The elusive properties of stressed plastic may be coming into view on Evanston’s west side, where Dr. Alex Arzoumanidis has just relocated his company. Psylotech, now fledged from the Technology Innovation Center – the business incubator on Davis Street – has expanded and moved to 1616 Payne St.
Nestled into the developing artists/scientist cul-de-sac of Payne Street. Dr. Arzoumanidis, Psylotech employs two other engineers, a designer, a business development manager and an operations manager in a spacious, 1,600-square-foot office.
The two main properties of plastic – bulk stiffness and shear stiffness – are difficult to measure, said Dr. Arzoumanidis. “Material properties [of plastic] … change, so there is no good commercial solution to ascertain – or ‘model’ – those properties,” he said. He and his team, he said, build instruments for companies to be able to model plastics.
These machines will “pull” on a small piece of plastic and, using “ultra-high-resolution sensors,” measure how that piece stands up to certain kinds of stress.
A manufacturer might benefit from this, Dr. Arzoumanidis said, if the company were considering changing the plastic it currently uses. A Psylotech instrument can help the company assess whether the new plastic will hold up as well. Learning this information from a computer, with a virtually built model rather than from a three-dimensional, company-built model, he said, can “shorten development time so the final product can go to market sooner, saving the manufacturer money.”
The analysis and evaluation of the mechanics of a plastic material are the same, said Dr. Arzoumanidis “whether you are making water bottles or satellites.”
Research and design are the main foci of the company. On occasion, though, the outside work comes with a request for work rather than for a machine. Soon Psylotech will help in assessing the plastic used in bulletproof vests.
Psylotech has an agreement in place with the University of Illinois to use one of its licenses to measure the strength of a bullet-proof vest. The company can simulate bullets coming from many different angles and measure the impact of each on vest and its wearer – “on the fiber, the plastic the tissue and the bone,” he said. The instruments are so precise as to be able to measure the strength of a single plastic fiber in the vest.
Measuring the mechanical properties of materials has been Dr. Arzoumanidis’ career. His undergraduate work is in mechanical engineering, he said, and his Ph.D. in material science.
Dr. Arzoumanidis says he feels Psylotech’s technology is “more advanced” than that of his competitors. He says he chose to relocate to Evanston from the Boston area because of the research and development opportunities. He has collaborated with Northwestern University, he said, which has “the best material sciences program in the country.” He has designed a new machine for the department, which members can use and write about in professional journals, he said.
Psylotech’s decision is good news for Evanston, which has seen too many start-up companies leave once they experience a growth spurt.
Tim Lavengood, executive director of the Incubator, commented on some of the factors that persuaded Dr. Arzoumanidis to come to Evanston and could convince other companies to stay.
“Dr. Arzoumanidis is taking a stand, of sorts, by choosing to keep his company in Evanston and capitalize on the resources available here – including proximity to a major research university, easy access to public transportation, and office space suitable for a mechanical test instrument company.
He first brought his company to Evanston because of these resources and chose the ‘Incubator’ for its flexible office space and opportunities for collaboration.” These are hallmarks of the culture of the ‘Incubator,’” Mr. Lavengood said, adding, “That kind of collaboration is difficult to find outside the unique environment.”