By Eric Peterson | Apr 19, 2015
Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City
President Daniel Marriott is the second generation of the family to lead the company into cutting-edge new markets with ultra-thin sensors and switches.
"It started with two college kids down in Provo doing T-shirts, screenprinting," says Marriott, whose father David bought Spectra Symbol in 1981. "One of them [Dean House] moved up to Salt Lake and started printing on plastics."
Spectra Symbol was born from this innovation. The company soon "started printing electronics onto plastics," says Marriott. "That was revolutionary."
Membrane switches led to membrane sensors. This was 1985, when standard switches and sensors "had huge housings, two inches square," says Marriott. "They were clunky and they were dirty." Conversely, Spectra Symbol's membrane products are half a millimeter thick. "It opened up a lot of possibilities."
One such market is aerospace, where lightweight is the rule. Medical devices and healthcare are also top verticals for Spectra Symbol thanks to precision and sterility. "Hospitals love our sensors, because not only are they sealed, but it's also absolute," says Marriott. "There's an added value."
Industrial uses are also common for Spectra Symbol's sensors for use in automobile gates and other products, and the company also supplies the hobbyist market via companies like SparkFun in Niwot, Colorado.
"Because we print innovative sensors, we have a lot of innovative companies coming to us," says Marriott. "It's fun to be on the front end of technology."
Spectra Symbol can print with specialty materials like silver chloride and has large-format printers that "can change the way people think about electronics," Marriott says.
One Spectra Symbol innovation was a happy accident. A quarter-century ago, the company developed a flex sensor thanks in part to "a bad batch of ink," says Marriott. But that gave the resulting sensor an unexpected characteristic. "If it's flat, it's low resistance, but if it's bent it goes up in resistance. That went into the Nintendo Power Glove in the 1980s."
Marriott has been president since 2002. His father continues to be active with the company.
Revenues were flat from 2013 to 2014, but Marriott forecasts a big bump for 2015. "We anticipate about 25 percent growth this year because of the R&D we've done in the past four years," he says.
Case in point: a new liquid level will be available later in 2015 and make the measurement of oil, water, chocolate syrup, or any other liquid in above-ground storage tanks much more cost-efficient. "90 percent of all aboveground tanks are measured by hand with tape measures," says Marriott. "The number-one reason is cost."
Challenges: "We have so many pressures solving people's problems, we're constantly looking at our capacity to engineer solutions," says Marriott. "Can we grow fast enough to handle all of our opportunities? You don't want to overstrip, but you constantly have to monitor your technical breadth -- because you never know what the next project is."
Opportunities: Liquid measurement and cutting-edge human interfaces. "One of the most interesting areas is biofeedback sensors," says Marriott. One major company won a Best of CES award in 2015 with Spectra Symbol's technology. "There's some really neat technology that interfaces with humans that triggers us in a different way. It will make our future world better."
One application might use a biofeedback sensor to release medicine directly into the skin as it's needed. Another could potentially change the user's mood. "It's mind-blowing," says Marriott.
Needs: Capital and resources to enter new markets. "We anticipate investing a lot in the liquid measurement space and the biofeedback space," says Marriott.