It’s a long way from the surface of Mars to the tunnels beneath New York City, but it’s just a short distance for the folks at ILC Dover. It’s all about having the right technology — and the imagination to know how to apply that technology to diverse situations.
In recent years, New York City transportation tunnels have been inundated with seawater from storms such as Hurricane Sandy. ILC Dover’s technology has helped mitigate the effects of flooding.
“The flood technology — the tunnel plugs — is an extension of the same technology that ILC Dover used as landing bags for the Mars Rover,” explains Fran DiNuzzo, president and CEO of the Frederica-based technology and materials company. And with the advent of more-massive coastal storms, the company’s products are an important instrument in reducing the loss of property and lives.
Founded in 1947, ILC Dover became known in the Space Era of the 1960s as the company that used flexible performance materials to fashion NASA space suits. And, like many other firms, it took the knowledge it gained from trips to the moon and to Mars to help solve earthly problems.
“The evolution started in the 1990s — before I joined the company — when the pharmaceuticals company Eli Lilly was looking for technology that could protect its employees from the sometimes-toxic environment in manufacturing,” DiNuzzo explains.
Medical compounds throw off concentrated dusts while being compressed into pill form. The solution ILC Dover developed was a food-grade, anti-static film that could be used to protect against the dust.
Pharmaceuticals has been an important market for the company ever since.
Another aerospace market for ILC Dover, one less technically complicated than space travel, is airships. One use involves blimp-like platforms called aerostats that were widely deployed during the Iraq war to provide surveillance capability and thus save lives in battle.
The company has been putting an increasing focus on commercial applications of its technology, but military and aerospace applications are still important as well. “In the commercial market, our job is to try to anticipate problems in all our markets and find solutions to them,” he says.
Although ILC Dover, which is privately held, does not publish employment figures, DiNuzzo marks the number of employees as “north of 600,” and the company is ramping up its hiring of technical experts from within key markets. Is it difficult for DiNuzzo to convince these specialized experts to move to rural Delaware?
“Location is sometimes a bit of a challenge in the early stages of the process,” he says, “but once you get people to thinking, the attractions of the centralized location to major cities, the nearby beaches and the affordable housing, it does become easier.”
Meanwhile, DiNuzzo and his team continue to look for market opportunities that fit within ILC Dover’s motto: “Creating What’s Next.”