A contraption for turning pig manure into asphalt binder. A device that makes hail. Even a system that allows children with disabilities to walk.
When it comes to making one-of-a-kind machines – no matter how off the wall – some of the world’s biggest companies and leading researchers call on Accudyne Systems near Glasgow to turn their concepts into reality.
“We always say yes and we always succeed,” company president Ralph Cope said last week. “Other than that, there’s no pressure.”
Founded in 1996, the custom equipment manufacturer is a relatively small company with about 35 employees and annual revenues between $6 million and $8 million a year.
But its big ideas earned Accudyne a visit from U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on Friday as part of National Manufacturing Day, an initiative aimed at raising awareness of careers in the field and dispelling misconceptions about the industry.
“What I heard … was an enthusiasm for the fact they’re creating things that otherwise wouldn’t exist but for the work that they do,” Pritzker said after touring the company’s headquarters in the Pencader Corporate Center.
While some companies are built on the strength of a single breakthrough, Accudyne’s business depends on creating one innovation after another.
For instance, when Airbus hired Spirit AeroSystems and ATK to build stringers – the long strips of composite material that make up the skeleton of an airplane – each contractor turned to Accudyne.
The end results were two machines that make similar parts in completely different ways.
“Some of our customers know they want a machine that does this step and then that step,” Cope said. “But usually, all they have is an idea, so we start with a concept and a blank sheet of paper.”
The machine that converts pig slop into asphalt binder, for example, was commissioned by a team of researchers at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University based on a process they developed in lab experiments.
Meanwhile, the hail machine was ordered by the nonprofit Institute for Business and Home Safety with the only requirement that it be able to produce ice balls of a certain size.
“With that machine, they’re trying to figure out how to design houses, siding and shingles so you get less damage from hail,” Cope said.
“But hail is more than just a ball of ice,” he explained. “It has certain properties based on how it’s created in the atmosphere, so we had to come up with a machine that could replicate Mother Nature.”
As with all their machines, Accudyne’s team of engineers began by brainstorming ideas before fleshing out a final design using a three-dimensional computer model.
But unlike companies that divide labor between design and construction, Accudyne requires its engineers to be active members of the assembly team.
“The idea is the designers understand the intent of the drawing,” Cope said. “And if something is wrong, I want the person who made the mistake in the middle of fixing it.”
That includes the company’s president, who spends his days designing machines and turning screws alongside his employees.
“Everyone here is pulling in the same direction,” Cope said. “If you get the right people, all you should have to do is slide pizza and money under the door and then wait. Good things will happen.”
A graduate of McKean High School, Cope was one of the first graduates of University of Delaware’s Center for Composite Materials, before earning his doctorate from Ohio State University.
Cope later taught mechanical engineering at UD before he set out to build custom machines.
“I don’t think there was a great plan there,” Cope said. “It would be great to say I had this vision, but the reality is I just enjoy designing cool stuff.”
One of those cool designs – undertaken at the request of physical therapy professor Cole Galloway at UD’s GoBabyGo! program – recently resulted in a spin-off company that Cope founded with his late-brother Steve, called Enliten.
The new business makes harness systems that support the weight of handicapped children and adults, allowing them to stand, walk and even dance for the first time.
A permanent unit, called an Oasus, recently was installed at the Bear-Glasgow YMCA, while portable units, called Pumas, can be purchased for about $3,500.
Pritzker was so impressed with Enliten that she promised to spread the word to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, one of the top rehab hospitals in the nation.
While Cope conceded that the harness systems offer a “warm, fuzzy index” unlike any of his other machines, he said none of his company’s machines standout as a personal favorite.
“The fact is there is something really cool about each and every one,” he said. “Otherwise, we never would have agreed to build it.”
Contact business reporter Scott Goss at (302) 324-2281, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ScottGossDel.