Tribune-Star staff report
Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
Owners of a business that supplies computer-control systems to more than 230 manufacturers around the world say the company is poised for growth thanks to a partnership with Indiana State University and an affiliated business development organization.
John Young, of Terre Haute, launched AIS Gauging in his garage 15 years ago and has since relocated the company twice because of expansion.
AIS competes with industry giants Honeywell, NDC Infrared Engineering and Zurich-based ABB, and many of its customers prefer to do business with a smaller company, Young said.
But small businesses often need help with technology and marketing, and that’s where the company’s one-year-old partnership with ISU’s Business Engagement Center and the Terre Haute Innovation Alliance has proven especially valuable, Young and co-owner Glenn Wrightsman said. The alliance is a collaboration between InSU, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, the city of Terre Haute and Terre Haute Economic Development Corp.
“There are a lot of things on our back burner that we haven’t been able to accomplish and they’ve filled that void for us,” said Wrightsman, a 2002 graduate of ISU’s College of Technology. He was the company’s first employee in 1998 and went on to become co-owner about eight years later.
While AIS has historically relied upon X-ray technology to monitor the thickness of manufactured products, the Innovation Alliance helped develop an isotope sensor that uses beta radiation and some of the same assembly as the company’s X-ray tube.
“This is something that we have not had and it opens a whole new market,” Wrightsman said. “This allows us to use the same parts for both types of radiation sources.”
Faculty and students at ISU and Rose-Hulman worked to design a stainless steel holder for the testing material that safely contains the radioactivity.
Mehran Shahhosseini, assistant professor of applied engineering and technology management, and M. Affan Badar, professor and chair of the applied engineering and technology management department, led the AIS product development effort at ISU.
Rose-Hulman Ventures helped AIS with a new style X-ray tube holder, which allows the use of a lower-cost version for lower-end markets and has integrated cooling into the design to extend the life of the x-ray tube, Wrightsman said.
Student involvement with AIS has not been confined to the lab and product development. Two ISU technology students are serving internships with the business by working to produce installation and troubleshooting manuals for equipment the company makes and developing marketing materials.
“I’ve gotten a lot of experience doing Autocad designing, drawings and things of that nature, real world experience in my field,” said Jeremy Kowalsky of Rockville, a senior mechanical engineering technology major who plans to pursue a career as a technical illustrator.
“Seniors in high school and freshmen in college, you’re 18 or 19 years old and people are telling you you need to make a decision that will affect the rest of your life. I think that’s a lot of pressure on an 18-year-old,” she said. “Getting into industry and seeing different types of things that you can do — like automation, like the public relations side — is really an eye-opening experience and you can really see that, OK, maybe I do want to do this for the rest of my life.”
AIS customers are manufacturers in such industries as metal, plastics, paper, wood products, fiberglass, carpet and rubber.
“We provide them with the technology to make their product as efficiently as possible, which allows them to compete not only against local customers but in a global economy,” Young said. “Our technology allows them to achieve a much better quality product. It reduces scrap and waste and helps them use fewer raw materials.”
AIS designs, manufactures and supplies equipment to more than 20 companies throughout Indiana, another 200 businesses in other states and about a dozen manufacturers in other countries, including China, Indonesia, India, Singapore, Czech Republic and United Kingdom.
“We see us being able to expand our business and to be able to bring in more employees and more business for Terre Haute,” he said. “The Honeywells of the world, the big multi-billion-dollar companies, know us. They know who we are because we are making an impact.”