Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rethink Technologies History

Rethink Technologies, Inc. was a small and capable research company that was in effect Roger Faulkner IP Development, Inc.  I had several great employees over the years, including Jim Reilly, Steve George, and Ken Mumby especially, all of whom were full time for more than a year. Ken was my most recent full time employee, and by the time he left in 2009, he was a qualified research scientist, and had become familiar with computer interfacing equipment. Robert Karnes worked with me on several SBIR grant applications as my Principal Engineer, until he got a full time job in March. I had to pull the plug eventually, since I was not bringing in enough business.

I founded Rethink, Inc. as a MA corporation initially in 1998, with Ian MacKenzie as my first partner (Ian thought of the name "Rethink" for the company); my efforts to raise money to develop “RoadTread” based on recycled rubber was the first activity under the Rethink, Inc. banner. I was Technical Director at that time for Erickson Materials, a startup that was producing fine ground rubber at that time. I conceived RoadTread while I worked for Erickson, then tried to make a deal to produce it after I moved over to Cri-Tech, at the time Erickson Materials’ biggest customer.  My moonlighting efforts to pursue RoadTread were unsuccessful, but I kept trying. After I left Ericson Materials, I also sought funding for a novel wet grinding process for elastomers to enable an order of magnitude reduction in the particle size of the ground rubber, but never managed to raise money for that (still available if you are interested).

I pursued my first US patent 6,197,438 on “Ceramic Foodware Coatings,” while employed by Immix Technologies (at that time, the parent company of Cri-Tech). This was with the full knowledge of Immix; this patent has been cited by 11 other US patents, and I made a little money in a deal with All-Clad at the time; I missed out on royalties on the “Gold Standard™” line of bakeware that All-Clad introduced out of our work because a patent by a Japanese company narrowed my allowed claims so much that what All-Clad actually did, did not read on my claims. All part of a valuable learning experience though. I had a special deal with Immix that gave me a 1% royalty on my patentable inventions, and we agreed on a list of prior inventions I had prior to working for Immix that I was free to pursue on my own time. I still see that agreement as a model of fairness.

My next three US patents are assigned to Cri-Tech; US patent 6,486,247 concerns “Scorch inhibitors for bisphenol-cured fluoroelastomers,” and gives formulators of bisphenol-cured FKM a second way to control scorch not mentioned in the Dyneon’s prior US patent 5,756,588 (it was important for Cri-Tech to have a way to control scorch without relying on the Dyneon patent). 
US patent 6,538,069 describes “Polymer blends of PVDF thermoplastics blended with FKM
Fluoroelastomers,” and covers especially permeation resistant elastoplastic blends for fuel lines; this patent was useful for a while, but tightening fuel emission regulations soon forced all fuel line manufacturers to either use stainless steel tubing or multilayer tubing that includes an extremely permeation resistant fluoropolymer layer such as PTFE (Teflon™ for example; very difficult to process by extrusion), or the more readily extruded fluoroplastics PFA, FEP, ETFE, or THV. There are many patents out on versions of this concept. The material I developed was an order of magnitude lower permeability than high fluorine FKM, but still about 10-1000 times more permeable than the fluoroplastics, so it lost its market share in automotive hoses (it may still be used in hoses for small engines). 

US patent 6,737,479, on “Dynamically Cured Fluoroelastomer Blends” covers the “FKX” product line of Cri-Tech; these are fluoroelastomers that can be cured at atmospheric pressure without blistering. (This means they can be cured in a molten salt bath or an infrared tunnel, for example.)

While I worked for Immix most, but not all of my duties related to Cri-Tech. Immix at the time had two other divisions, Cri-Sil and New Era Materials. I had a little involvement in Cri-Sil projects, and a lot of involvement with New Era Materials, where I was also Director of Research for a while. New Era Materials was a specialty compounder of plastics focused on thermoplastic matrix syntactic foam (for insulating oil pipelines under the sea), electrically conductive fluoroplastics, and thermally conductive LCP composites for low cost computer heat sinks.

I was laid off by Cri-Tech at the end of 2002 as a result of the economic contraction after 9/11/2001. I continued to work 4-5 days a month for Cri-Tech through 2003. Rethink, Inc. had transitioned to being an Ohio C-corporation in 2000. My first consulting contract (other than Cri-Tech) was with DuPont Tyvek group, and I also began to work with Jim Reilly, my best buddy from grad school at Akron University. (Tyvek is manufactured by Flash spinning, which involves the rapid decompression of a solution containing high polymer and a spinning agent, through a nozzle/disperser system; see for example US patents 3081519, 3169899, 3227784, 3227794, 3456156, 3497918, 3549453, 3860869, 5032326, 5147586, 5250237, 6153134, and 6218460.) Coming out of this consulting, I have definite concepts that could extend flash spinning to other polymers, such as PVDF, for which I never found a sponsor or partner. (If this fits your research goal, please make contact; otherwise this invention will stay in the deep freeze.)

Jim Reilly and I wrote several proposals during 2003 that had to do with advanced syntactics (combinations of glass or ceramic microballoons with a polymeric or metallic matrix phase), including a seminal (but unsuccessful) application for DARPA funding to pursue aluminum-matrix syntactics in conjunction with Joseph Blucher of  Northeastern University, who had done pioneering research in this area. That DARPA application still informs some of the work on advanced syntactics that Rethink still pursues today. We also pursued research with NFM Welding Engineers: Jim and I co-authored a paper on NFC syntactics (natural fiber composites that also contain glass microballoons) at the ANTEC 2004 plastics show with Jim Hagberg, Technical VP of NFM Welding Engineers.

Rethink Technologies, Inc. was formed in May 2004 to create a clean slate for Dick Mastromatteo to invest in my concept of creating Kevlar polyaramid pulp dispersions (“Fibersperse”) in elastomers using a unique high shear mixer. I had laid the groundwork for this project in 2003 by supplying samples of Kevlar pulp dispersions in FKM to DuPont Advanced Elastomer Systems. Dick invested because DuPont expressed interest. We were very close to a deal with DuPont Engineered Elastomers to supply Kevlar pulp dispersions (“Fibersperse”) in elastomers that their process (which is latex-based) had a problem making, such as FKM, EPDM, HNBR, and IIR (butyl rubber); unfortunately the war in Iraq placed all supplies of Kevlar on military consignment, and we could not get an allotment. This killed the deal with DuPont.

We then turned our attention to nanoclay dispersions and composites, and I co-authored a paper with Carl McAfee at the 2005 ACS Rubber Division show on nanoclay dispersions; we showed that we could achieve significant (though partial) exfoliation of nanoclays in masterbatches that had been treated at high shear rate. (We tried to sell these to the rubber industry as “Nanosperse,” and applied for “Nanosperse”  as a trademark, but it went to another company.) We had some success, but sales were slow, and Dick Mastromatteo ran out of patience before we got to profitability.

At the beginning of 2007, Dick Mastromatteo and I split the assets of Rethink Technologies; Dick got the pilot plant we had built and the IP on Fibersperse and Nanosperse; I got the lab which was then in Manlius, NY in Jim Reilly’s barn. I managed to keep Jim as an employee for a while with consulting work with Daikin America (which by this point had bought Cri-tech from Dick Mastromatteo), but in the end I had to lay him off. During this period, Jim and I did the research that lead to two patent applications for Daikin: US patent applications 2007/0179248 on high elongation FKM, and 2008/0032080 on ETFE/FKM thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPVs), both of which Daikin has now abandoned. Since these inventions have now lapsed into the public domain, I am prepared to help clients for consulting fees only to re-create these products.

While Jim and I worked together we began projects that I am still pursuing in advanced syntactics. Besides the previously mentioned DARPA white paper from 2003, and the ANTEC paper that Jim and I co-authored in 2004 on NFC syntactics, we also applied for Navy STTR N04-T015 with Professors David Brown & Yong Kim of the Advanced Technology & Manufacturing Center/ U Mass Dartmouth, and Rob Karnes of Globe Rubber. 

We then turned our attention to nanoclay dispersions and composites, and I co-authored a paper with Carl McAfee at the 2005 ACS Rubber Division show (***link to paper); we showed that we could achieve significant (though partial) exfoliation of nanoclays in masterbatches that had been treated at high shear rate. (We tried to sell these to the rubber industry as “Nanosperse,” and applied for “Nanosperse”  as a trademark, but it went to another company.) We had some success, but sales were slow, and Dick Mastromatteo ran out of patience before we got to profitability.

I also applied for  Navy STTR N09-T032 for a similar concept of using advanced syntactic materials for absorbing blast energy, with Professors Sam Kiger and Hani Salim of the University of Misssouri, working with Ken Mumby.  Jim and I began work on classification and pressure certification of glass microballoons, as well as design of a microballoon characterization device based on the acoustic emissions that are emitted when glass microballoons collapse in a liquid under hydrostatic pressure in 2004. Jim has carried on with the instrumentation research as part of our separation agreement, and Rethink is still looking for an opportunity to pursue advanced syntactics that use pressure certified microballoons. (Rob Karnes and I recenly  have applied for three more recent SBIRs in this general area of advanced syntactics.)

In September of 2007 my dear friend Colin Felton was instrumental in orchestrating a move of the lab to its current location in Cambridge, NY. Colin and I pursued the Fibersperse technology again with DuPont, but by then DuPont already had other options, and we failed to make a deal. Soon after that, we lost our Daikin support, and since then Rethink has gotten by helping small companies with small problems (formulation design, developing marketing literature, polymer development for other company’s SBIRs), and we also got our first Phase 1 SBIR (Navy N08-042) in which we developed a high moisture barrier elastomer for Navy Missile tubes, but unfortunately, we did not progress to Phase 2. Ms Atira did lab work on the Navy SBIR, and has continued as a sort government contract specialist on all our SBIR applications since then. This research lead to two patent applications and three publications:
(***ACS Rubber Division, Energy Rubber Group, and Rubber & Plastics News). 

A substantial customer in 2008 was Hyperion Catalysis, with whom we co-authored both an Energy Rubber Group talk (***), which was delivered by my employee at the time, Ken Mumby. and an ACS Rubber Division paper (***) which I wrote.

Rethink has continued to build on the special expertise we have been developing in advanced composites (including syntactics) with applications for Air Force SBIR AF083C-068, and Navy SBIRs N101-067 and N102-148. In fact, Rob Karnes and I have a currently pending application for funding under Navy SBIR N103-220 to create high strength buoyancy modules for deep submergence based on pressure certified microballoons. And Rob has also applied for funding for research under DARPA SBIR D103-008 for a surface-skimming missile design under Rethink  Technologies, with participation by Bayer Material Sciences and Kazak Composites.

Since November 2008, I have put more than half of my total effort into a spin-out company from Rethink, Electric Pipeline Corporation, which is seeking funding to pursue inventions in the area of polymer insulated rigid conductor-based electric pipelines (elpipes). The site is under construction, but you can access many documents relating to elpipes here<***I will create a directory of files>

I have developed meaningful IP that is described above which is available for development, some of which is described above. For this case, where I have developed IP already, I want to participate in the upside if I deliver a very important process or technology to a client. We also do consulting, and can help companies to develop marketing literature and/or publications that help market products. (Please see our 'Presentations and Proposals' section for documents related to our recent activities; the part of recent activity related to our spin-out, Electric Pipeline Corporation .

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