Efficient Engineering
Vermont’s Tech and Taps Tour (Part 2)

The Vermont Tech and Taps Tour (Part 2)

Machine Design tours Vermont’s growing manufacturing, technology, and brewery industries.

Vermont’s government is committed to building strong technology companies. It uses grants, loans, and everything else in its arsenal to help local business and attract more STEM-experienced employees who love nature and believe in a good life/work balance.

BioTek Instruments

Gene therapy and work in seaweed are large disruptors in life sciences and petroleum industries, respectively. But normal precision equipment for microplating or bioanalytics had been running into a large barrier of entry. Addressing the problem, BioTek dramatically reduced the cost to help overcome that barrier. On top of that, the company is able to have the machine on your doorstep six weeks from the day you place your order.

“Finding the right manufacturing process was key,” said Briar Alpert, president of BioTek. “You’ll see a lot of low-tech innovation in our manufacturing process. This was all generated straight from our employees. We really don’t have a hierarchy gap. Employees on the floor have often mentioned ideas to me, and we have integrated many of them into our process. This is important because no one knows the process better than the people doing it.”

 

Sure enough, one employee who was into woodworking had made wooden trays with specific sections to hold parts. Simply holding the parts in an orientation saved time, and kept parts from getting lost. As we walked through the complex, other employees pointed out fixtures and widgets they made, or had made for them.

Alpert mentioned everyone has a chart of what work needs to be done. The chart isn’t a connected screen or an advanced Internet of Things network; it’s just a whiteboard.

The company is a comfortable place to work, where people just talk to one another and keep things light. This casual flow doesn’t require complex technology, so they just don’t integrate what isn’t necessary.

What really surprised me came next. Alpert mentioned that if you see some empty workstations, it’s because the employees just aren’t there. They may be out sick, or taking care of other business. If the work on the employee’s whiteboard is getting done, he said they let their professional employees figure out how to manage their time. Some employees have kids that need rides in the middle of the day, or they may have a reason to come in late. I assumed this couldn’t work for very long before finding a fault, but BioTek is about to celebrate its 50-year anniversary next year.

 

The BioTek FLx800 TBI fluorometer is a multi-detection microplate reader that combines high-end specifications and performance with convenience and ease of use. The device also costs much less than traditional fluorescence-luminescence microplate readers. The FLx800 line includes several models with options that meet the specific needs of research and OEM users. Top and bottom reading are available to read anything from 6-well to 384-well microplates, and PCR plates. An optional external dispenser module makes it possible to run applications such as ion-channel assays and flash-luminescence assays.

Finally, Alpert mentioned why he likes doing business in Vermont. He mentioned that it’s a little expensive to live here, but the natural beauty alone is worth it. However, on the business side of things, there are the government benefits and easy access to politicians. One common thread running through just about every company I visited was that they mentioned how easy it is to communicate with the state government.

A company growing as fast as BioTek has sought out other opportunities, too, such as the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive (VEGI). The VEGI is a performance-based cash incentive (not a tax credit) paid to approved companies for prospective job and payroll creation in any region of the state and in almost any sector. The program requires board approval, but an incentive estimate can be provided easily and quickly.

Part 3 of the Tour

The next part in this series involves tours of two companies. Liquid Measurements Systems is a company that uses material science to make a safer, lighter fuel system for planes. And Vermont Precision Tools is a diverse machine shop that claims, “if it has a hole or thread, we have a gauge for it.” If that doesn’t excite you, in part four, we start the brewery tours.

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