Wired for Growth
A new family of "smart wire" innovations has put Minnesota Wire on the fast track for a sales surge.
Minnesota Wire's latest wire products seemingly have superpowers. They can flex. They can stretch. They are extremely lightweight. They can locate and even predict their own faults.
For the past seven years, the St. Paul company has been on the cutting edge of multiple electrical wire technologies. Now it's gearing up to bring those innovations to new customers and markets.
"In the next three years, I'd say our sales will increase at least 50 percent -- and that's being conservative," says Chip Laingen, communications director. Laingen has good reason to be optimistic. From military vehicles to athletic apparel, various prototypes are in the
works, and he says the market applications are copious.
The company's wire evolution began in 2003 when it bid on and won a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. The challenge was to solve a recurring problem within Air Force aircraft. In aging aircraft being used beyond their planned life
cycles, wires occasionally become faulty and require repairs or replacements. But due to the aircrafts' complex capabilities, as much as 160 miles of wire can run throughout one craft, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint a fault's location.
Minnesota Wire's solution is the Smart Connector, a sensor technology. When attached to an electrical wire system, the Smart Connecter can detect, identify and locate existing intermittent faults, eliminating time wasted looking for the source of a fault.
The Smart Connector's success brought with it additional Department of Defense grants, allowing Minnesota Wire to develop wires with varied, often complementary capabilities. The company's Fatigue Resistant Wire can flex millions of times without compromising its
effectiveness, and its iStretch wire can stretch to twice its original length or more. Laingen says iStretch is ideal for body metric monitoring systems, now commonly contained within specialized vests worn by patients, soldiers and athletes.
Another complement to the Smart Connector is Prognostic Health Management wire, which can predict when an electrical wire will fail before it fails.
Perhaps Minnesota Wire's most groundbreaking innovation is its carbon nanotube wire. CNT is the first major replacement of metal for the production of electrical wire. One company is already taking advantage of CNT wire for use in satellites and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
Laingen says it's just the beginning.
"We're really reinventing the future of what electrical conductors are," he says. "It's really cool."
-- Andrea Lahouze