In a Flash: Innovator Awards 2007

Our second-annual Innovator Award winners and their machines were chosen based on end users who decided whether they caught lightning in a bottle for their applications or just a lightning bug.

By Jim Montague, Executive Editor

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Blinding light! Wait a few seconds. Boom!

You know the physics. Impossibly hot and high-voltage for the briefest instant, lightning and thunder explosively rebalance the differing electrical charges between masses of fixed land and moving atmosphere.

Innovators perform the same role. They reset the stage—and are almost as dauntless as lightning itself. Or, as 19th Century French novelist Victor Hugo stated, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

So, is that what’s the matter with all these guys? Leonardo DaVinci, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and all the other famous and nameless innovators through history seem to share one attribute—they just can’t leave well enough alone. They must know how things work, and seek to improve them.

Kite and key in hand, Franklin proved in June, 1752, that lightning was a stream of electrified air. And, he followed up his successful experiment by inventing the lightning rod a year later, and distributing it, despite the objections of religious officials, who reportedly believed it contradicted God’s will.

However, though innovation might seem unstoppable, it too meets its immovable force in the form of unimaginative colleagues, calcified managers, and even fearful friends. For instance, even the oldest useful idea or tool was new at one time. For every early hominid hunter that sharpened a stick or stone, there had to be bunch of others saying, "We’ve always used clubs. We don’t need to change. That pointy stick will never work." And, once sticks were standard, the chorus undoubtedly was, "We’ve always used sticks. We don’t need to change. That stone will never work." No wonder evolution takes so long.

Because of this inertia, innovation by one person can cause deep suspicion and resentment in others. People dislike being told to do something differently, no matter how beneficial or crucial it might be, because it makes them feel stupid for not knowing what they should have been doing on their own. Is there anything more insufferable than some smarty-pants innovator?

Sadly, innovators usually don’t understand this resistance, but fortunately it doesn’t stop them. They just want to raise the alarm and get their colleagues our of danger, or deliver the benefits that efficiency can provide for the same or less labor, and achieve the acclaim that goes with it. Pretty egoistic.

Whatever the motivations for and against them, innovations and change remain hard for many people to accept. At least, until they become impossible to ignore. Similar to thunderclouds, innovations also need to build up a critical mass of inspiration, experimentation, and effort until they explode into the mainstream. Just another overnight success that took years to develop.

In addition, this year’s winning innovators weren’t just technicians implementing improved tools. They frequently had to be hardnosed businesspeople, and they and their end users even started a few new companies to help bring their innovations and improved machines into the real world. As Franklin’s contemporary, Thomas Paine stated, "Such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing." Flash! Boom again! Closer this time.

 

Study Method
To find, evaluate, and select the winners of this second-annual Innovator Awards, Control Design solicited nominations from its readers, including machine builders, system integrators, and automation suppliers. Respondents completed several essay questions, describing in detail the machines they were nominating. They related their machines’ functions, operating parameters, beta testing, end-user installations, notable use of automation and controls, uniqueness compared to its competition, impact on throughput, quality, flexibility, reliability and operator safety, and impact on the builder’s market position. Control Design’s editors then reviewed and nominations, conducted follow-up interviews with nominees and end-users, and selected the winners.

 

     FUN WITH FILMMAKING
  CRG Logics
 

Advanced Barrier Extrusions (ABX) uses CRG Logics’ Simplicity blenders and extruders managed by its Smart Connection system to make multi-layer plastic packaging film.

2007 Innovator Awards

Unified Controls Simplify
Film Blending/Extrusion

 

If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself—and sometimes you have to start your own company or two.

Ironically, it’s all because manufacturing plastic barrier film is anything but clear. Sure, they may look transparent, but packaging films are made of several to many layers with differing capabilities to protect against various combinations of light, air, moisture, odor, or other environmental influences. These complex jobs usually involves coordinating up to nine or more blenders, PLC-based controls for each one, as well as several support functions. In the past, these controls typically were proprietary and often lacked coordination.

"I used to run and have profit-and-loss responsibility for a film operation, and the biggest pain in my butt was this type of un-integrated blending equipment. The chronic communication and control problems made making film very inaccurate, inefficient, and unreliable. So, me and my partner, Carl Gillig, who sold film equipment, decided to start a new company," says Mike Rasner, who established CRG Logics with Gillig in 2000 in Green Bay, Wis.

The partners started by doing control retrofits, and started building their Simplicity real-time, continuous loss-in-weight, gravimetric resin blenders and extruders in 2002 with development assistance from a Wisconsin-based filmmaker. Simplicity serves its blenders with integrated extrusion control and vacuum sequencing. CRG now has 80-100 customers, and supplies seven of the world’s 15 largest filmmakers. Gillig is president, and Rasner serves as vice president.

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