Dr. Anthony D. Kurtz
"When I started Kulite, I wanted to create a high-tech company who in its own area would be known throughout the world as the very best in our chosen field. Because of all of you, we have succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations." These are the opening lines from Dr. Anthony D. Kurtz's speech at the 40th Anniversary of Kulite's founding.
Holder of more than 200 patents, including some of the earliest for tiny pressure sensors micro machined out of silicon, Dr. Anthony D. Kurtz, who received his undergraduate and doctoral degrees in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology continued to innovate throughout his life. Dr. Kurtz, who worked in an MIT lab after college and later for Honeywell in Boston, moved home to North Jersey to start his own company in 1959. Inducted into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of fame in 1991, the Chief Scientist and CEO of Kulite Semiconductor Products, Inc, filed 104 new patents since December, 2001, on subjects ranging from fuel cells to laser-based data storage. A patent dating back to 1980, "Compensated Pressure Transducer Employing Digital Processing Techniques," was the first to combine a micro mechanical sensor with electronic computation, and was among the most cited patents of the 1980's. This was one of the major patents of the entire MEMS business. Professor Kenneth Farmer, director of New Jersey Institute of Technology's Microelectronic Research Center and co-founder of the New Jersey MEMS Initiative, has recognized Dr. Kurtz as one of the founding fathers of the MEMS field.
Early on, Dr. Kurtz decided that Kulite would be the world's greatest expert in semiconductor piezoresistance, the basic scientific principle that underlies all of its sensors. Kulite was able to perform its own research and development, working harder and smarter, which led to Kulite being the world's expert in its chosen fields. Dr. Kurtz decided to apply his expertise in silicon to a market making pressure sensors with performance advantages over competitor's products. Silicon was the ideal choice for high temperature environments due to its very high melting point and strength. The small silicon sensor had the advantage over the competition because it could operate quicker, enabling it to detect very brief, small fluctuations in pressure. These advantages eventually paid off and Kulite was awarded contracts developing pressure sensors for fighter jets such as the F-14 and F-15, which were still being developed by the Defense Department. Kulite also supplied transducers to test the pressure of high explosives in nuclear missile silos and on the other end of the spectrum; the transducers were used in early medical catheters to test conditions inside human hearts.
Currently, Kulite employs over 800 people who design, fabricate and assemble about 20,000 pressure transducers each month in the company's recently expanded facilities. The company has had to grow to accommodate increased production and the ever-growing Kulite family. Dr. Kurtz always believed in hiring for life, with the older employees imparting wisdom to the younger, while the younger could share vitality with the older. As a result, many of the employees have been with Kulite for 10, 20, 30 even 40 years, yet Dr. Kurtz knew nearly every employee by name. Part of this intimacy is the way the company is structured. Kulite is a high-value, low volume business, and as such allowed Dr. Kurtz to have true "hands on" approach to the business. A true believer in education, Dr. Kurtz not only encouraged employees to enroll in college courses for which the company would pay, but also instituted a scholarship program for employee's children.
Because of this belief in the importance of education, Dr. Kurtz realized that to stay ahead technologically, Kulite would need to maintain a closer relationship with some of the outstanding colleges and universities.
Today Kulite maintains a close relationship with Oxford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University, where he was an adjunct professor and a member of the Dean's Engineering Council. He assumed an active role in advising students, and funds research, having contributed over $1.75 million to Columbia and MIT.
Today, Kulite is doing what it does best, building customized transducers to client's specifications. Dr. Kurtz always enjoyed the challenge of developing a transducer to fit the customer's needs, unlike many other companies who only sell out of catalogs. Some recent developments have been flat pressure sensors that fit against turbine blades in jet engines, which enable the jet to save fuel by operating right at the edge of the engineered stall speed. Other new products include a miniaturized air speed indicator that may have applications in smaller versions of unmanned airplanes like the U.S Air Force's Predator. Thanks to Kulite's pressure transducers, automotive engineers will be better able to understand pressure waves inside the cylinders of internal combustion engines.
"Every American airplane and rocket, military and civilian, conceived and developed in the past thirty years has used our pressure sensors and transducers during the design, test fabrication and build phases of these programs. Throughout our country, and in fact in most of the world, Kulite is a synonym for -ultra miniature high accuracy pressure transducers. We have helped doctors measure heart sounds, detect R.E.M. (rapid eye movement) and give feeling to artificial arms and legs. We have made transducers to measure pressure and forces on roads when traffic passes over the road, transducers that measure and control all of the equipment on both naval and commercial ships, transducers that are used in oil exploration, in coal mining and in determining the height of weather balloons and transducers that measure the pressure in the tires of commercial aircraft like the 747 while the plane is flying. We are the world's largest supplier of aerospace transducers".
Wherever pressure or force is measured, we were usually the first one to come up with a good solution to the problem and to provide the best and most reliable method to make the measurement. Truly, we have earned our reputation as "Leader in Pressure Transducer Technology".
Download PDF file of "Little Big MEMS", an article that appeared in the Bergen Record on MEMS Technology, written by Martha Mckay, photographs by Beth Balbierz.