By Angela Rose | May 16, 2016
Founded by Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) pioneer Rich Pollack, Phase IV Engineering created the world's first RFID sensor integrated circuit in 1994. "Goodyear Tire wanted to put RFID tags in tires to identify the serial number," Dalgleish explains. "Phase IV worked to develop them. Then Goodyear wanted an RFID tag that could tell tire temperature and pressure. So at that point, Phase IV invented the very first battery-free, wireless RFID temperature and pressure sensor. We're now the world leader in that technology, and we're seeing demand growing by leaps and bounds."
Dalgleish, who was previously Spectra Logic's chief operating officer, joined Phase IV Engineering in 2009 and was promoted to CEO in 2014. "Rich ran Phase IV as a contract engineering company doing very difficult custom wireless sensor design," Dalgleish says. "We still do that, and it's the main part of our business. But my background is in product development and marketing so in the last few years, we've taken this treasure trove of wireless sensor technology that we've created and turned it into many different product lines. We now offer over 100 different types of wireless sensors that can be purchased directly off our website."
The company's past custom work includes the SmartStem wireless pressure and temperature sensor -- developed in partnership with Crane Aerospace -- that is now standard equipment within the tire inflation stems of every Boeing 777 and 787. The Phase IV Engineering team also developed the Dairy Cow Health Monitoring System in partnership with DVM Systems in Greeley, Colorado. It uses RFID sensors to monitor the temperature of dairy cows to enable early detection of disease.
Phase IV has recently branched out into simplified, off-the-shelf sensor systems as well. "We were getting a lot of calls from people who wanted wireless sensors but didn't need anything custom or exotic," says Dalgleish. "So we designed several different sensor systems -- including RFID, data logger and long range battery powered sensors -- with very easy user interfaces that can be set up within five minutes. Those are primarily the sensors we now offer online."
All of Phase IV Engineering's products are designed, assembled and tested in their 10,000-square-foot Boulder facility. "We outsource the assembly of our circuit boards to keep our costs low," Dalgleish adds. "That part of the process is typically done by contract electrical assembly shops in Colorado."
Over the last three years, Dalgleish estimates the company has grown between 30 and 50 percent annually. "Our business is really taking off," he says. "I'm expecting 50 to 100 percent growth per year over the next several years."
Factor's Dalgleish believes are driving growth at Phase IV Engineering include the Internet of Things, greater acceptance of wireless sensors in industrial applications, and a growing trend in manufacturing known as condition-based maintenance. "Instead of shutting a machine down and doing maintenance once a week, you can keep it running and allow wireless sensors to tell you when a bearing is heating up or the machine is vibrating more than it usually does," he says. "You only shut down and do maintenance when the sensors tell you the machine is starting to show signs of wear. This minimizes parts replacement and maintenance costs."
Challenges: "Our contract engineering work has us doing projects in every industry from the military to airplanes to dairy cows," says Dalgleish. "So one of the biggest challenges on the product side of our business is to pick a few markets to really focus on and own. That's what we're working on right now."
Opportunities: "We can now help people put sensors on things that they could never put sensors on before," Dalgleish says. "That means things that move and spin as well as old equipment where running wires to new sensors would be cost prohibitive. All of these areas represent huge growth opportunities thanks to recent advances in wireless technology."
Needs: Phase IV Engineering expects to increase staff this year. "We need to find new employees to help us grow," Dalgleish explains. "They must be very creative, innovative and like to solve problems that have never been solved before."