Amherst Process Instruments, Inc.


It didn't take making the cover of a leading trade publication, Laboratory Equipment, magazine, to convince Joseph Bohan that his company's product was a success.

Bohan, president of Amherst Process Instruments (API), manufactures a particle size analyzer and disperser useful to a range of industries from pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturers to ceramic and cosmetic producers.

Located in Mountain Farms Technology Park in Hadley, a small New England town sandwiched between Northampton and Amherst, API strives to match a 21st century product line with home grown, state-of-the-art management techniques.

Perhaps that's why it seemed natural for API to turn to the Center for Manufacturing Productivity (CMP) when it hit a snag in insuring its "Aerosizer" Particle Size Analyzer would reach as large a market os possible. The device is key to industries which require close monitoring of particle size, including pharmaceutical, mining, semiconductors, polymers, pollution analysis, nuclear medicine and biotechnology.

Founded in 1985, the 12-person company quickly caught the attention of venture capitalists, the number of which grew substantially after IBM signed a contract with the then fledgling manufacturer. Today, companies doing business with API read like a who's who of U.S. business: Xerox, Eastman-Kodak, Nutra Sweet, and 3M, to name a few. But it wasn't always that way.


Although the early Aerosizer worked well, it had limited application. As originally designed, it was useful for measuring particles only from aerosols, which make up just five percent of a market Bohan says is now worth $100 million a year. That market includes medical inhalers, nozzle sprays and other products that need to measure exhausts , fumes, coating processes, and particle-laden gases. By comparison, the dry powder market is much broader and includes toners, pigments and dyes, ceramics, silica powders, Freeze dried food products, metal oxides and plastics.

What's the difference? Particles from aerosol products are measured from .2 to 30 microns, while the dry powder market range is from .2 to 1000 microns. What API needed to do was adapt the Aerosizer to reach the larger market.

That's where CMP came in. According to API co- founder and vice-president, Trent A. Poole, industry giants such as Xerox, Alcoa Aluminum, Glare Pharmaceutical, Coulter Electronics, and Malvern Instruments, "have been trying to solve the prob- lem [of powder dispersion] for 30 years, since the time they had particle measurement capability." But nobody had really succeed- ed. Until now.


Poole, who graduated with a master's degree in engineering at UMass in 1975, says API turned to CMP at a time when the future of the product --and the company -- was in jeopardy. "I had to know if we could accurately detect the pressure drop across the annular dispersion nozzle," Poole recalls. "That's the critical component of the system. if we couldn't detect the drop accurately, we couldn't control the system. And if we couldn't control the system, we wouldn't have a viable product."

In lay language, in order to measure dry powders it is necessary to be able to separate the particles -- that's dispersion. What the aerosizer needed was an accessory, a disperser. Poole turned to CMP to find out if one could be built that actually worked.

He contacted CMP Mechanical Engineering Professor Yossi Chait who, along with graduate student Nicolas Reffe, joined Poole in a research project which Poole knew was going to have major ramifications, one way or another. Looking back, Poole says, "We were risking the entire company on this project." "I went to Yossi with a proposal ," Poole recalls, that API and CMP "work to develop a prototype of a critical sensor of the aerodisperser."

For several intensive months in 1991, Poole, Chait and Reffe worked as a team. Graduate student Reffe, under Chait's supervision, was given the biggest opportunity of his young professional life. API supplied parts and CMP built the prototype at the university.


"We were astonished to see how efficient Nicolas was, how well he worked. He understood our time needs. He was extraordinary ," Poole recalls.

API spent $20,000 developing the prototype, Poole says, but would have had to spend at least three or four times as much on an outside consultant.

Today, business af API has exploded like...a powder keg. Fourth quarter sales of the aerosizer products, which cost nearly $53,000 each, were up dramatically.

API has gone from having a product useful to five percent of the market -- a market growing at ]O to 15 percent a year -- to one of use now to up to 90 percent of that market. Bohan says, "We went from having 300 leads in the first three quarters of 1993 to 1000 in the fourth.


API today is growing at least 50 percent a year and expects to continue at that pace for the next four years. Virtually every week a representative from a major company either in the U.S. or abroad stops by to discuss purchasing the Aerosizer, Bohan says.

Poole says he won't hesitate to work with CMP again when the need arises. "it was a win-win relationship."

According to Bohan, without CMP's assistance, "it would have taken two or three years to bring the [adapted version of the] analyzer from idea to market. We did it a lot less expensively and in just nine months."

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