June 20, 2006
By: by Eric Durr, The Business Review
Working for Albany NanoTech is good business and good for business.
The missions of the University at Albany-based research and development campus is to build partnerships with business, government and academia to create jobs, accelerate the commercialization of products and spur economic growth in the nanoelectronics industry.
Since 1996, Albany NanoTech has spent $400 million on goods and services. The companies that have won those contracts have helped their bottom lines and developed new, marketable skills and techniques.
Peter Campito, president of Campito Plumbing & Heating Inc., said working on Albany NanoTech's cleanrooms meant learning skills he can market to other high-tech businesses.
"Gaining the experience of how to work in the cleanroom is invaluable to us at this stage of the game," Campito said. "We know and we understand the variables and that is one of the most critical items, understanding all the variables."
Working in cleanrooms requires a completely different work culture than a conventional plumbing or heating job, he said.
The level of cleanliness and having to "gown up" when entering the workspace is unlike anything his workers do anywhere else. A job that might take an hour on a conventional site might take two or three hours in a cleanroom. And different kinds of cleanrooms mean different work requirements, Campito said.
It takes experience to understand the impact those working conditions have on labor and equipment costs, and on "soft costs," or the level of project management the job requires. It's "gut knowledge" one can't get from manuals, he said.
Campito said that although his company has a continuing relationship with Albany NanoTech, he doesn't have a lock on contracts. He has to bid for work each time there is a new job.
"That is fine and that is the world we live in," he said.
Still, if Albany NanoTech attracts a host of high-technology companies to the region, as many people hope, Campito figures his 90-employee Latham company should be well positioned to pick up more work.
For Albany NanoTech and UAlbany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, finding vendors with the right abilities and products is the first priority, said Steve Janack, Albany NanoTech's director of communications. The fortunate spin-off has been that the money stays here because of the large number of local companies with the necessary products and skills.
"We're fortunate that we are able to work with a business community in this region that is of the highest quality," Janack said.
(Albany NanoTech projects are financed with state, federal and private dollars and bidding requirements vary based on the source of the money. A video tutorial on doing business with Albany NanoTech can be found at www.albanynanotech.org.)
Across the area, businesspeople say working with Albany NanoTech is a selling point.
For Clough Harbour & Associates LLC, the structural engineering and planning projects it worked on at Albany NanoTech served as "a springboard" for similar work at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
"As a firm, we are always trying to be poised for the next job and certainly this helps build our credibility with clients," said Mark Tebbano, the director of marketing.
Chris Piel, owner of Absolute Promotional Services, said working at Albany NanoTech "has given me credibility in the local business community." The Albany company provides logo items--such as an Albany NanoTech WiFi detector--that have been distributed at conferences. That's a selling point when trolling for new business.
"If Absolute Promotions is working with Albany NanoTech, the leading high-tech in the Albany area, then what could they [the company] do for me?" is the message potential customers get, Piel said.
SourceOne Network Inc., the Albany company that provides Web services to UAlbany and Albany NanoTech, is making money because of its long-standing relationship with the research center, said senior vice president Al Evans. "We just won a contract with Berkshire Community College. They saw that we could provide the services that Albany NanoTech wants. This is a selling point."
Spectra Environmental Group Inc., a Latham company that prepares waste-water discharge and air-permit certificates, learned from its work in NanoTech's cleanrooms, said Peter Desrochers, Spectra's director of facilities management.
"The thought we have in doing the work for M + W Zander and NanoTech, is to become experienced in doing this and to be a good choice for a manufacturer who wants this service," he said. "It involves a lot more detailed calculations in figuring out the emissions from a facility like NanoTech versus an old factory."
Desrochers hopes New York is successful in attracting tech companies to the area to replace "many core older industries that have left." Spectra, which also has offices in Utica, Syracuse and Poughkeepsie, wants to use the skills it has honed at NanoTech.
"We would like to see that blossom and become a larger part of our business," he said.
Zinter Handling Inc., a Saratoga Springs heavy-crane manufacturer, installed a specialized crane at Albany NanoTech to move photolithography equipment in a cleanroom.
The "clean crane" poses special challenges. Standard lubricants can't be used and the crane needs to move at extremely slow speeds to ensure the delicate equipment is not damaged, said Mike Kicinski, the company's sales manager.
Cranes the company normally installs are designed to move parts and equipment weighing 100 tons or more around a factory floor as quickly as possible, Kicinski said. The cranes and hoists Zinter designed for Albany NanoTech move equipment weighing about five tons so slowly that it's almost imperceptible.
"We are trying to make something go almost to the point that you cannot see something move," Kicinski said. "You would not notice it moving unless you walked away for 15 minutes and then came back."
In the last project the company did for Albany NanoTech, equipment moved at a rate of 0.25 feet per minute. The newest hoist Zinter is developing will move a five-ton machine at 0.20 feet per minute.
The work at Albany NanoTech has opened up a whole new field for the company, Kicinski said.
"They have given us a venue where we can pretty much hone our skills in all areas and then place them into one basket in the nanotechnology field," he said.
Precision Flow Technologies in Saugerties, which specializes in the design and manufacture of ultra-high purity gas and control systems, also learned new skills working for Albany NanoTech.
"The collaboration with the center has certainly brought us to some additional customization experience that we would not have gotten into," said Bill Cowl, the firm's director of marketing. "Some of the requirements for some of the gas delivery systems have been new to us in many respects."
The skills the company learned, and the ongoing relationship with NanoTech, has been a great selling tool, Cowl said.
"You want to be where leading technology is taking place and certainly, the UAlbany center has become a world-renowned center," he said. "For us, it is an important installation and certainly something we leverage in our marketing."