The IKONICS Corporation
Making life easier
Business View Magazine interviews Ken Hegman, COO of the IKONICS Corporation, as part of our focus on the imaging technology sector.
IKONICS Corporation, based in Duluth, Minnesota, was originally founded in 1952 as a screen print company called ChromaGlo that printed labels for manufacturer’s lawn equipment. In 1982, ChromaGlo changed its name to Chromaline after developing novel photo-chemical products for screen printers. Chromaline added the manufacturing of photo emulsions and photochemistry for other screen printers in the marketplace. “We continue to supply screen printers to this day,” says Chief Operations Officer, Ken Hegman. “It’s a large part of our business and we have many loyal distributors that sell our products in countries around the world.”
Over the years, the company continued to innovate and expand its product lines. In the early ‘90s, it began offering ultraviolet, light-sensitive film and sand carving products for the decorative engraving industry. In 2002, the company changed its name and reorganized as IKONICS Corporation. “The decision was made to diversify our company. We reorganized into different business units to satisfy different markets,” says Hegman. “Screen printing and decorative sand carving are good businesses and allowed IKONICS to grow. These businesses gave us the opportunity to expand and utilize our technologies to enter into some high-growth industrial markets.”
In 2008, IKONICS initiated two new businesses; Advanced Material Solutions and Industrial Inkjet Solutions. Advanced Material Solutions’ target market is the aerospace sector, and Industrial Inkjet Solutions provides materials for suppliers in the automotive industry. Today, IKONICS has four technology platforms: UV/ photochemistry; film coating and construction; industrial inkjet printing; and Precision Abrasive Machining (PAM).
Precision Abrasive Machining is a non-traditional machining process for producing a variety of features, shapes and/or perforations in brittle and challenging materials. These materials include semiconductor wafers, ceramics, sapphire and composites, while ensuring low stress impartation and minimizing compromises to the substrates. Precision Abrasive Machining is excellent for producing perforations, blind perforations, cavities, and other geometric features over large surface areas. This is particularly true for array patterns where multiple perforations and/or other features are required. This process allows for such features to be produced with ultimate precision.
“For example, there are methods for machining advanced composites for aerospace applications where they have to drill holes into a composite part of an aircraft,” Hegman explains. “When you mechanically drill through this material, it creates burrs and delamination. Our PAM process utilizes proprietary products manufactured at IKONICS that keep the perforation free of defects common with conventional machining. When a customer examines the result of Precision Abrasive Machining, compared to a traditional machining method, you can see that there’s a big difference in quality.”
“We have the unique ability to be able to produce perforations of any shape and size, whereas traditional machine methods, typically, produce holes,” adds Senior Application & Sales Specialist, Wes Barton. “There’s been some testing that has shown that slots, or different shaped perforations, can allow for better acoustic dampening and increased fuel efficiency in engines. We believe that more companies in the aerospace industry will be moving towards different size and shape perforations for acoustic dampening and we’re confident that advancement will increase our business.”
“We pride ourselves on customer service,” Barton adds. “In Advanced Material Solutions, we understand that this is somewhat of an unknown process that we do versus traditional machining. We are always open to do proof-of-concept for customers. We’re willing to do that to make sure that we can deliver them a product, even in a small fashion, of high quality and good value. I think that goes across the board with all of our divisions.”
Marketing Manager, Michael Sullivan, adds that the company’s long-standing reliability and credibility gives it yet another competitive edge. “We have been around a long time,” he states. “The road travelled from screen printing to decorative sand carving, to building new businesses, is all an extension of our company. When we approach new clients, they know we didn’t just start last year.”
Today, IKONICS has about 80 employees working out of two facilities in Duluth. The original facility contains offices and manufacturing for legacy products. A second facility of 35,000 square feet was constructed in 2008 and was expanded in 2016 with an additional 27,000 square feet for Advanced Material Solutions division and production activities. “There is plenty of room to grow at this new facility,” says Hegman. “We currently operate a 6-axis robot and multiple blast cabinets that support the machining of customer parts while still allowing room to expand capabilities. IKONICS also owns 11 adjacent acres that are still available, as needed for further expansion. We are positioning ourselves for continued growth.”
Regarding future growth, Hegman says that the company’s primary objective, going forward, is to expand the industrial businesses that it created over the last few years. The Advanced Material Solutions division is poised to continue supplying its customers in the aerospace industry, as aircraft and other products turn towards lightweight composites and advanced materials in the coming years. Industrial Inkjet Solutions is maintaining its initiative to supply the automotive industry with materials for the texturing of molds used in the interior of automobiles.
“We offer innovation,” says Hegman, in conclusion. “We have a creative staff at IKONICS that propose new and innovative products to help the diversification of our business, as well as the products that we supply to several different industries. IKONICS chemists and engineers take pride in coming up with solutions for our customers. Our business is based on customer feedback, with a focus on what we can provide to make their business better and more efficient. All of our communications with our customers involve, ‘What else can we do for you to help make your life easier?’”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: The IKONICS Corporation
WHAT: An international leader in the development of imaging technologies
WHERE: Duluth, Minnesota