Emerging Manufacturers of the Year

Bill Virgin |   June 2011   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

Small Company (tie)
Smartplug Systems, Seattle

Seen one electrical plug, you’ve pretty much seen them all, right? That’s not true anymore in the industrial segment, where SmartPlug has come up with a new design for a shore-power plug for the marine industry.

Ken Smith, the founder of SmartPlug, got the idea from repairing fire-damaged boats, thinking about the causes of those blazes and ways to prevent them. The big culprit, Smith decided, was the conventional design of ship-to-shore electrical connections that could overheat and loosen.

SmartPlug’s heavy-duty plug and receptacle are designed to increase contact surface while reducing weight-bearing load, as well as opportunities for water intrusion and corrosion. There’s no twisting involved to plug it in, which, over time, can loosen the connection. Side levers lock the plug in place, and the cover of the receptacle doubles as a clamp to make the connection more secure. SmartPlug also incorporates a built-in thermostat to shut off power in case of overheating.

Result: a reduction in the chances of marine fires. In addition to its 30-amp and 50-amp marine plug systems, SmartPlug has been lining up certifications for international sales and is now developing products for the RV, trucking, electric-vehicle and industrial markets. The company lists more than 400 dealers in the U.S. and Canada.

Small Company (tie)
MC Energy, Spokane

From left, MC Energy CEO Mark Folsom, R&D director Curt Higgins and business development director Cory Arnold, photographed by Matt Mills McKnight.

The wind-energy category isn’t just for big multinational companies to play in. Small companies like MC Energy can build markets too. Founded by Mark Folsom, a manufacturing entrepreneur with several other ventures, MC Energy is building small wind turbines—5 and 15 kilowatts—for the farm, residential and commercial market.

These turbines aren’t scaled-down versions of the giant wind turbines used by utilities. MC Energy’s turbines use a direct-drive design between the blades and the generator, eliminating the gearbox that can be a source of expensive failures. The blades are designed to fold back on the housing as wind picks up, in a shape resembling a badminton shuttlecock. That ability means the turbine doesn’t have to be shut down or locked in place during wind gusts. The turbine drive shaft connects directly to the generator, so there’s no complicated and expensive gearbox to be repaired.

MC Energy has been creating a

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