Jeff Whittaker, President of American Cladding Technologies, told Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about the startup’s transition to becoming a standalone company in East Granby, CT.
NAN PRICE: How did the company form?
JEFF WHITTAKER: American Cladding Technologies started as part of Joining Technologies Inc., which was founded in 1992 by entrepreneur Michael Francoeur.
In 2007, Joining Technologies began exploring the emerging field of laser cladding—also known as laser metal deposition—and invested in the technology and training to master the process. In 2011, the company signed a joint cooperation agreement with Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology and opened a dedicated facility for its laser cladding division.
As the laser cladding division at Joining Technologies continued to expand, the company’s management determined that establishing the division as a standalone business offered the best opportunity to position it for future growth. In addition, establishing American Cladding Technologies as a standalone company offers more opportunities for professional growth for employees, which is one of the company’s core values.
In 2017, American Cladding Technologies became a subsidiary of Joining Industries and moved to a new 20,000-square foot facility in East Granby, CT. The company uses more than 70,000 pounds of metal alloy powders annually, which is equivalent to the weight of 14 Ford F-150 pickup trucks.
NAN: According to your website “American Cladding Technologies is known for delivering technological advances to the field.” What makes your services advanced and innovative?
JEFF: Our expertise and deep knowledge of laser cladding enable us to provide innovative solutions to our customers that extend the life of their valuable equipment with protective coatings. For example, American Cladding Technologies developed an alternative laser cladding process to apply a protective coating to boiler components that has doubled the life of boiler tubes compared to the conventional Inconel coatings from 16 to 24 months to 48 months.
NAN: What’s the biggest challenge your company has faced as a startup?
JEFF: Expanding into new vertical markets is one of our major challenges. We see potential in targeting other industries with boilers burning aggressive fuels that cause erosion and corrosion.
Another challenge is getting potential customers to understand what laser cladding is and the benefits it offers. They’re familiar with processes like thermal sprays, but not necessarily familiar with our process.
NAN: Tell us one or two things we don’t know about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur/launch a startup.
JEFF: First, the culture is just as important as the business. Developing the right culture and hiring the right people is very important.
Second, don’t assume that just because you have a product or an invention, people will come knocking at your door. We thought that because we’re one of only a handful of companies doing laser metal deposition that customers would come flocking to us, but that’s not the case. We have to educate and convince potential customers that there’s a need for our service.
NAN: Looking to the future, where do you want your company to be one year from now?
JEFF: Moving forward, we would like to invest more of our research and development resources into three areas of interest:
- Larger-format part production – We’re interested in using the laser metal deposition technology for “near net shape” part production or using the technology to create structures/shapes onto already existing components.
- Gradient structures –Components or parts that are formed using the laser metal deposition process, but instead of using a single alloy to produce the part, the chemistry is continuously modified during the build process to create a completely different alloy at the end of the build.
- Welding highly dissimilar alloys –We will continue to investigate welding techniques that enable us to join materials that would normally be considered incompatible.
NAN: Any advice for others launching startups?
JEFF: Even though startups are hectic, don’t forget about taking care of your employees. Also, don’t try to do everything at once—know your core competencies and stick to what you know.