By Eric Peterson | Feb 07, 2019
Cloud and aerosol measurement systems
Industry: Energy & Enviro
Products: Cloud and aerosol measurement systems
Droplet Measurement Technologies has helped the scientific community explore the clouds for more than 30 years.
The company started in services and consulting, then started manufacturing probes in 1996. Several Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants led to the pivot. "Now, our preference is to manufacture and sell products," says Throckmorton. "We still pursue SBIR, but they're not the focus of our business. Our focus is sales, service, and manufacturing products."
Droplet Measurement Technologies initially worked for "the NCARs of the world and the NOAAs of the world," says Throckmorton.
"It pivoted when the founders realized there was a need to work on products nobody was willing to take a shot at. It was high risk, but high reward."
The first product, spurred by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, remains a top seller: Cloud, Aerosol, and Particle Spectrometer, or CAPS.
That led to a catalog of under-wing probes that detect droplets in the clouds their parent aircraft pass through. "As the aircraft flies through clouds, they monitor particles in the clouds," says Throckmorton. "What our core products so is help scientists understand how clouds and aerosol interact."
The company's probes can detect particles as small as one micron across to thousands, or "from haze to fog to mist to drizzle to rain -- a broad spectrum of particles you can analyze," says Throckmorton.
From 1996 to 2006, the catalog expanded from CAPS to 10 families of products. In the years since, Droplet Measurement has expanded into laboratory instruments and other lines.
Released in 2005, the CCN (Cloud Condensation Nuclei) Counter "is a product that predicts, if you will, the percentage of particles in the air that could form clouds," says Throckmorton. "In the science community, that was a big step in understanding cloud physics."
"We've been expanding our reach from cloud physics into bioaerosols and black carbon," says Throckmorton. "The business is dependent on government initiatives and funding. We have the potential to be exposed."
Bioaerosols, encompassing pollen and similar particulate, and black carbon of industrial pollution are new markets that diversify the customer base. New for 2018, WIBS-NEO is a sensor that detects a wide spectrum of molds and other bioaerosols.
Black carbon measurement becomes a necessity for governments looking to implement a carbon tax, along with industrial emitters. "No regulation would ever be written if you can't measure what you're regulating," says Throckmorton.
The company's next generation of black carbon measurement systems is due out in 2019, following predecessors that "were aimed at the research community," says Throckmorton. SP2-XR "is an extended-range product that has a simplified data output" for a broader market.
With about half of the staff involved in manufacturing, the company designs, engineers, assembles, and calibrates products in-house, and develops software and firmware for outsourced printed circuit boards (PCBs) from local and overseas partners. The company also uses suppliers for optics and lasers, and works with local machine shops. Under-wing probes, like aircraft, "need to be machined to a very tight tolerance," says Throckmorton.
Chicago-based Benford Capital Partners acquired the company 2016 and connected with Throckmorton, who joined the company in 2017.
Throckmorton's background is largely in optics and photonics, but he says the company's products relate to his Ph.D work. "I liked the position of Droplet Measurement Technologies in the marketplace," he says.
Since his arrival, Throckmorton has implemented Lean processes at Droplet Measurement. "We really shifted to focus on quality and efficiency," says Throckmorton. The goal is "a more streamlined supply chain and more streamlined production."
The strategy is working; the staff has grown by seven employees in Throckmorton's tenure. "We've had record years," says Throckmorton. "2017 was a record year. With our expansion of our portfolio into different areas, we're expecting to see record growth in 2019, 2020, and beyond."
Throckmorton sees the company as part of the solution to big issues that are subject to research at universities around the world. "When we think about innovation, we think about open innovation as well, and technologies that can be used to solve problems," he says."
Challenges: "The biggest challenge is we rely a lot on government funding," says Throckmorton. "A large percentage [of revenue] is tied to government funding, whether it's in the U.S., Asia, or even jn Europe. . . . We need to continue to innovate for those opportunities."
Another challenge is the "lack of affordable housing up and down the Front Range," he adds. "Some of our employees drive a long way to get here."
Opportunities: Southeast Asia is the top market for black carbon measurement, with Singapore leading the charge.
Adds Throckmorton: "We have reinvigorated our science programs We're working around the world supporting science and scientists in their activities." Some of the corresponding research is tied to the science of cloud seeding.
Throckmorton also sees potential for probes on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. "We've traditionally sold to large aircraft and manned aircraft," he says. "There's an emerging market of researchers and hobbyists using UAVs to understand weather."
One program the company is working on with CU and the United Arab Emirates is a probe mounted on a UAV. The idea is "to have a drone, or UAV, that is doing cloud analysis with a sensor and have a trailing UAV that seeds the cloud according to an algorithm."
Needs: "There's a need for skilled engineers and scientists who can help us," says Throckmorton also citing a need for software and firmware engineers. "They are in very high demand up and down the Front Range right now."
Another need: "We're always looking for good machine shops locally We're always looking for electronics and PCB houses locally who can help us with low volumes."