Innovator of the Year: Daikin McQuay

2012 Minnesota Manufacturing Awards

By Maura Keller

Daikin McQuay, as a member of Daikin Industries, is one of the world's largest producers of commercial heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. It's also one of the most innovative. The Plymouth-based company doesn't merely supply indoor air comfort - it also creates sustainable, energy-efficient solutions. Case in point: the Rebel rooftop system.

Daikin McQuay says the Rebel makes it the first and only company to meet the Department of Energy's Rooftop Unit Challenge. Certified by the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigerant Institute, it achieves industry-leading part-load efficiencies - up to a 20.6 IEER energy rating, compared to the DOE-issued challenge of 18. Not coincidentally, the Rebel also offers the lowest total cost of ownership, with a complete system payback in as little as two years.

Throughout its history, Daikin McQuay has earned accolades for its innovations. Its Applied Development Center in Plymouth can simulate electrical and climate conditions of any location in the world for designing and testing new prod- ucts. The 49,000-square-foot center also earned LEED Gold certification for meeting sustainability criteria established by the U.S. Green Building Council. (It even secured the company a $70,000 rebate from the local electrical utility by cutting the electricity load in half through integrated design process.)

In addition to the Rebel, Daikin McQuay also produces energy-efficient chillers and water source heat pumps. Its Pathfinder chillers have top energy efficiencies and the quietest operation sound levels for air-cooled screw chillers. (Its Magnitude chillers lead in part-load performance for their class.) And the company's SmartSource Water Source Heat Pumps also come out ahead in energy efficiency and quiet performance.

Innovator of the Year finalists

Delkor Systems

In 2008, Delkor Systems management made a commit- ment to expand new development capabilities. That commitment has changed the future of this innovative company. As Dale Andersen, president and CEO of Delkor explains, the company substantially increased its investment in both R&D and engineering talent appropriate for the level of new product development.

"In 2009, our strategic plan was put to the test as the economy faltered," Andersen says. "Our management team made the decision in the spring of 2009 to not only continue our efforts to expand new product development, but to use the downturn as an opportunity."

In May 2009, Delkor tripled its R&D budget. "In this respect, I believe Delkor was unique in its level of commitment to new product development," Andersen says.

It paid off. In 2011, Delkor introduced a record eight new packaging machines at its industry's annual trade show.

"To our own surprise, we were able to break our 2011 record this year," Andersen says. "In October 2012, we introduced nine new packaging machines at our annual industry trade show in Chicago, which is an unusually high number for our industry."

In 2012 Delkor received a U.S. patent for a new cartoning technology it recently invented. This technology analyzes the positioning of each carton prior to closing, and if a deviation is detected, it can make a precise correction on the fly at speeds up to 150 cartons per minute."No other cartoning machine in the world has this capability, and as a result, Delkor has really jumped in front of the competition," Andersen says. Another innovation for which Delkor received a U.S. patent is its Spot-Pak packaging technology, which is now used widely by the U.S. food industry and has resulted in a 40 to 50 percent reduction in the amount of packaging material used to ship product to market. "The role of the mass merchandiser in packaging has amplified the need for a new generation of packaging machinery, and it has increased the timeline to market for new packaging ideas," Andersen says. "Both of these trends mean greater emphasis is being placed on new product development to address a rapidly changing marketplace."

Vision Woodworking

Fridley-based Vision Woodworking was the brainchild of Don Gamboni, who began the venture as a millwork company. The main business consisted of banking fixtures and mall kiosks. The company was then awarded work by a general contractor, initially to assemble imported thermoformed solid-surface pieces for a luxury shoe retailer. The pieces were imported from China and often arrived in poor condition. Eventually, the contractor suggested Gamboni work directly with the client.

As national account executive Mary Hornby explains, employees used to spend hours trying to repair the pieces to make them look acceptable for use in a retail environment. "The project was not profitable with having to repair so much," she says. "So Don went out and purchased an old kitchen range/stove to experiment with. He figured out how he could bring this manufacturing process in-house and have a prod- uct made in the U.S.A."

After mastering the process, Gamboni brought this business home to Minnesota, creating more jobs in a tough economy. "Today Vision Woodworking is ex- porting 35 percent of the manufactured products from Minnesota to other countries worldwide," Hornby says. "Don has implemented a very efficient paint facility that is extremely green-oriented and a healthier environment for employees. Also, Vision Woodworking has remained strong through the economic hardship by being almost completely debt-free and having the skills and dedication of its employees to make it work. Don has established leadership in innovation, creating jobs with a unique product, and is now one of the few thermoformers of solid surface in the United States today."