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March 28, 2016 Manufacturing Excellence Awards

Incom, innovation go hand in hand

Courtesy Incom is the world's largest supplier of fused fiber optics and showcases its LAPPD capabilities at various industry summits.

The U.S. Department of Energy asked Charlton fiber-optic manufacturer Incom to step out of its comfort zone, and now that partnership is paying dividends.

Incom is fresh out of its research-and-development phase of large area picosecond photodetectors (LAPPD) and will begin manufacture of the product with a host of uses, including detection of radioactive materials for scientific and medical applications, high-energy physics applications or even disease in a human body via combination PET/MRI scans, with less radiation.

Michael Detarando, Incom CEO and president, is clear the project could not have been further from the company’s traditional scope of business of supply fiber optics for commercial applications.

“It’s something we would have never done in the past, but we saw an opportunity and got involved,” he said.

Incom developed one component at a time for the U.S. Department of Energy, alongside a collaborative group that included Argonne National Laboratory, University of Chicago, University of California, Berkeley Space Sciences Lab and University of Hawaii.

“The next thing was that they said we seemed like a good commercialization partner for this [innovation],” Detarando said.

Unfamiliar territory

To start manufacture of the LAPPD, Incom needed a suitable production facility. The company had been leasing lab space in Charlton, and it is in the midst of retrofitting that space on Sturbridge Road now – the JRD Technology Center – for advanced LAPPD processing.

Just to get to this point, Incom spent $2.5 to $3 million in new equipment, Detarando said.

The LAPPD project is run by 12 scientists but will transition to high-level engineers and then high-level manufacturers. Before the end of the year, Detarando said — when production begins — the staff at the JRD Center should double. If commercialization goes according to plan, 50 to a few hundred more could be hired by 2018.

Practicing what he preaches

Discovery as an economic driver — along with more science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and advanced manufacturing training -- are Detarando’s mainstays. Incom’s involvement in a project so far out of its comfort zone like LAPPD will ultimately help Central Mass. further stake its claim as a place for innovation.

“The greater good is more important,” to Incom, said Dale Allen, vice president for community engagement, Quinsigamond Community College of Worcester. “They are invested in educational pathways and the innovation technologies of companies around them. Michael works tirelessly to shepherd that, to help others feed that.”

Allen has worked alongside Detarando as part of the area’s Innovation Technology Accelerations Center, or ITAC, set up with $2 million in state funding in 2014. The group created an advanced-manufacturing training center based in Southbridge.

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