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WTC assists Spokane companies with product research and development

For Immediate Release: January 25, 2000

Seattle - Spokane, Wash. companies engaged in product development can benefit from the funding and technical assistance of Washington Technology Center (WTC). The state-sponsored organization helps companies with R&D; in two ways, (1) by linking them with the resources and expertise of Washington's universities, and (2) providing up to $200,000 in funding per research project. Though WTC is located in Seattle, its focus is statewide. Since 1993, the WTC has partnered with 18 Spokane companies, investing over $1 million in product R&D.;

A few examples of Spokane companies that have received funding from WTC include:

-- Argo Technical Publishing has teamed with Steve Simmons of Eastern Washington University's Computer Science Dept. to develop a voice-activated computer system that provides instant access to complex information upon command.
-- Packet Engines teamed with Jonathon Liu of Washington State University's Electrical Engineering Dept. to devise methods to increase performance for broadband gigabit networks.
-- New Light Industries worked with Jerry Parker of EWU's Chemistry Dept. to further the development of New Light's hologram technology.

Spokane Bat Manufacturer Hits the Sweet Spot with National Retailer
Brett Brothers Bats, a small Spokane start-up, recently landed an agreement with Big 5 Sporting Goods to carry their innovative wood laminated baseball bats in stores throughout the western U.S. The company owes much of their success to a research partnership with the Washington State University Wood Materials and Engineering Lab (WMEL) and funding by Washington Technology Center.

Brett Brothers was incorporated in 1997 with one mission -- to create a new generation of wood baseball bats. These bats would be more durable, with less breakage than traditional wood bats. Best of all, these new laminated bats would bring the cost of replacing bats down enough so that schools, little leagues, and collegiate leagues could get back to playing the game the way it was meant to be played.

Washington Technology Center (WTC) contributed $110,000 toward a joint-research project between WSU's Wood Materials Engineering Laboratory (WMEL) and Brett Bros. Bats to conduct stress testing and analysis of the bats.

The research led to improvements in the design and manufacturing of the bats. WSU's involvement also lent creditability to the company's product claims. Brett Bros. refers to their partnership with WSU WMEL in their marketing materials, saying the bat has been "scientifically proven to be 20% more durable than conventional wood bats".

Business is growing and promises to really take off due to some recent developments. The NCAA has changed the specifications for baseball bats used by NCAA member schools such that metal bats will have to perform like wood bats. This ruling, which will go into effect January 1, 2000, requires that bat manufacturers submit their bats for certification. Brett Bros. has already been approved by the NCAA, and expects demand for their competitively priced, more durable bats to rise sharply. Brett Bros. bats have also been approved by the Major League Baseball Association for rookie league play and for practice in the major leagues. Sales have already gone up from 4,000 bats in 1997 to more than 25,000 in 1999. The company anticipates producing more than 100,000 bats in the year 2000 to meet the demand.

According to Emanuele Portolease, vice-president of Brett Bros., "We wouldn't be here today if it weren't for WSU and Washington Technology Center."

WTC-Sponsored Projects Bring Results
WTC recently completed a survey of 148 companies who participated on projects during the period of July 1, 1995-June 30, 1999 to determine the impact WTC projects have had on their bottom line. The companies forecast that their WTC projects will lead to the creation of more than 1500 new jobs and generate $196 million in sales over the next five years. WTC currently partners with approximately 40 companies per year, and has plans to increase that number over the next few years. Small companies in particular benefit from the interaction with WTC. Nearly 60 percent of companies that participate on WTC projects have fewer than 10 employees.

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WTC awards funding in first fall RTD program

Washington Technology Center awarded $450,000 to six company-university research teams in December 1999 under the Research & Technology Development program (RTD). The projects were evenly split between the University of Washington and Washington State University, with nearly 60 percent of the funding going to projects at WSU. A summary of these projects is featured below.

This is the first round of awards made since WTC started offering the RTD program semiannually. Project funding will now be awarded in June and December every year. "We made this change to be more responsive to the needs of companies that don't qualify for our FTI / EA programs," says Lee Cheatham, WTC's executive director. "This includes companies with over 100 employees and / or companies that need more than $30K for research. In the past, companies would have to wait up to a year to apply for funding. Many companies can't wait that long, particularly when they're in a competitive market."

Awards in Microelectronics

StressWave, Inc., Kent
Researcher: Brian Flinn, UW Dept. of Materials Science & Engineering
Over 60% of aircraft component failures are caused by metal fatigue problems, particularly cracking around drilled fastener holes in the fuselage. Aircraft are particularly sensitive to fatigue because of their thin, highly stressed structures. Current manufacturing methods to prevent in-service fatigue damage are both labor and tooling intensive and are not amenable to automation. WTC funded an earlier FTI project wherein StressWave, working with UW researcher Brian Flinn, optimized a new automated process using company-developed equipment that makes the holes more resistant to fatigue. The focus of this 18-month RTD project will be to generate the data needed to commercialize the StressWave process for the full range of metal alloys used in aircraft manufacturing.

Spectra Lux Corporation, Kirkland
Researcher: Mark Kuzyk, WSU Dept. of Physics
Spectra Lux Corporation is a manufacturer of aircraft lightplates and lighted cockpit keyboards. Mark Kuzyk, of the WSU Physics Dept., will conduct research to reduce the amount of energy required to illuminate a given area, making the company's products more efficient and less expensive to manufacture. The scope of the two-year project includes the development of a prototype and transfer of the manufacturing process to Spectra Lux. In addition to becoming more competitive in existing markets, the company plans to expand into untapped markets that use illuminated displays such as the automobile, industrial, and medical equipment industries.

Awards in Advanced Materials / Manufacturing

D & A Instrument Company, Port Townsend
Researcher: Thanos Papanicolaou, WSU Dept. of Civil Engineering
D & A Instrument is currently developing an instrument that can monitor the movement of gravel in streambeds. That's good news for salmon, which require gravel for spawning, and for state and local governments, that are largely responsible for preserving or restoring salmon habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

The technology, called the Gravel Transport Sensor (GTS), is an acoustic device that detects and counts gravel particles moving downstream as they impact a steel pipe (recorded as number of "pings"). Thano Papanicolaou, of WSU's Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is working with D&A; to develop and test algorithms to calculate the rate of flow of gravel based on the collected data. These algorithms will serve as the basis for embedded software in the product. Currently the monitoring of gravel movement is highly labor intensive, requiring individuals to physically go into the streams and collect samples of gravel. Decision makers in several government agencies have already expressed an interest in the product, according to John Downing, President of D & A. These include the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington State Dept. of Ecology, and state and federal highway departments. GTS can also be used to monitor the movement of gravel as a result of logging and increased urbanization, and to determine the effect of scour on bridge supports in gravel bed streams.

Aculight, Bothell
Researcher: Ann Mescher, UW Mechanical Engineering Dept.
Aculight designs, develops, and manufactures solid-state lasers for new applications in industries as diverse as medicine, semiconductor processing, and telecommunications. As solid-state lasers get smaller and power output increases, cooling the laser becomes a significant challenge. In collaboration with Ann Mescher of UW's Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, Aculight is investigating MEMS processes at WTC's Microfab Lab to achieve a novel thermal management system that efficiently removes high heat flux from the laser's package. Aculight, one of the top 100 fastest growing private companies in Washington, forecasts overall sales in excess of $20 million by 2004.

Awards in Biotechnology / Biomedical Devices

Barlean's Organic Oils, Ferndale
Researcher: Norman Lewis, WSU Institute of Biological Chemistry
Numerous scientific studies suggest that there is a connection between cultures that ingest a diet high in plant lignans (phyto-estrogens) and a lower incidence of estrogen-related cancers including breast, colon and prostate cancers. Flaxseed and flaxseed meal contain high levels of plant lignans, and have been marketed as health food products for many years.

Barlean's Organic Oils, a leading U.S. manufacturer of health food supplements, has teamed with WSU's Institute of Biological Chemistry to commercialize a proprietary method of extracting plant lignans from flaxseed with a consistent, high level of potency. The company intends to market the resulting product as a nutriceutical.

Micronics, Inc., Redmond
Researcher: Paul Yager, UW Dept. of Bioengineering
Paul Yager, UW Dept. of Bioengineering, is assisting Micronics in the development of an inexpensive disposable microfluidic cartridge. The cartridge, about the size of a credit card, is used to perform blood tests and other diagnostics requiring body fluids. The microfluidic system provides results at the "point of care", such as in the doctor's office, instead of being sent to a laboratory. Just one of these "lab-on-chip" devices can potentially perform up to 20 different medical diagnostic tests using the same sample. The microfluidic technologies behind these advances were originally developed at the University of Washington using the same microfabrication techniques established in the semiconductor manufacturing industry. The research team is using WTC's Microfabrication Lab to create the prototype and optimize MEMS-based manufacturing methods.

Related WTC links:

  • RTD Grant Program

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  • WTC explores new research initiatives

    Washington Technology Center is planning its next initiative for the 2001-2003 biennium. Initiatives are intended to invest in the development of an emerging technology that has commercial promise. A few of the technical areas and industries that are being evaluated include:

    -- Photonics.
    -- Telecommunications.
    -- Clean Energy.
    -- Speech / audio technologies.

    Focus groups, composed of members from industry and universities, will be convened to discuss the merits of these and other potential technologies. WTC invites your suggestions and participation in this process.

    In order for a technology area to fall within WTC's mission, the following criteria must be met:

    -- The area represents an emerging technology.
    -- There is a high probability that companies will use this technology to create products and stimulate the economy.
    -- A potential market exists for the products that can be realized from the technology.
    -- University resources and research expertise exist to further this technology.

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    WTC welcomes new board members

    Three new members were appointed to WTC's Board of Directors by Governor Locke in early January 2000. Each of these individuals has an impressive background in industry.

    James Lee, Ph.D. is Vice President and Chief Technical Officer for NeoPath, the company that developed the first FDA-approved automated screening technology for detecting cervical cancer. He was one of the founding employees and helped guide the company's growth from start-up / R&D; stage to commercial success.

    Frank Armijo has over 15 years of experience in the information technology industry including managing key support systems for Boeing Computer Services. Currently, he is Business Development Director for Lockheed Martin Services in the Tri-Cities. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Tri-Cities Economic Development Council.

    Dennis Okamoto, retired, was formerly Regional Vice President for U S West where he was the top executive for Washington state, with Vice Presidents for Oregon and Utah reporting to him as well. He served in Governor Booth Gardner's Cabinet from 1990-1993 as the Director of the Department of Revenue, a 900-employee agency. He is very involved in leadership roles in various community service organizations and on the Board of Directors for several commercial and non-profit institutions.

    Related WTC links:

  • WTC's current board of directors

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  • New technology index report coming soon

    WTC will be releasing Washington state's first Technology Index Report in March 2000, with the authorization of the Governor's office and Washington State Department of Community, Trade & Economic Development.

    Similar to technology reports in other states, this report provides comparative data from over 30 different sources that, when taken as a whole, demonstrate the effect technology has on Washington's economy. Updated annually, this technology report card will establish a benchmark for calculating Washington's progress in areas critical to the success of technology-based business.

    WTC Executive Director Lee Cheatham worked with an advisory board consisting of leaders in industry and government to determine the major economic indicators to track. These leaders included representatives from the American Electronics Association, the Washington Technology Alliance, the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association, the Washington Software Association, the Governor's office, and many prominent technology companies in Washington. WTC staff gathered the data. Paul Sommers, Ph.D., senior research fellow for the UW Northwest Center for Public Policy, provided expertise in analysis and interpretation.

    The report will be available in both hard copy format and as a downloadable file on WTC's website in March 2000.

    Related WTC links:

  • WTC publications

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  • WTC opens satellite office in Tri-Cities

    On Dec. 7, 1999, WTC and the Applied Process Engineering Laboratory (APEL), Richland, signed an agreement to jointly share outreach activities in Eastern Washington. APEL is a technology business incubator facility that fosters and supports innovative new companies engaged in product development that will create jobs in Eastern Washington. "This agreement makes sense because the goals of WTC and APEL are complementary," says Lee Cheatham, WTC's executive director. "It will increase our exposure to small high-tech companies in the region and enhance our statewide presence." Chuck Allen, APEL director, will serve as WTC's local contact, helping companies tap into Washington's universities and WTC funding.

    APEL's facilities include engineering and manufacturing-scale space, as well as wet labs, bio labs, and business space. In addition to companies engaged in product development, university and national laboratory researchers also access the laboratories. APEL is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Port of Benton, Energy Northwest, and TRIDEC.

    Related external links (will open a new window):

  • APEL -- Applied Process Engineering Laboratory

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