Advancement in the Cryo Refrigeration Industry Through Customer Collaboration
Cryomech manufactures Gifford-McMahon (GM), pulse tube cryorefrigerators, and cryocooler products such as liquid nitrogen plants, helium liquefiers, research cryostats, liquid helium plants, and helium recovery systems. It specializes in elaborate customized systems and can incorporate its cryocoolers into other products for its customer’s operations.
Cryogenics is a branch of physics that looks at how materials act at extremely low temperatures, well below those of normal refrigeration. When liquefied, at extremely low temperatures, Helium can be used as part of a cryocooling system. The pulse tube cooler has an advantage over the GM type as it lacks moving parts in its low temperature section.
“Our products serve customers working in the ultra-low temperature range for applications including quantum computing research, particle detectors, next-generation MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging systems), and many other scientific applications,” says Kelly Wypych, chief executive officer at Cryomech.
The company also has numerous repeat original equipment manufacturers (OEM) customers that build the cryorefrigeration systems into their own products including manufacturers of dilution refrigerators – that use the heat generated from combining Helium-3 and Helium-4 isotopes to cool – and other specialized cryostats – devices that preserve cryogenic temperatures in a flask or vessel.
William Gifford established Cryomech in 1963, and it represented a significant advancement in cryocooling. William was a professor at Syracuse University when he invented the Gifford-McMahon cycle, which was an important discovery in the industry at the time, and the pulse tube cryorefrigerator. He and started Cryomech as a side project to fill a need that no other company in the world was doing. His son Peter Gifford joined the company after some time and assumed leadership in 1980, after William had passed away.
Peter was a very outgoing, gregarious man who had a real mind for business, and he grew the company from a five-employee company in 1980 to the 120-employee company that it is today. Prior to his death in 2017, Peter initiated a restructuring of Cryomech to make it an employee stock ownership company (ESOP). “We became an ESOP so that the employees that helped to build the company would really share in the future ownership and success of Cryomech,” says Kelly.
There are numerous benefits to making the transition to become an ESOP company. The decision was made by Peter Gifford to ensure that Cryomech will remain stable, sustainable and in Syracuse, New York, where the employees live to benefit those employees right now and for future generations. It was a way to make Cryomech a company that would continue to be successful, even after Peter retired or in this case, passed away.
“I think a lot of privately held companies, if they don’t prepare well, they don’t really always have something sustainable left for the rest of the team. It was really a way to keep the company sustainable into the future and to maintain our culture and to keep the legacy,” says Kelly.
The staff is made up of creative, driven and dedicated people, some of which have been with the company from the very beginning. Kelly Wypych, who has only been with the company for three years, says that she notices a significant difference working with this company compared to her previous work. “One thing I really noticed when I joined Cryomech was the connectedness to the customer and the degree of customer service that is just a natural way of working around here.”
When customers come to visit the office to discuss a potential project, the chief technology officer will be excitedly drawing on the napkins, eager to help them invent their next great system. The head of engineering will run out to the lab and get samples of products to demonstrate the possibilities to customers, and Cryomech enjoys helping with innovation using its experience as a base.
There is a high level of customer service and enthusiasm surrounding the collaboration process when creating something new. “Cryomech is customer service-driven in a way that I haven’t seen elsewhere in the industry,” says Kelly. “There’s nothing that gets our technologists more excited than a problem that’s really hard to solve.”
The mission of Cryomech is to help its customers become successful, and the company has a four-part plan to ensure that happens. Firstly, it strives to run the business responsibly to guarantee its customer support for years to come as its customers grow. Cryomech likes to be a part of the process from the time of purchasing through the complete lifecycle of the products. “First, we must ensure our business remains healthy. This means strong fiscal responsibility, a safe workplace, solid risk management, and lots of contingency planning and strategizing so that no matter what happens in the economy, we can continue to be there for our customers,” says Kelly. As long as the company is able to meet the challenges of its customers, it is in good shape.
Secondly, Cryomech aims to be a leader in the industry by working together with researchers and scientists to invent the technologies that its customers will require in the future. Its products are on the cutting-edge of the industry and it must raise awareness so that potential customers know the options.
The third foundational principle of the company is a strong focus on customer service. “Everything we do is with a customer perspective. We never do development just for the sake of development; we do development because it’s going to meet a customer need,” says Kelly.
Most of the products created by Cryomech are designed in close partnership with a customer to properly learn about the customer’s unique application of the technology from their point of view before attempting to help them be successful. “The more we understand our customer’s needs and collaborate to meet these needs, the better we will be at helping them succeed.”
The fourth and possibly most important component are the highly-trained employees at Cryomech. The company instills a culture of teaching, sharing, and learning with all of its staff, and it values employees who understand that adaptability about more than changing technology. The small team of only 120 people is competing with some global and multinational companies and has learned to be inquisitive, and do the job of their coworkers as well as their own. The culture of teaching and learning is strong within the agile and inventive staff at Cryomech.
Cryomech has grown at a steady pace over the years, just fast enough to keep up with its customers. “Our aim is to evolve with our customers and grow at the right pace that they need us to grow to keep up with their needs,” says Kelly. It discusses potential plans with its customers to see what they expect, and that is the primary driver of the company’s growth.
The company primarily focuses on the ultra-low-temperature products, but is discovering some new markets for the pulse tube and GM cryocoolers in higher-temperature fields. ‘High temperature’ cryogenic systems work in temperatures that, while still very cold, are above the point at which liquid nitrogen boils, that is to say −320.42 °F or −195.79 °C (77.36 K) and are considered to be high temperature compared to the ultra-low temperature cryocoolers.
Cryomech has achieved numerous milestones over the years and developed well-known products in the industry. In 1992, it produced its first liquid nitrogen plant, and it continues to create new products and encourage advancement in the cryocooling industry.
A large accomplishment for the company in the last year was its launch of the PT420 pulse tube, the world’s largest. “We tend to focus on making really high quality, relatively high power for our industry pulse tubes that operate in the 4-kelvin (K) temperature range,” says Kelly.
The large single-stage GM AL600 is another recent achievement for the company, and it has been working on the next generation of some of its products with the new technology that is available, and it hopes to have those products released within the next year.
The employees at Cryomech have had to overcome the challenge of multiple internal changes within the company. In the past three years, Cryomech has gone from a private company to an employee-owned company. It lost beloved CEO Peter Gifford, and it has had to adapt to a new team-style leadership approach. Furthermore, the dedicated employees had to navigate through all this change amid the normal market, regulatory, and technology advancements that other companies had to manage.
“The challenges that I’ve seen here that I’ve been so impressed with how our team has addressed is the ability for our employee-owners to really step up, chip in, and demonstrate how flexible and adaptable they are. They’ve been truly amazing in being able to navigate the change that we’ve gone through in the last couple of years,” says Kelly.
The motto around Cryomech is “Say Yes,” and it represents the company’s pride in its ability to accept almost every customer challenge that it encounters. It is a manufacturing company that really thrives in areas that require fast development and close customer contact. It views its customers as collaborators, and it aims to make the customer view the partnership the same way. It never wants to be considered just a vendor, as the company is highly skilled in working as a team to create the most effective product.
Cryomech wants to spread the word and let customers know to come to Cryomech if they have a cryocooling problem that requires the highest level of technical expertise. “How we say yes to a challenge guides more than just our product development. It guides a lot of what we do with our team and what we do with our business. We always strive to say yes,” says Kelly.
Competing with larger companies can be daunting. However, Cryomech is aware of what sets it apart from the competition. Its smaller size is beneficial since it can always be flexible to its customers’ needs, and its willingness to work together leads to innovative solutions. If a customer enters the Cryomech office to discuss a potential project, they will sit with staff members such as the chief technology officer and the head of engineering to come up with a possible plan. They will not simply speak with a salesperson. “If you’re talking technology, you’re going to talk to the chief technology officer, the head of production, or the head of engineering. We roll up our sleeves, and we really collaborate with our customers,” says Kelly.
Another advantage of partnering with Cryomech is that it attempts to move product very quickly, and it is capable of fast innovation to get prototypes into the hands of the customer in a short amount of time. “Our customers are evolving, and we plan to evolve with them. As they grow from projects and prototypes to established products, we should be able to provide them the first piece quickly, then establish a plan to provide multiple pieces of the same quality as a mature product,” says Kelly.
Cryomech can complete any level of modification of its products that is required by a customer and has many customizability options. If a customer requires a specially designed heat exchanger, Cryomech will manufacture it and hold on to it as a part of that customer’s product line. If a certain valve or special part is needed and there is no current process to create it, Cryomech will develop the process and find a way to make the unique product. The company has helped to design and produce many products for its customers to form a customized pulse tube that perfectly fits into their system.
Many companies have standard models of various pulse tube cryorefrigerators or various single-stage GM cryo refrigerators, yet Cryomech has a wide range of products to offer. It has over thirty pulse tube product lines, and there is no product that it will not help to adapt for its customers, including products made by other companies.
Cryomech also has significant experience customizing room layouts for research facilities to assist its customers with arranging the research room in a specific way for optimal success. The company, due to the extensive knowledge it has gained, is a great asset to these customers and will often point out potential problem areas that would not have been recognized otherwise.
Cryomech has a charitable giving committee, and the company sits on several boards within its local community. It enjoys getting involved and giving back to the community and this year its chosen charity was the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The company has had several direct fundraisers related to that organization.
The most recent fundraiser at Cryomech was a dunk tank at the company’s annual Founder’s Day celebration and picnic. “We brought in a dunk tank, and our employees raised over a thousand dollars dunking our board members. All of that money is going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation,” Kelly says proudly.
Cryomech supports and participates in programs that promote technical education in the local schools in Syracuse, New York. It invites students in for tours and demonstrations of the facility’s operation, and it offers internships to students who are interested in a career in engineering, manufacturing, or other technical disciplines. The company sits on an advisory board for the local Syracuse city school district to help design and promote technology programs within the high schools. Cryomech enjoys encouraging local students through outreach programs and believes that the effort is well worth it considering the labour shortage all over the country.
Cryomech is recognized as a leader in the design and manufacturing of cryorefrigerators. The company stays on the leading edge of technology to meet its customers’ constantly changing needs, and its employees relentlessly seek success for those customers.