Micro industry taps area potential

2010-08-28T06:00:00Z Micro industry taps area potentialBy BENNETT HALL, Gazette-Times reporter Corvallis Gazette Times

One of the most successful products in the modern world — the inkjet printer — was developed in Corvallis by Hewlett-Packard engineers who found ways to move precisely measured volumes of ink through tiny nozzles.

Now a whole new generation of products using similar principles of microfluidics is taking shape on HP’s Corvallis campus at the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute, a joint research initiative of Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

That’s no accident, said Home Dialysis Plus chief executive Michael Baker, whose Portland-based company is working with MBI to develop a portable kidney dialysis machine intended for home use.

“This infrastructure here is world-class,” Baker said Friday during a tour of the HD Plus lab at MBI, which is housed in rent-free space donated by Hewlett-Packard on a 20-year lease. HP and other high-tech companies in Oregon have stocked the facility with electron microscopes, industrial lasers, thin-film deposition tools and other sophisticated equipment for fabricating devices that operate in the microscopic realm.

“Our technology is based on microfluidics, and (Corvallis) is the hub,” Baker added. “Whether you’re talking about HP or OSU, this is where it all began.”

HD Plus is licensing technology from both HP and OSU in its bid to be the first manufacturer to hit the $70 billion North American dialysis market with a machine patients can use at home. That technological foundation — and MBI’s state-of-the-art capabilities — were key factors in winning a $50 million cash infusion from an East Coast financial firm, Baker said.

Baker’s company was one of several startup ventures showing off their new research and development facilities Friday at MBI, which drew more than 500 visitors to an open house to dedicate a $14 million laboratory expansion project.

MBI is a shared user facility of the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, a research collaborative that involves OSU, the University of Oregon and Portland State University. Each university brings a particular brand of expertise to the table in Oregon’s effort to establish itself as a leader in the field of ultrasmall-scale manufacturing.

ONAMI director Skip Rung, a longtime R&D manager at Hewlett-Packard, said the connection between HP’s inkjet technology and MBI’s microfluidics expertise is “real strong” and is a big draw for entrepreneurs in the field.

“There are several companies coming up” under the ONAMI umbrella that are working with MBI for that reason, Rung said.

Others are waiting in the wings. According to OSU College of Engineering Dean Ron Adams, the first of several speakers to address the crowd at Friday’s open house, there’s a list of 34 companies queued up to partner with the institute on research projects that could ultimately mean more jobs for Oregon’s struggling economy.

“Watch this space,” Adams said, “because some really big things are going to happen.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who has steered millions of dollars in federal appropriations to the state for nanotech development, said he believes those efforts are starting to pay off for Oregon.

“The science of small stuff is beginning to gain some recognition among the public,” he said, pointing to the success of ONAMI and MBI. “It allows Oregon, in my view, to write a textbook on what we ought to do to partner with the private sector and government.”

That sort of collaboration was exactly what Hewlett-Packard had in mind when it decided to offer 20 years of free rent to ONAMI and MBI, said Sam Angelos, the company vice president who manages the Corvallis site.

Making room on HP’s Corvallis campus for talented scientists from startup companies, a national laboratory and academia not only was a chance to do something nice for the community, Angelos said. It was also a chance for HP to take advantage of some fresh ideas.

“It was an opportunity for our people to get out and collaborate with other parts of the world,” Angelos said. “We call it leveraging the world.”

Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net.

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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