Shortly after World War II a young and brilliant electrical engineer, Verner Eisby, set out to make a living on his all-consuming interest: Radio, the cutting edge technology of the day.
While Verner Eisby dreamt of improving both the technology and the user friendliness of the devices, post war Denmark didn’t exactly overflow with venture capitalists ready to invest in new ideas. People worked hard to make ends meet – and their old radios last long.
So, in the last half of the 1940’s Verner made his living mostly by repairing, upgrading and enhancing radios for private customers. But as the years went by he experienced an increasing demand for his services by industrial clients. Verner’s unique knowledge of high frequency technology – and how to control it – solved many a problem at businesses grappling to get up to speed with increasing consumer demands. Verner started working on anything from ship to shore communication to telephone exchange and irrigation systems.
The ink didn’t stick
One day in the early 1950’s one of Verner’s industrial clients, a renowned producer of paper bags named Rolles Mølle, presented him with a problem. The company had recently decided to enter the exciting new world of plastic, and had invested in a line designed to make plastic bags. Now the client was dismayed by the fact that it was impossible to print text and logos on the plastic bags. The ink just didn’t stick.
At the time there were two emerging methods to accomplish this. One was using a gas flame, and the other was a spark generating method. But both were crude and easily either ruined the plastic material or left it unevenly treated.
Verner’s knowledge of high frequency technology led him to believe that a high frequency charge could solve the problem and at the same time be controlled in order to obtain an even and non-destructive result. With that theory in mind, Verner went back to his lab to work day and night.
Straight to the patent office
Eight months and innumerable experiments later Verner had proven his theory. He went straight to the patent office, and on November 1st 1951, he founded his company, Vetaphone, on the patent of this new technology, which he initially named E-treatment. Later it was known worldwide as the Corona technology.
In fact, nobody at the time knew exactly why a high frequency treatment made ink stick on plastic material. It would take physicists from the Niels Bohr Institute at The University of Copenhagen years before they in 1958 came up with the explanation that the high frequency treatment breaks some of the molecular bonds in the polymer, nonpolar plastic molecules, and thus creates a polar like surface capable of binding ink and adhesives.
Fathering the Material Factor
In the meantime, Verner put his head to figure out the most efficient way to deploy his new technology for industrial use and figured out the most widespread standard of the industry today – namely The Material Factor, also known as the Watt density. The calculations, which are necessary for determining the power requirements for successful treating of various materials, were first presented by Verner Eisby in his book “E-NORM”, published in 1959.
During the 1960’s Vetaphone grew steadily into a worldwide market leader within Corona technology. Still the technology needed adjustment and fine-tuning, in order to enhance the effect, the user friendliness and the ability to fit well within both new and existing production lines.
A local plastic bag and film manufacturer, Novo Plastic, which later became a part of Schur Flexible, decided to open their factory gates to Vetaphone, and dedicated a part of their production line to Vetaphone’s experiments. Being able to obtain data and experience from a working production environment was crucial for Vetaphone. And for Novo Plastic being a test site became an advantageous short cut to cutting edge knowledge and technology.
Even today this partnership is still in effect, and since then Vetaphone has partnered up with clients all over the world, as detailed, practical knowledge about the nitty grittys of plastic production became the pivotal of Vetaphone’s strategy in an increasingly competitive market.
The very foundation of Vetaphone in 1951 was based on solving a problem for a client, which led to the invention of a completely new technology. Solving problems for clients was what Verner Eisby did. Solving problems for clients was his passion; it was what made him thrive. And so, this approach became the cultural bedrock of the company.
But consumed as Verner Eisby was with solving problems for clients and working on the technology, he wasn’t much aware of the pitfalls of business life. He placed great trust in his employees and associates – a trait that served him well in building a rapidly growing business, but also a trait that hit him like a boomerang in the early 1970’s.
A German associate licensing the right to produce Vetaphone Corona systems saw a great opportunity, as the license was about to expire. With no legally binding contracts the associate was free to keep the knowledge, keep up the production, and pay Vetaphone nothing for it. From one day to the next Verner Eisby didn’t just loose a significant part of his business, he also gained a serious competitor. It threw the company headlong into a serious crisis.
The Feedback System
Employees from that time remember payday. The pay checks more often than not consisted of brown paper bags containing coins. Everything, even the money from the piggy bank, went into paying the employees, but they were paid every time, and on time.
Verner’s loyalty to his employees paid off. They worked hard, and they worked long hours, and in 1972 Vetaphone could present the new Feedback System. It was a revolution in maximising the effect of the Corona system, and it sent Vetaphone right back on the growth track. The automatic frequency control in the Feedback System made sure that all the energy coming from the generator went straight into treating the material – and it virtually eliminated heat loss.
Moving too fast
Maximizing the effect was the dominating task in both the 1970’s and 1980’s. The demand for more width and increased line speed kept growing, and the Corona generators struggled to keep up the pace. In the late 70’s and 80’s transistors was the promising new feature. Compared to radio tubes the transistors could generate effects only to dream of – at least in theory.
In the autumn of 1979 Vetaphone presented their first transistor-based generator, The GT1000, promising effects to match any demand of the day. But transistors generating this much power was still an immature technology, and it turned out that the supplier of the transistors simply could not deliver as promised.
Being a first mover on new technology had always been the heart of Vetaphone, but this time Verner Eisby and his engineers had moved a little too fast. Now they embarked on a lengthy mission, working on improving the technology in cooperation with the transistor manufacturers.
Verner Eisby had two sons, which the employees at Vetaphone knew well. As Verner’s wife, Grethe, early on realised that her husband’s passion for technology often made him oblivious to practical everyday matters, she had taken over the responsibility for the bookkeeping and wage administration. And every day after school their two sons, Frank and Jan, joined their parents at the factory.
They both took after their father and showed a keen interest in technology. The employees at Vetaphone quickly learned the importance of putting them to good use, because If they didn’t the boys would use their bright minds to conceive of an avalanche of practical jokes on them – ranging from short circuiting the soldering iron to coffee cups glued to the table.
In 1987 the oldest son, Frank, joined the company. By then 30 years of age he was a skilled and experienced engineer. He was put in charge of a completely new project.
During most of the 1980’s Vetaphone had focused on improving the user friendliness of the Corona systems. But as the 80’s came to an end it was time resume the task of maximising the effect of the generators. Frank Eisby was put in charge of how to use computers to control the frequency of the generators, and thus hugely improve the automatic frequency control that Vetaphone launched in 1972.
In 1994 Vetaphone launched their first computer controlled generator, and Frank had stood the test. It was now possible to fine-tune the control of even more parameters, and the processor capacity made it possible to calculate and use The Material Factor continuously while the line was running – resulting in maximum utilisation of the effect generated.
Ten years later the exponential growth of computer power enabled Vetaphone to finally put the quest for more power to rest. With the Corona Powersync, launched in 2003, Vetaphone made it possible to parallel link an infinite number of generators and still control the synchronicity of the frequency. If you wanted power, now only the sky was the limit – and how much space you had for generators.
The take over
In 1993 Verner Eisby resigned as head of Vetaphone and entrusted Frank Eisby with the job. Verner was by then 71 years of age and died shortly after.
In 1999 Franks younger brother, Jan, also joined the company. He too was by then a skilled and experienced electrical engineer, but he was offered a job as head of sales. Offering Jan this position was a clear reflection of the trouble shooting culture within Vetaphone. Even the sales people was all about solving problems for clients, and Jan built an organisation aimed at securing a maximum of expertise and inventiveness, even among first level sales people.
A quick change
That same year the trouble shooting culture at Vetaphone incubated yet another invention, which conquered the market and became a de facto standard within few years.
Having spent hour upon hour in production environments the engineers had detected one of the main causes of breakdowns and failures in the Corona treaters – namely insufficient maintenance of the electrodes. Understandably, producers tended to put off maintaining the electrodes as this typically meant at least one or two hours of expensive down time, since the whole production line had to come to a stop while the service engineers did their job. As a result, electrodes covered with dirt and dust broke down, sometimes halting production for days.
Vetaphone’s Quick Change System changed this. Placing the electrodes in a cartridge, which effortlessly could be pulled out and replaced by a similar cartridge, meant that maintenance of the electrodes could be done comfortably off line, while the production line kept running full speed. Later on Vetaphone developed the Quick Change System to include cartridges pre-fitted for materials of different thicknesses. By that the company eliminated hours of tedious work adjusting the electrodes to just the right position.
Making things easier
The invention of the Quick Change System sparked a series of innovations at Vetaphone aimed at making life easier for their clients – either by cutting costs or saving effort and time on behalf of their clients.
In 2000 Vetaphone launched the DPC System, a cost saving device, which enables the generator to run at very low power levels, and still deliver an even Corona across the electrode.
In 2004 Vetaphone presented their new Modular Generator, which greatly minimises down time due to break down. The operator simply replaces the faulty module with a new, and then sends off the flawed module for repair. The system also makes it possible to upgrade the generator to yield higher effects.
In 2005 the engineers gave birth to the DPH system – making it possible to get production speed well beyond 450 m/min on metallic substrates without damaging the material. A lower internal current makes sure the treatment is just as efficient, but without damaging effects to the material.
In 2009 Vetaphone launched the intelligent Corona system, iCorona, featuring automatically generated quality reports, auto maintenance schedules and online instruction manuals – all designed to optimise production quality while reducing operator time.
Crisis – again
2009 was also when the financial crisis stroke, paralysing markets globally. At Vetaphone orders were halted almost overnight, leaving the company struggling just as much for its survival as everybody else at the time. It was time to cut deep. The organisation was trimmed, and everybody accepted a wage cut. Like in the early 1970’s paying the employees was Frank and Jan Eisby’s major priority.
Once again the employees loyally put in hard work and long hours, and by the end of 2010 Vetaphone’s accountants could present the best result ever in the company’s history. As a reward, every employee received a bonus making up for the hard work during tough times.
Back on track
Today, Vetaphone is back on the growth track. Still situated in the same city, where Verner Eisby founded his business in 1951, the premises are becoming overcrowded. However, foresighted as he was, Verner bought up more land than he needed for his factory back in 1951, so expansion plans are already at the drawing board – awaiting the final approval of the meticulous trouble shooters.
Asked if there really are any more problems to be solved in the future, Frank and Jan Eisby burst out laughing. There will always be room for improvement, and new technology will always be invented – solving some problems while creating others. Like plasma – an extremely promising technology, but difficult to explain. The situation looks very much like when Verner Eisby just invented Corona back in the 1950’s, and nobody knew how it worked. But the trouble shooters at Vetaphone are working on it.