Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - February 2012
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
Evolving Technology for Growth
Ikonics advances its core capabilities for new markets—and finds more customers in the process.
Bill Ulland, President and CEO at Ikonics Corporation
When your core business is profitable but no longer growing rapidly, what do you do? Consider following the lead of Ikonics Corporation. Since 1957, the Duluth company has supplied photochemistry to the screen printing industry, from film coating to sandblasting. Through heavy investments in research and development, Ikonics is finding new industries that can use its core technologies in fresh ways.
For example, Ikonics for years has manufactured stencil products for screen printing and sandblasting. Now it is making inroads in the aviation industry by advancing that technology to make composite material for soundproofing planes. Composites made with Ikonics’ products end up on Boeing, Airbus, and Gulf Stream aircraft.
“It’s a rapidly growing industry, and we are leaders in the machining of certain composites,” notes Bill Ulland, president and CEO of Ikonics for 11 years. “It took us two years to develop it and we have just substantially increased our capacity in Duluth for machine parts in the last two months.”
Another new area for Ikonics involves using its industrial ink-jet printing capabilities for making textured materials for the automotive industry, such as imitation leather or molded dashboards. During a digital printing process, carmakers use Ikonics’ DTX transfer film and acid-resistant fluid, which Ulland says allows them to make higher quality molds more efficiently.
After Ikonics spent nearly five years developing the technology, the first printer was installed at a beta site last year with good results. Several GM, Volkswagen, and Chrysler models were built in Detroit using the Ikonics consumables, and Ulland says their success means Ikonics’ technology will quickly be adopted by other auto manufacturers.
One major selling point is the speed with which manufacturers can make dashboards and other components for cars. For a GM bumper, it normally took five workers four weeks to complete a project. With the new printer and Ikonics’ consumables, it took one worker one week to finish the same project. “The time saving is tremendous and the quality is better,” Ulland says.
It’s the same story in the aviation industry; Ikonics’ technology for machining composite materials is two to three times faster, doesn’t damage the composite, and makes for nice, clean edges.
Combined, these two new technologies and products will help Ikonics continue as a growth story, not one of stagnation. “Given the value we bring to both the mold texturing [industry], either of these businesses could be as large as the entire company is today,” Ulland notes, adding that Ikonics recently built a 35,000-square-foot facility in a former steel mill in Duluth and will soon move all of its 75 employees there.
Ikonics is proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks–with great results.
To learn more about Ikonics Corporation, visit www.ikonics.com
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