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Carestream innovation opens new direction

Carestream Health's White City coating plant ensured its relevance for years to come when it struck a deal announced Monday with South Korean gaming-device maker Inotouch Technology Co.

The 51-year-old plant that has made the jump from copy paper to wet film processes to dry film technology over the decades has once again made a leap into the future.

"We've been riding the wave of diagnostic film, but at the same time continuing to innovate and expand into other areas," said Mike Tylutki, Carestream's White City site manager. "We recognize we are a coating company, and products will come and go through a normal life cycle. Our core asset is our precision coating capability."

Carestream has developed a transparent conductive film, enabling full­-scale production of large ­format projected capacitive — touch panel — screens used in gaming devices.

Heretofore, manufacturers were constrained by less flexible indium-tin oxide, which performs like a window screen with a grid of wires.

"ITO is somewhat brittle and not flexible," Tylutki said. "You've got to keep it on glass. If you bend it like film, it will break. That's what's been used on phones and tablets."

The transparent conductive film developed by Carestream formulators in Minnesota is just what its branding — FLEXX — implies, a bendable product using microscopic elements.

"We're using nano wires, thin wires of silver smaller than the wave length of light," Tylutki said. "They're so small that light passes through unobstructed, yet it's small diameter wire that can be rolled up like a spool of wire."

The mesh of nano fibers allows light to move freely, giving the wires connectivity as well as flexibility.

Inotouch Technology will use Carestream's FLEXX Transparent Conductive Film to produce a range of touch ­panel designs, including a 42­-inch touch panel at its manufacturing plant in Yong­in, South Korea.

Pursuit of cutting-edge uses and clients has kept  the 237,000-square-foot plant on 80 acres, just north of Table Rock Road, viable through the decades as ownership changed from 3M to Imation to Kodak to Carestream. Starting with specialized copy paper in 1965, moving into microfilm and graphic film in the 1970s and then into dry process medical imaging in the 1990s, plant operators have looked to the future. 

“Our customers are very sophisticated when it comes to gaming devices," Joseph Jan, a spokesman for Inotouch said in a statement. "Their requirements are based on their experiences with thin, light and highly reliable smartphones. We wanted to replicate that experience with a large-format projected capacitive screen."

Tylutki said silver-based technology developed through the marriage of 3M and Kodak research paved the way for the new product.

Since 1996, the plant has been focused on emerging medical imaging technology, a product that has beat the odds for its longevity and growth. While Kodak opted not to give customers imagers at the time, Carestream and its parent company, Canadian conglomerate Onex, have taken a different tack, resulting in long-term success.

"It's like giving them the razors and selling them the razor blades," Tylutki said. "Onex and Carestream are much more aggressive at marketing and maximizing asset utilization. When we launched DryView in 1996, I don't think too many people would've thought we'd keep it going almost 20 years later."

In fact, the plant has seen its best revenue from the product in recent years.

"Even with industry consolidation, we've see growth in volume," he said

The company saw its overall workforce increase 25 percent last year to 350, including 250 hourly workers.

"We're running one shift right now, but we're looking later this year at going to a couple of shifts, maybe adding 10 people," Tylutki said. "But that could quickly expand to four shifts."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

A Carestream employee works with a transparent conductive film, which will enable full­-scale production of large ­format touch screens. Carestream photo