Who would have thought some of the most cutting edge research, development and manufacturing was happening right in the city of Cranston?
That is exactly what Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and members of his staff learned while touring Cranston’s Electro Standards Laboratories (ESL) last week.
A privately owned family business for 35 years, ESL began its work in materials testing, but over the years adapted and developed into a leading technology company. Products include data networks, switches, interface converters and more. The company also has an extensive research and development group working on a variety of projects.
Raymond Sepe Sr. serves as president of the company, with his three sons each running a part of the organization. Dr. Raymond Sepe Jr. is head of research and development, while Ken Sepe is head of the company’s manufacturing division and Michael Sepe is head of the network services group.
Before hearing a presentation with more detail about the work being done at ESL last Tuesday, Whitehouse was taken on a guided tour of the facility by Sepe Jr. and Sepe Sr., along with business development manager Tina Corticelli. While walking through the building, Whitehouse and his staff had a firsthand look at many of the interesting projects on which ESL is currently working.
“We’ve designed and built everything you see,” said Sepe Jr.
One project in the testing phase is an electromagnetic aircraft launch system for use on the next generation of aircraft carriers. Tests on the system are currently being performed on land, with no systems on carriers yet. ESL has worked as both a subcontractor and direct contractor with the U.S. Navy on related systems.
Whitehouse was very interested in a variety of projects on which ESL is working in regard to energy sources, including portable power for soldiers and lithium ion super capacitors, which are solid-state energy storage with high-power capabilities. Sepe Jr. described the capacitors as a cross between a lithium ion battery and a capacitor.
There is also a project looking at in-motion electrical vehicle charging. Since one of the issues with electric vehicles is the need to charge them frequently, this system would allow the car to charge off the grid as it is moving.
“The idea was to extend the range of the vehicle by charging them while they are moving,” said Sepe Jr.
Whitehouse questioned load leveling, to ensure the power pulses on either side are not too high. Sepe Jr. said the theory is to use the capacitors to address that concern.
Because of his involvement with the Senate Ocean Caucus, Whitehouse was also intrigued by ESL’s partnership with the Ocean Engineering Department at the University of Rhode Island for a Wave Energy Harvesting program. The senator got an up-close look at a Hybrid Buoy, which would have the ability to collect and store both solar and ocean wave energy depending on the movement of the ocean water.
“Rhode Island is really well suited to projects like this,” said Sepe Jr.
Whitehouse’s visit to the Cranston-based company was prompted by a call from Jeannette Gouin, Sepe Sr.’s administrative assistant.
“I’m such an enthusiastic supporter,” said Gouin of the company she has worked at for the past 12 years. She knew Sepe Sr. from a previous company at which they worked together.
“What I think about the company that’s different is that you’re like an entrepreneur every day of the week, because Ray Jr. and his group are working on so many different projects that you come in and then you’re studying the applications for one energy program … and we’re in the communications business, network switches. Whatever his technology is grabs you, and then you’re in this new phase,” she said.
Gouin has also seen the company grow over the past decade, which she says comes with the territory.
“You can’t age out of this business because every day it’s new. And that’s what the company keeps doing. It keeps reinventing itself,” she said. “With Ray Jr., what he does, how can you not be enthusiastic about it?”
In addition to research and development, Gouin feels the same about the network services and manufacturing sides of the company. She is always impressed with what the company is able to deliver for the clients that call.
“They’ll say to the salesperson, ‘They want a switch,’ and they’ll say the 10 things that they want it to do. Our salespeople will take all of that information and all of their knowledge, then they talk to the engineers who are designing this product, and somehow they come out with a product that they ship and it works perfectly. And I think every day that’s like a miracle,” said Gouin.
Following the tour and short presentation, Whitehouse saw the work being done at ESL as contributing to two of his personal missions.
“One is to make sure our sailors, soldiers and airmen get the best equipment that they can,” said the senator, citing the work of ESL to improve aircraft launchers on aircraft carriers as a great goal.
Portable power for soldiers was another ESL project that contributed to that mission.
“Back in the day, a soldier’s energy supply was that little power horn that he carried … The rest was basically food and water. Now a soldier has to carry not only his ammunition, his energy supply, but also his communications, sensors and all that electricity. So making sure that is the best quality for our soldiers is terrific,” said Whitehouse.
A champion in Congress for the environment and oceans, Whitehouse also saw ESL’s work on wave energy harvesting, a hydrofoil project with Brown University and energy storage as particularly interesting.
“Things are going very wrong in our oceans,” said the senator, stressing the need for increasing the amount of data collected about what is going on in the ocean. “It’s one of those areas we’ve identified through the Ocean’s Caucus as bipartisan willingness to work so it’s a real opportunity and here is ESL doing really cutting edge stuff.”