By: Bill Bregar
October 9, 2013
AKRON, OHIO — Akron Polymer Systems Inc. has installed a solvent film casting in a new 800-square-foot clean room at the specialty polymer development company.
The machine from Frontier Industrial Technology Inc., which can make cast film up to 18 inches wide, will go into production in October. APS is installing a new laminator on the line.
Before starting up the clean room and film line, Akron Polymer Systems had to outsource that production to toll film makers, according to President and CEO Frank Harris.
The cast film floats on a blanket of air during the process, he said.
Frontier Industrial Technology of Towanda, Pa., custom-made the film line, which is made of stainless steel for clean room use.
Akron Polymer Systems also is building a smaller clean room for small-scale, hand-casting of film.
Film is a key part of several Akron Polymer Systems projects, including substrates for flat panel displays and polymers for membranes used in gas separation, water purification and fuel cells.
But Akron Polymer Systems is involved in other product developments as well, such as biodegradable, high-strength polymers, nanotechnology, thermally stable composite resins for missile nose cones, and biomedical innovations such as a plastic implant that enhances bone growth in cancer patients. APS is making the polymer used in research at Methodist Research Hospital in Houston.
Akron Polymer Systems is housed in a 16,000-square-foot building full of reactors, compounding lines and laboratory equipment and the new cast film line. Beyond the equipment, the firm has some intellectual polymer-science firepower, as nine of the 12 employees have PhDs.
The company makes batch sizes of the new polymers, working on joint product and process development, does custom synthesis of new polymers and monomers for large corporations, and imports high-performance polymers and additives.
Harris said film and coatings played an important role from the beginning of Akron Polymer Systems, to develop second-generation film for liquid-crystal displays.
In the late 1990s, University of Akron researchers developed the first generation of the film. By the early 2000s, the university had licensed technology to a maker of jet cockpit displays.
Another licensing deal followed with a Japanese maker of large-screen TVs.
Akron Polymer Systems also worked on technology called in-plane switching films, winning a grant from Ohio's Third Frontier program. Film made by in-plane switching lines up the liquid crystals to give a vivid, clear picture, improving off-angle viewability, such as looking at the screen from a side angle. Harris credits a grant from Third Frontier for helping Akron Polymer Systems in its early days — and keeping the high-level jobs in Akron.
"The Third Frontier was very important in starting our business," he said.
APS uses polymer science to manipulate polymers to produce high-performance materials, sometimes for harsh operating conditions. For example, the membranes for fuel cells must withstand very high temperatures.
Harris and Stephen Chen, both polymer science professors at the University of Akron, founded Akron Polymer Systems in 2002. Chen now is the dean of UA's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering. Harris, who retired from the university in 2005, is emeritus distinguished professor of polymer science and biomedical engineering.
Akron Polymer Systems uses a long list of advanced materials, including polyimides, polysulfone, composites and biodegradable polymers for medical.
The company's income sources are royalty payments on research and development, government funding, custom synthesis of pilot-plant quantities, sales of imported specialty chemicals and consulting services.