LightManufacturing LLC (Private)
October 8, 2012 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
With their Solar Rotational Molding (SRM™) Solution, based on Heliostat Technology, LightManufacturing LLC is taking a Globally Deployed Industrial Process, Rotational Molding, and converting it to a More Sustainable, Lower Cost, More Competitive Process using Solar Thermal Energy
The company’s debut solution is Solar Rotational Molding (SRM™). SRM uses concentrated solar energy from the sun and elegant, low-cost machinery to make plastic parts – with strikingly low purchase and operating costs. LightManufacturing makes sustainable manufacturing a competitive, cleantech reality.
Technomad started as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hardigg Industries in 1994. Von Kries spun off Technomad as a separate firm in 1995 with the backing of an investor group. Prior to Technomad, von Kries was with Hardigg Industries, a leading logistics and shipping case manufacturer, from 1991 to 1995. He started as a staff engineer and became the head of New Product Development.
855 4th Street
Pismo Bech, CA 93449
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – October 8, 2012
Mr. von Kries: LightManufacturing is a solar technology company that has two primary missions. First, we make a unique line of heliostats, which are light and heat capturing mirror systems. Our heliostat are particularly low-cost and high-performance. Another area of the business is applying those heliostats to specific industrial and architectural problems, particularly heat and lighting.
CEOCFO: Would you tell us more about heliostats in general and what it is that you have discovered that others have not?
Mr. von Kries: Heliostats as a basic technology have been around for a very long time. The idea is that as the sun moves across the sky, an electro-mechanical control system keeps the reflected light from the sun on the target by making small position adjustments to a mirror. This keeps that reflected heat and light going to where you want. Typically, heliostats are large in size and are heavy and complex – and being large, they’re subject to a great deal of wind load and other issues. They have been problematic to use except in large-scale applications. One area where people may have seen heliostats is in the classic ‘power tower’ project where you have thousand of heliostats pointed at a central tower, which collects the heat and produces steam which is used to make electricity. That is a great application but these are huge-scale projects, multimillion-dollar projects and twenty-year plus time scale and relatively low rates of return. We looked at this and knew there was so much more possible with solar thermal, there is huge potential there. The limiting factor was there were no smaller-scale low-cost high efficiency heliostats available on the market. So, before we could go after all these exciting solar thermal markets, we had to develop our own advanced heliostat. As we got into that, one of the key things were realized was that the classic reflectors of glass and in some cases polished aluminum were expensive, very fragile, and if they are broken you essentially have hazardous waste all around your site with the shards of glass getting into the soil. Transporting these things is difficult because the reflectors are so delicate. To solve these problems, LightManufacturing has developed a unique tensioned -film mirror system for our heliostats where we use an advanced thin plastic with an aluminized finish. It is highly reflective and treated it to protect it from environmental conditions. This thin but very tough plastic film is stretched onto our aircraft-grade aluminum frames…and by stretching them tight like a drum head, you get flatness. You do not need a support structure behind the mirror -the mirror membrane itself is pulled by tension into a flat shape. This means that the entire heliostat system can be broken down in small components for shipping and set up quickly. The mirror is shatterproof and if it is struck by something, it’s not damaged. If it under extraordinary conditions IS damaged, it is cheap and quick to replace the mirror membrane in the field. In fact, our mirror systems outperform glass mirrors in terms of reflected energy. So, we have something that is smaller, safer, lighter, can be transported to a project site easily, and does not have the sensitivity to breakage that these more expensive glass or aluminum systems have inescapably as part of their design. The H1 heliostat is a tool by which we can unlock the potential of solar thermal for a variety of industries.
CEOCFO: How long has it been available?
Mr. von Kries: The H1 went on public sale about three months ago and it has been in development for over two years.
CEOCFO: What has been the response?
Mr. von Kries: It is very good. We are looking at several vertical markets. One application is architectural lighting. Some of the first deliveries were made to firms using our H1 heliostats to pump light into a collector on the top of buildings and then using fiber optic technology, brings that light down into lower floors in the building. It’s a technology called day-lighting. You’re not paying for electricity to run lights when you have sunshine falling on the top of the building. We are making the general-purpose H1 heliostat available to the market worldwide – but we also see opportunities to provide complete turnkey solutions for different industries. We feel that if we can come to markets that can use solar thermal and provide complete turnkey solutions, it is going to be easier for our customers and a bigger opportunity for us. The first vertical market solution we’ve developed is for plastic molding and in particular rotational molding. We use our H1 heliostat for heat combined with simple armatures to turn rotational molds. Our system eliminates the use of natural gas or kerosene to mold plastic parts. Things like water tanks, boats and all kinds of industrial products are molded this way and our systems have been successfully used to replace natural gas.
CEOCFO: Do people understand this concept quickly or is it something where people need to be educated?
Mr. von Kries: I would say it is both. The biggest problem we have is when you say solar, most people, even technical people immediately think ‘solar electric’ such as PV solar panels that make electricity. Solar is not just electric, that’s one part… solar thermal is the other. When you think of the vast areas in industry and architecture where heat is what is wanted, you may start with electricity but ultimately you are turning that electricity into heat to do something. Heat is an important commodity! We ask people what they are using heat for in their industry and they tell us that it is a major cost center for them and that they are concerned about the cost of energy. Then the conversation becomes simple. In many industries, particularly plastic molding, depending upon where you are, the cost of the energy to make those products is between ten and thirty percent of the total cost. If we are telling someone that we have a way to essentially eliminate ten to thirty percent of their product cost, and ask them if they are interested, the answer is yes.
CEOCFO: How expensive is it to get?
Mr. von Kries: We’re anticipating basic turn-key solar molding systems will cost $75,000 – that’s for the heliostat array and the molding system. What we found is that the capital cost of getting into complete solar rotational molding systems is much less than the traditional systems. That was a surprise to us and unique in that it is the only solar process we are aware of where both the buy-in cost is lower AND the operating costs are lower. That means our solar molding systems don’t need subsidies to be economically competitive, it is obviously competitive out of the gate.
CEOCFO: You have what seems to be a large range of potential customers. What is the plan going forward?
Mr. von Kries: First we’ve put the H1 heliostat one the market for general purchase, so one set of applications and customers are going to find us because there are no other low-cost commercially heliostats on the market. The other effort is to find vertical markets which have very obvious need for low-cost emissions-free heat and develop turnkey solutions for them. Plastic molding is one we talked about, and there are other applications besides rotational moldings, there are injection molding and blow molding as well. Each is a very large industry that we see good applications for and we intend to develop turnkey systems using our heliostat technology. Other applications are interesting. There is architectural, the lighting systems, providing heat to dark side of buildings that are never exposed to daylight, which has been a common application. We also see applications in drying in agricultural, there is a large need for drying of fruits and nuts and other crops. There are potential medical applications and enhanced oil extraction. Steam and other products are useful for enhancing oil recovery and steam production or processed heat as it is called, is another exciting potential use. There is a broad range of these. After plastics and agricultural uses, we will see what the market response is to different sectors.
CEOCFO: Development is always expensive; does LightManufacturing have adequate funding for the commercialization push into the newer areas?
Mr. von Kries: Yes we do.
Do you do tradeshows, and how are some of the basic ways that you reach
CEOCFO: Are there other aspects of your business that are happening while you are working on the heliostats in the new areas?
Mr. von Kries: We have a fully functioning test facility which is producing plastic parts and it is our test bed, so that has been very interesting. We are actually running real-world tests on the heliostats themselves and solar thermal applications. The operational facility reinforces the point that this is not a hypothetical or a ‘maybe-soon ‘technology, but something that is actually functioning and available now in working form.
CEOCFO: Do you have patents?
Mr. von Kries: We filed several patents both US and globally, that process takes several years. We have an interesting combination of heliostat technology which we filed on and also the vertical applications, ways of using the technology in plastics and other industrial applications.
CEOCFO: Why should investors and people in the business community pay attention to LightManufacturing today?
Mr. von Kries: The primary reason is that solar thermal is underappreciated both in terms of its potential and its ability to transform industry. We’re taking a globally deployed industrial process, rotational molding, and converting it to a more sustainable, lower cost, more competitive process using solar thermal energy. That is a huge deal and not just something where we are making little adjustments around the edges - we are talking about going to the heart of industry and changing it for the better and expanding its range of applications. And this is just one of the vertical industries that we are looking at. When you look at solar thermal, we think we are the shortest route for a variety of industries to implement solar in a useful, cost-saving way. That’s an exciting mission and a great place for us to be.
CEOCFO: Final thoughts?
have a variety of videos in showing the technology and photographs at the
website. I would encourage readers to think about solar as more than
electricity – it’s heat and light as well. Think about your industry and
consider if heating was much lower cost how would it transform your
business? For those readers, we’re ready to help.
Solar thermal is underappreciated both in terms of its potential and its ability to transform industry. We’re taking a globally deployed industrial process, rotational molding, and converting it to a more sustainable, lower cost, more competitive process using solar thermal energy. That is a huge deal. - Karl von Kries
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