Marin Tek and Polycold Systems were created in 1974. We organized Marin Tek to produce and Polycold Systems to sell “Cryogenerator” units. These units use a unique ultra-low temperature (cryogenic) refrigeration process based upon mixed refrigerants. Although they find their principal applications in the high vacuum field, they serve well in many other industries as well.
The history of mixed refrigerant technology, to our knowledge, starts in 1936 when W.J. Podbielniak of Chicago obtained a U.S. Patent. His single-compressor low-temperature refrigeration system contained a mixture of hydrocarbons. Although “Freons” were not then in common use, he knew that they would work in his system. His invention was notable considering he developed it more than 50 years ago. Earlier, in the 1920's, work done on gas separation laid a foundation for mixed refrigerant systems. The same physical principles apply.
In the fall of 1968 Dale Missimer wrote to friends at DuPont to learn more about mixed-refrigerant systems. He had heard of low-temperature based upon mixtures. This was shortly after selling his company, Missimers Inc., to Gulf+Western Industries. A DuPont engineer sent a copy of a 1963 U.S. Patent issued to A. Fuderer of Jugoslavia. Correspondence led to a license from Dr. Fruderer to the Conrad-Missimer Div. of G+W Industries.
Later we discovered that A. P. Kleemenko, a Russian, had published a 1959 technical paper describing the mixed refrigerant system he developed. Also French inventors at L’Air Liquide and some other Europeans created cryogenic mixed-refrigerant systems. Their applications included large systems (more than 1,000 horsepower) for liquefying natural gas. However, we could not find any company designing or making small systems.
In 1970 Dale M. and others at Conrad-Missimer Div. of G+W Industries began two years of research and development efforts. The goal was to produce reliable low temperature refrigerators using the "Fuderer" low temperature refrigeration process. The company made and sold several models with the Conrad-Missimer label. Also, we learned that vacuum system cold traps needed reliable mechanical refrigeration to cool down to -130°C without using liquid nitrogen, the usual method of cooling. We developed a special refrigeration unit for this application.
In 1972 G+W decided they no longer wanted to be in the environmental test chamber business. They stopped chamber and freezer production and moved the cold trap chiller activities to their Bohn Heat Transfer Div. in Danville, Illinois. Bohn set up a Polycold office in the Northgate Industrial Park, San Rafael. Dale M., product manager, ran it. He periodically commuted to Illinois. He patented two inventions on this technology in 1973 and developed, but did not patent, several others.
Bohn made about 100 cold trap chillers in Danville, Ill. for various customers throughout the U.S. Bohn’s management decided in 1974 that these units did not fit with their other refrigeration products. Their fields were air-conditioning, supermarkets, food refrigeration and other commercial applications. They offered a worldwide license to Dale M. for the Polycold refrigeration technology. This included his several domestic U.S. and foreign patents plus the tooling and inventory.
In May 1974 Rod Sutliff and David Edwards, both formerly with Conrad-Missimer/G+W, and Dale M. formed Marin Tek, Inc. for manufacturing Polycold cold trap chillers. Dale M. created Polycold Systems, the marketing company, two months later. It bought the inventory of chillers from Bohn Operations and started in a small shop and office area on Paul Drive in San Rafael. There were no salaries for the first six months. As the companies grew, we had to move to larger area—1800 sq. ft—in the rear of the same building.
Sales and production increased. We added new size chillers, both smaller and larger. In the first half of 1975 we developed the first larger model, a PCT-500 (5hp). We hired our first employee who was not a partner. More expansion followed—to a total area of 3600 sq. ft and more employees. In 1976 we “burst our seams.” We moved into a 5000 sq.ft. space at 67 Mark Drive, just two blocks away.
Development efforts gave the companies several new products. The most important one was our PFC- “Fast Cycle Water Vapor Cyropump” created in early 1983 by Michael St. Pierre and Dale M. We have two PFC patents, the second one issued to Scott Forest. The PFC won a 1984 ‘I-R-100’ award for “One of the 100 Most-Significant Technical Products of the Year.” Research & Development magazine sponsors this prestigious national honor.
The new PFC Cryopump created rapid company growth because of the important technical and performance advantages it offers to users. There must be very little water vapor in vacuum chambers for efficient operation and high quality coatings. The PFC achieved this for the customers. There are a few competitive products to serve the vacuum industry. We have other patents and applications and are continuing out R & D efforts.
In 1980 a West Virginia company, Queue Systems, and Marin Tek entered into a license agreement. The agreement covers ultra-low temperature (cryogenic) storage freezers based on our technology. These freezers (more properly refrigerators) store products for laboratory and other research or archival applications, particularly in biotechnology. Queue sells their units throughout most of the world.
Rod Sutliff and David Edwards sold their interests in Marin Tek to Dale M. in 1983. They now make subterranean video camera systems in Petaluma.
In 1985 we set up a manufacturing licensee with Tricool Engineering Ltd. In England to make Polycold products for our U.K. customers. In 1986 we issued a manufacturing license to Virtis Inc. in New York state for producing vacuum lyophilization (freeze-dry) chambers. Polycold refrigeration provided significant advantages over the existing single-stage and cascade processes. They made lab size prototypes in 1987 and their first sales were in 1988. Also in 1986-7 our R & D people, Michael St. Pierre and Ken Seawright, built a special refrigeration system for slowing the evaporation of dry ice. It is part of a soap bubble exhibit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Our units are operating now in more than 31 foreign countries. Export sales now are more than 60% of our total businesses. The list of items made in high vacuum systems using our equipment is longer than three dozen. Most commonly the vacuum process involves depositing one material in very pure form onto another by evaporation, sputtering (an ion bombardment process), or ion plating. The deposited material is permanently and tightly bonded to the coated material (substrate).
Final products vary from:
-commonplace items such as chewing gum or cigarette wrappers, airline peanut bags, razor blades, plastics which look like metal, sandpaper, typewriter ribbons and mirrored sun glasses
-"medium-tech" products including compact disks, architectural (solar) glass, aircraft windshields and hard surfaces on tools
-"high-tech" products such as optical coatings on lenses or mirrors, microchips, magnetic and optical storage media and many other items.
A more complete list is available
There are other uses for our products on high vacuum systems as well. They keep vacuum pump fluids (oils) out of the vacuum chambers to assure high quality deposition of materials. A cold surface, that is a trap or baffle, stops ‘backstreaming’ of pump oils. We have sold hundreds of units for cooling baffles and traps for this application.
In 1977 we designed and made a compact gas chiller for a very large computer manufacturer. It replaced the liquid-nitrogen-cooled gas for cooling hot vacuum chambers at the end of production cycles. They bought about a dozen. Since 1983 we have sold these gas chillers to a test equipment manufacturer in Santa Clara. They now sell hundreds per year for semiconductor testing. Some gas chillers provide cooling in a system to characterize polymers. This is a process to determine how plastics and elastics function over a wide range of temperatures. We continue to find other uses for these gas chillers.
Some of our cryogenerators cool X-ray and Gamma-ray detectors. There are new technologies on the horizon such as superconductivity, NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) and related fields which require cryogenic cooling. We do not yet know what effect on growth such developments will have on our companies. The outlook appears very favorable. We are spending considerable efforts into new product development. In the summer of 1987 Michael St. Pierre for a patent for a new “Zero-G” (Position insensitive) refrigeration system which could find use in space. It now cools our smallest system.
As of spring 1989, the companies grew to a total of more than 45 valuable employees. Our first year’s sales were just $98,000. Current annual sales now about $6. million. We now have our own building, the one we moved into in 1976, and lease the additional space across the street. The future looks bright.
Gene began his career at Polycold® in 1979 under the direction of Dale Missimer, the creator of the original Polycold® unit. During his 27 years with the company, he had a major role in the production of every model developed and rose up to the position of Senior Service Technician, traveling worldwide and performing service and training. Gene also worked in manufacturing, maintenance, and service forTelemark™. With his extensive background on both the Polycold® and Telemark™ systems, Gene is more than qualified and ready to teach you and your team all that they’ll need to know to service and repair your equipment!
P O L Y C O L D® A N D T E L E M A R K™ T R A I N I N G A N D R E P A I R
Gene Fields Consulting