Area Labs Drive Safety Testing, Environmental Innovation
Hubs of technological innovation seem to pop up like daisies out of the ground in certain parts of the country.
Silicon Valley in northern California's San Francisco Bay area is the most obvious example – home to companies like Apple, Intel, Cisco Systems, eBay, Google, Hewlett-Packard and more.
The Oh-Penn area along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border in the Pittsburgh market is fast evolving into a technological hub of its own for engineering, environmental and other science and technology-related laboratory firms.
Leveraging Area Assets
Whether assisting companies with product testing and efficacy or developing their own advanced processes, Ohio-Penn labs leverage the region’s many natural assets and work closely with local, regional and national manufacturers in a multitude of industry sectors to develop new products and services.
“We are generally the last step in the product development process and play a vital role in determining a product’s safety,” says Sam Mastovich, general manager at Keystone Compliance LLC in New Castle, a regulatory compliance and product safety-testing lab that opened a new environmental test laboratory in 2011.
Among Keystone’s specialties are providing electromagnetic compatibility and eliminating electromagnetic interference. Two recent examples of its work involve infant respirators and automatic pilot systems.
Improving Product Safety
Keystone engineers worked with a manufacturer to help improve the use of infant respirators by identifying a problem – signals from walkie-talkies – that shut them down inadvertently. In the military sector, Keystone discovered a malfunction in an automatic pilot system that caused planes flying in formation on automatic pilot to cross flight paths.
“We essentially read the electronic signals coming off of a unit and then send signals to the unit to see if we can cause a failure," Mastovich says. "Environmental testing ensures that a product can withstand the operating environments that it could encounter."
Other area labs are involved with highly advanced research and development. They include New Castle, Pa.-based Axion Power International Inc., which is developing advanced batteries and energy storage systems based on PowerCube technology it designed to create efficient energy sources, and Environmental Laboratory Services Inc., also in New Castle, which conducts analysis of gas well drilling waste products for oil and gas companies and municipalities, and residential drinking water testing for homeowners.
Building Energy-efficient Systems
Axion is working on processes that create more efficient lead carbon battery systems with longer cycle lives, higher charge acceptances, faster discharges and faster recharges. The company’s PowerCube technology is being adapted to emerging markets, including hybrid vehicles and office buildings, says Thomas Granville, Axion chairman and CEO.
At the federal Naval Yard in Washington, D.C., Axion is part of a “zero energy” project to create energy-efficient buildings in conjunction with alternative energy forms such as solar and wind.
“The idea is to make buildings completely energy independent," says Granville, whose company is developing processes for the residential power market as well. "The good thing about the cube is that it can be scaled up or down in terms of size. We can take it up to 10 megawatt or above by adding cubes in a pod configuration, and we can stack these cubes if need be."
Granville, who moved Axion to New Castle from Toronto, Ontario, said the Oh-Penn Region has proved to be a rich source of ideas and talent, especially from nearby universities such as Carnegie-Mellon. Many of its engineers and scientists have also moved to the area and stayed, he adds.
“We were very impressed with the workforce when we moved here, and we’re still impressed now," he says. "It’s the work ethic in general that we see."