While even grade schoolers are taught that light travels in a straight
line, the word doesn't seem to have gotten to a trio of engineers who
coax laser beams to turn corners in a small laboratory tucked away in
the back of the Middle Villa Inn in Middleville.
Their creative ways in handling light earned the owners of LumenFlow
a nod from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently in its nationwide competition
of new technologies.
NASA gave an honorable mention
LumenFlow for its technology that can pick up and magnify a panoramic
image of a round object, even the edge that you can't see. It's like
looking directly down on the face of George Washington on a new $1 coin
and instantly being able to read the "In God We Trust" motto that is
inscribed on the coin's edge -- without moving the coin or your head.
technology has promising applications in industries such as
pharmaceutical packaging where companies need to know whether tamper
proof seals on pill bottles are properly fixed or whether the tabs on
locking pill bottle caps are intact.
Not too shabby for three
guys who wanted to have more say in their futures when their former
employer was downsizing a few years ago.Taking Charge
made the rounds living in eight different states and working for a
number of companies," says Paul Bourget, a co-founder of LumenFlow. "Of
my last six companies, there's only one is left. At the last one, that
(factory and headquarters) is now a paved parking lot. So in many
ways, LumenFlow is the most successful company I have worked for. "
"Because you are in control of it yourself," chimes in another co-founder, Harold Brunt.
, Brunt and co-owner Brian Zatzke answer phones, open mail, work up
proposals, and put their combined 90 years of experience in the optics
industry to work behind test benches and microscopes in their cozy
1,400 square feet of laboratory and offices. Several signs spread
throughout warn of dangers from looking directly into lasers; books and
machine catalogs line the walls around their desks.
and Brunt, 49, are native Michiganians, while Bourget is a transplant
from Rochester, N.Y. Zatzke hails from Shelby, while Brunt was born in
Grand Rapids. Bourget, 55, holds a bachelor's degree in physics from
State University of New York-Plattsburgh, while Zatzke and Brunt both
have completed some college.
Their experience comes largely
from the school of hard knocks when they worked together about 10 years
ago at Laser Alignment Inc. in Kentwood, a manufacturer of laser
equipment for the construction industry and automated machinery.
that time, Laser Alignment employed more than 300, with 55 engineers in
the research and development portion of the business alone, Bourget
says. One of the company's specialties was building rugged equipment
that could throw a tight laser beam over thousands of feet, very useful
for laying pipelines, mining and the machine control industry. Another
specialty was producing thousands of pieces of high precision optical
assemblies annually in a cost effective manner.
with the direction of Laser Alignment was taking after it was purchased
by another company, Bourget, Brunt and a couple of other partners
founded LumenFlow to further commercialize techniques of designing and
producing optical equipment. Zatzke joined in 2001, and the three men
today own the company with a fourth silent partner. Laser Alignment
effectively closed as a manufacturer since that time, Bourget said. Delivering the Goods
founding principle of LumenFlow is following the demands of the
marketplace. The company got its initial start by repurposing
techniques used in the manufacture of laser surveying equipment into
equipment that the telecommunications industry needed. At the time,
the telecom industry was using laser beams for the high speed
transmission of data over distances without the use of fiber optic
cables like today.
we went to trade shows, people kept telling us: Can you make one of
these," Bourget says. "Other companies were making that kind of
equipment, but maybe only one out of three pieces of equipment would
work properly after assembly. That made it very expensive to
Brunt says it's hard enough to transmit data
through the open air by laser due to changes in the air temperature or
presence of fog, so it was critical that the nearly perfect optical
components are assembled precisely. But with its prior experience,
LumenFlow gained a reputation for delivering goods that worked.
niche is really solving the optical challenges for companies by working
with their engineering teams," says Zatzke. "We can design it for them,
and we can manufacture a subassembly for them if they need it."
LumenFlow enlists the help from companies such as a machine builder in
Dutton and a optical element manufacturer near Detroit to build
components that it then assembles.
LumenFlow doesn't have a
set-in-stone goal for its ideal size, but it aspires to being about a
20-person company with a significant percentage of its sales coming
from manufacturing subassemblies, Zatzke says. "We are kind of
opportunistic that way," he says. "We will be broadening some of our
own product base with lasers, laser modules, machine vision, and
potential LED solid state illumination." Annual sales are now under $1
million. Speeding Up Inspection
Seeing all the way around or inside of an object instantly may be one ticket to that growth.
customer asked LumenFlow to come up with a device that could look
inside an engine block to see the whether the gap between a valve seat
and the counterbore of the block was uneven or out of specification,
Brunt says. The manufacturer used personnel to inspect the gaps with
borescopes - a sort of microscope that uses a fiber optic wand -- and
feeler gages, but it hoped to find a way to improve on the tedious and
came up with a system that saw an entire section of walls the hole in
one image, which allowed the quality control operation to be automated
at a much higher inspection rate. Because its system could provide one
entire image without moving, a computer could compare that image with
the ideal image to notify an employee if a gap was too large, small or
Part of the secret is the use of a small, cone shaped mirror that collects the light and reflects it into a digital camera.
six month ago, the LumenFlow trio came up with the system that uses
some of the same principles -- only this time the intent is to look all
around the outside of the object, Bourget says. They accomplished the
feat by using a mirror ring that reflects the outside image to the
cone, which is then reflected into the camera.
But it's tricky
to deal with the distortion of an image reflected from a convex or
concave mirror -- similar to the way a person looks hilariously
misshapen in a fun house mirror. LumenFlow has applied for patents on
its methods of collecting the images and correcting the distortion,
Brunt says the company also is specializing in
ways to illuminate objects in industrial applications with light
emitting diodes (LEDS) so that "there is no wasted light, it's putting
all the light where you need it." The technology is scalable, Brunt
says, so it can be applied to something as large as a streetlight or as
small as an LED not much larger than the head of a pin. "We are trying
to capture all of the light output from an LED."
While a lot
more time is spent now writing proposals for new work -- maybe one out
of 20 succeeds -- the trio say they love what they do and are enthused
about creating more of their own intellectual property. "We can and
are competing successfully with even foreign companies," Bourget says.
Matt Gryczan is the managing editor of Rapid Growth.
(from left) Paul Bourget, Harold Brunt and Brian Zatzke of Middleville- based LumenFlow
Work stations and technology (2)Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved