I was constantly inventing things as a child, especially electronic things. Without my parents’ permission, I took apart a transistor radio and built a “rain alert” that turned on a light if it started raining. Much to my displeasure, though, I wasn’t as successful with the robot I built to vacuum my room—it never quite worked!
Despite this natural inventive drive, like many kids of the sixties and seventies, I longed to be in a rock band. And in high school, that’s what I did. Engineering didn’t seem to be the career for me because I didn’t want to do a lot of math. However, I did build various audio amplifiers and light controls for our band.
I went to college for three-plus years but never graduated and avoided electronics engineering classes. Little did I expect my electrical inquisitiveness and enjoyment of music would lead me to where I am today—president of Applied Science Inc., the manufacturer of HemoFlow Blood Collection Systems and other solutions for blood banking needs. Two different requests years apart led to my present occupation.
The first occurred in 1975 when I was working in a music store. Someone came in wanting a lighting system to correlate with his band’s music. From past band experience, I knew I could do this and helped set up the “Shake Your Booty” club. I used standard logic gates and some triacs and then installed all the underfloor wiring and conduits.
Shortly thereafter, someone else wanted a system for a live music club. I discovered the wonders of the microprocessor (8080 and 6502), and the club owner and I formed Nicholson Electronics to sell one of the first computer-controlled stage lighting systems. After several years of 80-plus-hour weeks, the business failed. Although the business was lost, I had gained tremendous experience and became a programmer for Atari (games). Note that I did it with only a degree from the school of hard knocks.
I spent seven years doing future product research for Atari, but Atari never used any new ideas and laid everybody off in 1984. I immediately contacted people I knew at Richdel, the makers of irrigation systems. As a consultant, I became the primary irrigation controller designer of the 1980s. I formed Alpine Engineering as a consulting company and designed many products ranging from toys to Lionel train controllers to medical pumps for almost 18 years.
But after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the consulting business went down the tubes. Fortunately, I had formed Applied Science in 1991 in Grass Valley, Calif., to design and manufacture pumps and other electromechanical medical devices for pharmacies and hospitals.
The next major event came in 1998. Again, someone was seeking a particular product. A manufacturer’s rep was having trouble creating an inexpensive bloodflow monitor for blood banks. He shared his frustrations with a Microchip sales rep who knew our skill with medical technology. The product was simple for a small company to design, and it appeared that there was a viable niche market. Hundreds of blood banks could use it. We were only a two-person company then. Today, we have eight employees and our HemoFlow blood monitor products are used in over 30 million blood collections each year around the world.
Product orders started out slow for our two-man company. But after we advertised in a trade magazine, Baxter Healthcare called us in 2002. Baxter wanted to upgrade its mechanical scale product for blood collections. It clamped the collection tube when the bag was filled. With our system, nurses can monitor the bloodflow throughout the blood draw so problems could be corrected immediately if the flow is too slow.
If not corrected promptly, the blood will clot, and the entire bag of blood must be discarded at a loss of about $150 each. Not only is that a significant cost, but the shortage of blood and the fact that people can donate only every six weeks increase the actual value of a bag of blood. Our product reduces the amount of blood lost by collection agencies by using an automated monitor.
We also have an automated mixer. In addition to flow monitoring, it mixes the blood and anticoagulant automatically. There is pressure from the Food and Drug Administration and other organizations to have all blood mixed automatically. My experience with various low-power and low-cost products motivated me to design the HemoFlow to cost about two-thirds of the competition and operate for weeks instead of hours on a single battery charge.
The drive to be innovative that I had as a child is still a big part of who I am. I’m constantly looking for ways to make products more effective and take advantage of the microprocessor, which is in everything. The major goal of Applied Science Inc. is to shift more tasks to software and reduce the cost of the hardware. We’re constantly trying to come up with innovative ways to use software to do all of the needed functions and minimize hardware and power.
The best part of my business is being able to do a variety of things and to do what I love, which is to be creative. Yes, there are times when I want to throw a circuit board across the room! Still, I truly enjoy creating things with electronics and creating products that help people.