Nano technology finds a home in Hudson"It is a colorful business,” said Joseph Ward, Ph.D., of RJA Dispersions. “We make the colors used in large format ink jet printers.”
By: Margaret Ontl, Hudson Star-Observer
"It is a colorful business,” said Joseph Ward, Ph.D., of RJA Dispersions. “We make the colors used in large format ink jet printers.” That, of course, is a rather basic description of what two scientists, both Ph.D.’s and former 3M’ers are doing in their “retirement.”
The process is proprietary so no photos were allowed, but while it is highly technical, some very basic tools, like a heated dog bed, help the process along.
The enthusiasm present in Ward’s persona tells it all — this is a lot of fun.
RJA Dispersions was founded in Maplewood, Minn., in 2002 with Reva Adkins as president. In 2004 her husband, Ronald Adkins, retired from 3M and joined her full time as vice president of research and development. In 2006 Ward, also from 3M, retired and came on board full time as vice president of marketing.
The unique combination allowed the two scientists to shift gears from working at 3M to becoming part of the supply chain for the entire industry. Ronald Adkins, who refers to himself as an ink chemist, worked at Flint Ink in Michigan before coming to work for 3M in 1984. It was there he crossed paths with Ward, who was the laboratory head for the 3M Scotchprint business unit.
“I love working with inks because of the challenges,” said Adkins.
While at 3M, Ward witnessed and was an innovator every step of the way as the printing and graphics industry went through the evolution from solvent based inks (silk screening) and photographic dyes to the digital age of inkjet printers.
“We both took the opportunity, not to compete with 3M but to become a supplier of a specific product,” said Ward. RJA Dispersions works with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
That product is color.
“We are a manufacturing operation,” said Ward. “We don’t need a lot of labor because everything is automated.” With four employees the operation is low key and cutting edge at the same time.
“We use pigments rather than dyes because they don’t fade,” said Ward, who is an electrical engineer by training. He became interested in pigments while at 3M.
“Pigment particles are heavy,” said Ward. “There is an art to designing pigments so they don’t fall out of their suspension,” said Ward. The team has developed a process, where they purchase pigments and reduce them in size so they can be used in ink jet printers. The end product is ultra fine particles and pigments the size of a nano, which is 10 to the minus 9th or 100th the size of a human hair. When blended with a fluid it still looks like color and doesn’t clog the nozzles.
In today’s market there are three primary types of ink, where the pigments ultimately end up, aqueous (water based), solvent and UV Curable. The biggest part of the market growth is in UV Curable inks, which are essentially permanent with no color fade. It is an ink that becomes a solid after it is applied. A UV light right next to the nozzle sets the color. Think billboards on Times Square, ads on buses and even the front of pop machines are all likely to have been printed with UV Curable ink.
RJA Dispersions is poised to continue its growth in all areas especially the niche UV Curable ink market. Another line of the business is creating custom products for OEMs.
On Nov. 1 the business moved into 6,500 square feet of the River Bluffs Business Center. Moving to Hudson meant getting more space for less money.
From more information, go to www.rjadispersions.com/.