other print formats in the short-run, fast-turnaround market can benefit most from this development.

"This will be a popular system with a large number of printers, since there is nothing else out there like it," said R. D. Lipira, Gerber's Corporate Communica-tions Director. "We believe it will be very well accepted."

From Agriculture to Aquaculture

Corn is big business in the United States and DEKALB Genetics Corp., based in DeKalb, IL and with biotechnology research facilities in Mystic, is the second largest producer of hybrid seed corn in the world. In the United States, corn is used primarily for animal feed, but products such as high-fructose corn syrup are used in a variety of items such as soda, chewing gum, and spaghetti sauce. Corn is a labor-intensive crop and requires a great deal of management with respect to herbicide and pesticide application, according to Alan Kriz, Director of Grain Composition Research. Several patents recently obtained by DEKALB will facilitate these farming tasks.

In January 1995, DEKALB received a patent for its method of producing genetically altered corn via electroporation. This technology uses an electrical pulse to introduce foreign genes into corn cells, and is a valuable alternative method to use of the "gene gun," which introduces genes by way of particle acceleration. In September 1995, the company also was granted claims to the corn cells, and ultimately to the plants derived from these cells, which have been genetically altered by this process. This allows for development of corn plants that are resistant to insects and herbicides, and also provides the opportunity to modify the composition of the corn grain itself.

The company works worldwide to identify traits that can be used to confer insect resistance and herbicide tolerance to corn plants, and to increase the value of the farmer's crop by enhancing certain grain quality traits such as amino acid composition and oil content.

Understanding the aquaculture industry has enabled DiagXotics, a Wilton bio-technical company specializing in diagnostic tests for diseases that affect aquaculture, to address the many challenges of this complex industry. Aquaculture is the science of cultivating aquatic animals and plants, especially fish and shellfish, in natural or manmade ponds or farms. In 1995 DiagXotics came out with a new test called DiagXotics ShrimProbe®. This new test screens mother shrimp when they are spawning to check for Necrotizing Hepatopancre-atitis (NHP), a disease first discovered in Texas. The disease has spread to many Latin American countries, including Ecuador, the largest shrimp producer in the Western hemisphere, causing millions of dollars of losses each year.

Seafood represents the third largest US import after automobiles and petrochemicals, says DiagXotics President John J. Reddington. The company has previously provided leading edge technology to detect other viruses that infect shrimp and will continue to develop necessary tests as new diseases arise, he said.

A Measure of the Future

Perkin-Elmer of Norwalk, another company on the leading edge of technological advances, was recently issued a patent for its Absolute Virtual Instrument (AVI) technology. A new approach to instrument standardization, AVI is based in instrument physics. With AVI, an instrument is locked into a calibration approaching the ideal using established physical standards with known characteristics that are mounted inside each instrument. The invention has been put to immediate use on Perkin-Elmer's PIONIR infrared spectrometer system, measuring the composition of refinery products, particularly the octane level in gasoline. Since a successful analysis is dependent upon recognizing the subtle variations in the infrared spectrum produced by each type of gasoline, AVI is particularly valuable in assuring that the PIONIR itself adds no coloration to the data. In addition, AVI removes the need for expensive reconstruction of the spectral pattern model that would normally be necessary with instrumental drift or repairs. Importantly, this new technology also ensures that models built on one PIONIR can be transferred to any other PIONIR instrument worldwide.

"By adding AVI technology, we expect to provide the right answer cheaper, quicker, and with more assurance," says David Tracy, Director of Applied Research.

Meriden-based Canberra Industries manufactures germanium and silicon detectors for x-ray and gamma-ray applications. One of the x-ray applications involves array detectors (up to 30 channels) for Extended X-ray Absorption Fine Structure (EXAFS) and related measurements using synchrotron radiation. In this application, a variable monochromator is used to select a narrow band of x-ray energy that is scanned through the absorption edge of trace elements in a sample under observation. The absorption of x-rays at and near the absorption edge is thus determined. In order to obtain good counting statistics in reasonable time, it is important to have a high count rate.

Canberra recently developed a new high-rate detector called the Advanced Array Detector that is capable of five to ten times the count rate of older systems. This improvement comes as a result of new detector geometry and preamplifier development, as well as enhanced amplifier performance.

Delivery of the Advanced Array Detectors began in 1995. The first users reported outstanding results, and the demand has increased accordingly.

Packard Instruments of Meriden, a Canberra Company, has developed a breakthrough technology for the detection of both natural and manmade radioactivity that reduces background, thereby dramatically increasing the sensitivity of detection of low amounts of radioactivity in the environment that might interfere with accurate quantitation. The technology can now be used to date carbon-containing material to 51,000 years. This same technology also can be used for determining food adulteration, e.g., detecting synthetic alcohol rather than natural fermentation in food and drink products. In addition, it is useful in the worldwide nuclear power industry, environmental monitoring agencies such as the EPA, private industry and governments.

Leading the way... Envisioning success... Connecticut companies continue the state's long and illustrious tradition of scientific and engineering excellence. By challenging the status quo with their achievements, these companies are among many keeping Connecticut in the forefront of science and technology.--Joan Albert Davis, freelance writer.


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