CEO Steve Neely’s company coats an array of tiny but valuable parts with insulating, protective parylene for use in semiconductors, medical devices and high-end electronics.
Neely co-founded the company with VP Brian Behne after working at a semiconductor test facility in Boulder “to fill a niche,” he says. “We saw a demand for precision coating for small, high-value parts.”
Invented in the 1940s, parylene was commercialized by Union Carbide in the 1960s. Today it is used as a coating for semiconductor components as well as parts in other electronics and medical devices.
The parylene-coating process utilizes a moisture-resistant and dielectric polymer and a vacuum chamber. “It’s a vapor deposition process,” explains Neely. “It goes on molecule by molecule.”
Case in point: VSI Parylene coats parts that are as small as a square millimeter.
The company also uses parylene for wafer level test probes used by the semiconductor industry. “That’s a real niche process,” says Neely. “We’re one of three companies in the world that do it.”
Beyond that, the process is very specialized. “There are five other companies in the U.S. that do parylene,” says Neely, describing an industry with “a big, 800-pound gorilla” and four smaller companies.
VSI Parylene’s differentiator is “speed and synchronization” with customers, Neely says. “We specialize in running a very custom, Lean process. . . . We move a little faster.” He says the company’s velocity — which often outpaces the industries it works with — comes from its roots in semiconductors. “We came in with a different perspective from the semiconductor industry.”
The strategy has translated into “steady growth,” he continues. “We anticipate doubling revenue in three years.”
Most of VSI Parylene’s customers are based in the U.S. beyond Colorado, and international sales account for about 5 percent of business.
VSI Parylene relocated to Broomfield from Louisville in summer 2015, doubling its footprint to 20,000 square feet. “It gives us room to grow,” says Neely. The building was modified to meet the company’s needs with a clean room and a specialized air-handling system. “We have everything we need where we need it.”
“It’s a pretty exciting technology,” he adds “We recently started a coating academy where anybody in the company can suggest something to coat.” One idea: a puffball dandelion. “It’s cool. It basically keeps the structure but it doesn’t blow apart.”
Challenges: Market awareness. “The hardest thing about parylene is letting people know it exists,” says Neely. He’s trying to boost marketing by way of a new website and SEO — the company is near the top of the first page of results from a Google search for ‘parylene’ — and attending medical device trade shows.
It’s also a premium coating, he adds. “It’s not the cheapest way to coat a part.”
Opportunities: “As products get smaller and more compact, that presents an opportunity in general for parylene,” says Neely.
Medical is a big market for the company, he adds, and parylene is ideal because it’s biocompatible. “A lot of medical devices are becoming smaller and more advanced,” Neely says. “The level of precision is getting greater and greater.”