Each year, R&D Magazine recognizes the top 100 technology products, honoring those who work in industry, academia and government-sponsored research centers.
The list of 2014 winners includes the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge national labs, companies such as Alcoa, Daimler AG, Dow Chemical, Texas Instruments and Toyota, and scientists from NASA and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Products on the Top 100 list – the Oscars of innovation – that have become household items include the automated teller machine, halogen lights, the fax machine, the liquid crystal display (LCD) and high-definition television.
The 2014 list also includes a family-owned Rock Hill company that has been shipping water-testing kits worldwide for 25 years.
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Industrial Test Systems in the Rock Hill Industrial Park has its own research and development department with five chemists, plus owner-chemist Ivars Jaunakais. One of the chemists’ challenges is devising tests to meet the demands of users.
The company has more than 430 products used in a variety of industries, including pools, spas and aquariums, municipal water treatment, food and beverage, trucking, the medical field, and even day care
The winning technology, however, came from Jaunakais’s daughter Lea, the company’s vice president. It was conceived not in a lab, but in a car, and the idea was sparked initially not by serious study, but by shopping.
On a March 2011 marketing trip, Lea Jaunakais (jon-uh-KAY’-is) had to have the just-released iPad 2. As the sales team traveled to Atlanta, she got on her cellphone, tracking down an available iPad at a Target.
How could the power of a smart phone be used in conjunction with the company’s photometer system?
The breakthrough was letting the smartphone do most of the work. A waterproof meter, called the iDip, evaluates the water using small, chemically sensitive test strips. The cellphone syncs to the meter. An app on the phone has a list of 35 possible tests. Data from the meter is automatically sent to the smartphone, recording not only the test data, but the date, time and location of the test. The data then can be emailed to anyone.
Father and daughter agreed the technology can be a game changer for the industry as it makes it easier to record and share data – and they’ve protected the idea with a patent.
It meets one of Ivars Jaunakias’ goals for the company, which is to continually reinvent itself, adding more precision and ease to its products.
The iDip is the third major phase for the company.
Phase one was when Ivars Jaunakias started the company in 1988. He took lessons learned while a working on blood glucose testing for diabetes and applied them to testing water.
Test strips were dipped into the water to test for traces of elements such as arsenic, lead, cadmium or mercury. The strips were colormetric. The color revealed how much of the element was in a sample, expressed in range of parts per million.
The second phase, about 1994, was making the test strips more sensitive. Ivars Jaunankias and his team created a small opening or aperture in the test strip that allowed the water sample to move through a membrane. The result was a test strip 10 to 50 times more sensitive, he said.
To get even more sensitivity he knew the next phase would have to be digital. The challenge was making a cost-effective, waterproof meter. By harnessing the power of the smartphone, the meter needed only a 35-cent computer chip rather than one that cost $10, he said.
“You now have a laboratory in the palm of your hands,” Lea Jaunakias said.
The product was launched last November and in the hands of consumers in March. It has been especially embraced by the pool and spa industry, the Jaunakiases said.
The iDip is made in Taiwan. The company’s other products “are proudly stamped ‘Made in America,’” Lea Jaunakias said. The test strips and testing solutions are made in Rock Hill.
To meet growing demand, the company recently spent $1.2 million to build 16,000 square feet of warehouse space onto its location on Langston Street. With the expansion, the company has hired five more employees for a workforce of 50.