Adesis scales up with new labs in New Castle

The opening of two new labs at Adesis’ New Castle headquarters is intended to catalyze the company’s expansion into the large-scale manufacturing of specialty chemicals.

The labs comprise about 6,000 square feet, but their capacity is limited to where the chemistry happens: In the 32 fume hoods that line the walls. Each fume hood, a ventilation device that can suck up toxic fumes, is the site of at least one, and ideally more, experiments or projects.

Last Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, held just outside the Southgate Industrial Center headquarters Adesis purchased in 2017, gave state and federal politicians the chance to laud the expansion as an example of Delaware’s small-state ingenuity and collaboration. Business success like this, Sen. Tom Carper told the crowd of 135, is a reflection of smart transportation, housing and tax policies.

Corporate evangelists like Kurt Foreman, president of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, spread the good news about the “friends and neighbors who made a company, caught the eye of (Universal Display Corporation) and turned it into the next great Delaware story.”

Adesis caught UDC’s eye after it had been contracted to make chemicals that go into organic light-emitting diode devices, or OLEDS. These are thin layers of film that give off light when exposed to an electric current. UDC bought Adesis in 2016 to continue to supply these chemicals, but Adesis still works with other clients, too.

The company now has 103 employees, and plans to reach at least 120 by the end of 2020 to meet the terms of a $450,000 grant through the Delaware Strategic Fund.

After the ribbon cutting, some of the company’s chemists and other staff led tours of the new labs, which opened about two weeks ago and are already full of beakers and flasks.

For such a high-tech workplace, the labs were noteworthy in their absence of computers. Adesis President Andrew Cottone said not even a flash drive is permitted in the labs due to concerns around the intellectual property of the company and its clients.

In one fume hood, chemicals are flowing through a silica gel to purify them; customers often need a chemical with a given purity in order to be effective. It’s often small-scale work; the finished products of these labs are often measured in milligrams or grams. As she walks by, Helen Stimson, president of the Delaware BioScience Association, notes that three Delaware companies make this silica gel. It’s an example of how biotechnology companies, especially those near each other, can help each other.

Over the past few years, Adesis has been advancing into both larger- and smaller-scale chemistry. The small-scale work happens at the Delaware Innovation Space, while this laboratory expansion will allow the company to convert old lab space into larger-scale chemical production. At this time, that means chemicals produced in 100- and 200-liter batches.

As it grows its footprint, Adesis is also seeking to preserve the culture that got it to this point, he said. Chief among those is collaboration with its major customers; all of its top 10 clients have worked continually with Adesis since their relationship began.

“Maintaining the culture of our staff is our biggest challenge,” Cottone says. The company has no trouble finding employees — it usually doesn’t even have to advertise open positions — but it recruits carefully for those with the right mindset.

After the ribbon-cutting ended and a drone took a company photo on the lawn, Adesis employees gathered in the big tent where they’d just had lunch for one of their regular town hall meetings.

Just before Cottone walked in to lead the meeting, he said employees can ask him anything at all, and he promises to give them an answer — even when they may not like it.

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