American Association for the Advancement of Science
Advanced Ceramics Research (ACR) was originally incorporated as a start-up, self-financed firm in 1989 by Anthony Mulligan who had recently graduated in mechanical engineering from the University of Arizona, and Mark Angier who was still a student in mechanical engineering, also at the University of Arizona. Shortly after, they were joined by Dr. Donald Uhlmann, a professor at the University of Arizona, and Kevin Stuffle, a chemical engineer previously employed at Ceramatec Corporation, Salt Lake City, Utah. In late 1996 Dr. Daniel Albrecht, retired CEO of Buehler Corporation, joined as a shareholder and officer until 2000. Since 2000, Angier and Mulligan have remained as the only shareholders and are active in the management of the company.
From its inception, ACR sought to become a product development company, capable of manufacturing products for a diverse set of industries based on its technological developments. Although its competitive advantage has been in its advanced technology, it has sought to avoid being limited to being a contract R&D house. Over its history, the relative emphasis on R&D, product development, and manufacturing has varied, being primarily shaped by market demand conditions for its end-user products. The firm has both an extended set of collaborative, network relationships with university researchers, who conduct basic research on materials, and “downstream” customers, for its products.
Also, from its early inception, the firm knew about the SBIR program, but viewed its profit ceiling margins, placed at 5-7 percent, as too low to warrant much attention. Only commercial products were seen as yielding an adequate profit margin. Over time though, it has participated in the SBIR program of several federal agencies, including DoD, NASA, Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation.
ACR’s initial 2 products were PVA-SIC grinding stones and Polyurethane friction drive belts for the aluminum memory disk manufacturing industry. These two products were a direct result of a NASA Phase I SBIR program entitled “Laser Induced Thermal Micro-cracking for Ductile Regime Grinding of Large Optical Surfaces.” While the program did not go on to Phase II, the commercial sales generated from the first two products was significant for the growth of the company.
The firm also saw market potential in developing products from advanced ceramics. The attractiveness of the SBIR program was that it would underwrite concept development. Firm representatives had several discussions with DoD