Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm
Since the 1930s, Everbrite LLC has thrived by manufacturing neon signs for retail clients, ranging from the golden arches of McDonald’s restaurants to Miller Brewing’s product signs in taverns throughout the nation.
In recent years, however, the privately held company committed research and development to create new technologies, new applications and new markets for its lighting products.
That R&D is beginning to pay off.
The engineers and technologists at Everbrite Lighting Technologies are on the cutting edge of product development for light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and the company is launching its new MedLux family of lighting products designed specifically for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment used in the health care industry.
The MedLux brand is part of Everbrite’s growth strategy, which includes penetrating new markets, developing new technology and applications and increasing revenue by 30 percent in the next two years, said William Fritz, president of Everbrite.
"LED advancement is so rapid that it is going to be a viable alternative at some point in the future," Fritz said. "It has replaced neon in a lot of our products, like channel letters (for outside of a restaurant). The LED technology is moving so rapidly that whatever you have now could be obsolete in six months. This company has made a tremendous investment in technology for many years. That is why we have the technology center. We are always looking for new techniques, new technology that we can either apply to our customers or to new markets."
The company’s recent launch of the new brand included the introduction of the MedLux GPI graphic panel illuminator. Everbrite will launch its second MedLux product, the MedLux RLD recessed LED down-light, in the first quarter of this year.
Everbrite Lighting Technologies is a division of Everbrite LLC, located at 4949 S. 110th St., Greenfield. Recently, the firm, owned by Judith Wamser, was named the top diversity-owned Wisconsin business by DiversityBusiness.com.
Everbrite Lighting Technologies has been researching and developing applications using LED technology for seven years, said Michael Mondloch, vice president of technology for Everbrite.
The MedLux product launch marked Everbrite’s penetration into the health care market using top-of-the-line LED technology. All of the new products developed for the health care industry will fall under the MedLux brand name, said Jeff Gatzow, product manager for Everbrite Lighting Technologies.
Everbrite considers the MedLux GPI to be a breakthrough in patient comfort lighting for MRI environments because LEDs require little maintenance and do not interfere with an MRI scan, Mondloch said.
The average LED has a lifetime of 100,000 hours, equaling more than 10 years of continuous use. The LED requires no maintenance, contains no mercury, projects minimal ultraviolet and infrared emissions and is easy to install with a plug-in connection.
"While LEDs have a lot of advantages, it is still an expensive way to produce light," Mondloch said. "We have been looking to develop applications for both our traditional business and in new markets and applications that need low- temperature operation or a long life."
Patient comfort lighting is typically found in dentist offices and cancer centers. The graphic panels replace 2-foot by 2-foot ceiling tiles above a patient bed and depict soothing graphics, such as clouds, that are illuminated by a light box installed in the ceiling above the panel.
Everbrite created light boxes using LEDs instead of the typical fluorescent light, which interferes with an MRI by producing artifacts or ghosting on scanned images, Mondloch said.
Everbrite had developed the LED light boxes but was researching different applications of the technology when an artist spoke with Mondloch about light boxes for her artwork. Some of her artwork was going to be used as a graphic panel for patient comforting in an MRI environment, Mondloch said.
That’s when Mondloch realized Everbrite could market to the health care industry.
"She had mentioned that some of the traditional light box technology does not work well in the MRI environment because the light interferes with the MRI scanner," Mondloch said. "I immediately thought LEDs would be an excellent answer, because LEDs cannot interfere with the magnet, and magnets cannot interfere with LEDs."
Before LED graphic panels were introduced, many hospitals did not install patient comfort lighting in MRI suites, said Diane Kelly, director of radiology for Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis. Hennepin was one of the first medical centers to purchase the technology and has had MedLux GPIs installed since February.
Dr. Chip Truwit, chief of radiology for Hennepin, spoke with Everbrite about LED technology, and after testing the light box, he installed the MedLux series for added patient comfort.
"Before, we only had can lighting that we would turn down for patient comfort," Kelly said. "Patients like the graphic panels because it is something soothing for them to look at when preparing to enter the scanner."
Most MRI suites use incandescent lighting, or regular light bulbs, to light the room, Mondloch said, which can fail prematurely from the magnetic current constantly passing through the filament.
"Part of the realization was through the artist, but subsequently we were working on a graphic panel for the University of San Francisco (Medical Center), and the university asked if we could use LED for both panels and for down-lights, because his light bulbs were burning out prematurely," Mondloch said. "We calculated the cost of light bulbs with the cost to close the MRI suite to change the light bulbs, and I realized that (medical providers) could benefit from LED."
The MedLux RLD product will allow for ceiling-based down-lights to replace incandescent lighting fixtures, Mondloch said.
Everbrite executives said MedLux RLD light fixtures are priced independently with each customer’s order.
Everbrite will reach its corporate growth goal by gaining a larger slice of the volume of the work its existing customers do, going after new customers in the same markets, taking new technologies to new markets and leveraging its strengths in areas such as Neon Central, a division that sells licensed retail products, LED lighting and the medical industry, Fritz said.
"We have been very aggressive in some of our large national accounts like the Yum! Brands and McDonald’s because we are their prime supplier," Fritz said. "Overall (with franchises), there are a lot of approved suppliers, and it is basically your service and capabilities that make the difference when they choose to buy from you."
Everbrite’s focus is serving its customers, meeting their requirements and introducing new and superior products to them, Fritz said.
"Customer demands have gone up, and the amount of information they get from the field has gone down, so they expect you to turn products around as fast as possible," Fritz said. "The people who can do that the best are going to get the lion’s share of the business."
Everbrite has jumped into the LED marketplace because the firm’s executives want to be the first in line with new products, Fritz said.
Everbrite provides LED products to other markets, including navigation lights for the marine industry, scoreboards for sports venues, gas pricers for the petroleum industry and LED and liquid crystal display (LCD) order confirmation screens, menu systems and channel lettering for the food industry, Fritz said.
The Everbrite Lighting Technologies technology center is equipped with a certified UL (Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.) test lab for product compliance and public safety standards. Everbrite can take products in the research and development stage through full testing and certification for any environment, including indoor, outdoor, freezer and MRI environments, Mondloch said.
"Another advantage of LED is that it performs well in cold environments, where fluorescent lights dim and have to be packaged in special insulation tubes," Mondloch said. "Everbrite has developed an LED lighting system for freezer displays called Luma-Light that we have already placed in ice cream cake displays at some Culver’s restaurants."
The Luma-Light is expected to be introduced to the market in the second or third quarter of this year, Gatzow said.
"In a few years, I think LED technology will be very cost-effective for all kinds of applications," Mondloch said.
Everbrite Lighting Technologies also is researching and working with OLED, an organic light emitting diode made from more common materials.
When LED is more affordable, Everbrite will be on the forefront of product development, Mondloch said.
"The synergy and the capability that (Everbrite has) allows us to bring a new product to a new market fairly rapidly," Mondloch said. "It is good for displays, good for lighting, and we are excited about things coming down the pipe in LED technology."
Industry: Lighting technology
Corporate headquarters: 4949 S. 110th St., Greenfield
Domestic production plants: Elkhorn, Greenfield, Pardeeville and South Milwaukee, Wis.; Garden Grove, Calif; Mt. Vernon, Ill.; Atlanta, Ga.; Chanute, Kan.; Buena Vista, Va.
Overseas operations: London, England (displays and sales); Dublin, Ireland (indoor signs, neon signs and sales); Amsterdam, The Netherlands (design center, sales); and China (injection molding and small assembly work).
Leadership team: Judith Wamser, owner; and William Fritz, president
Annual revenues: $107 million
Web site: www.everbrite.com
January 7, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI