We now shine the client spotlight on Jon Helgeland and his company, Bifrost Engineering. Bifrost has recently resurrected its position as a niche leader in the piezo industry. Jon and John Brannon have been friends and colleagues for nearly three decades. Now, as part of the same trivia team, Jon sat down with us to learn a little bit about BiFrost and their future.
A note: In Norse mythology, Bifrost is a burning rainbow bridge that reaches between Earth and Asgard, the realm of the gods. The name Bifrost is a nod to Helgeland’s Norse heritage.
BSC: Can you tell us a little bit about how you met John Brannon?
JH: Well, it was at GE Superabrasives, and it would have been 1989. We both started there that year. I was making polycrystalline diamond in my case—solid diamond, like ceramics, so you get bigger pieces—and mesh diamond in John’s case.
BSC: Are you a ceramics engineer by trade?
JH: I have a masters in ceramics engineering. A couple notches down from John. (laughs)
BSC: Tell us a little bit about how Bifrost got started.
JH: I’ve been in the piezo business basically my whole life—except for that stint in the superabrasives–and I worked for a company called Piezo Technologies here in town.
BSC: For those of us non-ceramics engineers, what’s a piezo?
JH: They are crystals; when you put pressure on them they generate an electric field. They are really good for sensors and all sorts of household good. Gas igniters for stoves and things, for instance… a little hammer smacks a piezo and creates a spark. They are made super super cheap, usually in Korea.
(back to Bifrost)
JH: I was working at Piezo Technologies and they make piezo materials to sell to other companies that make various products, and they make transducers for lots of medical and industrial applications. They laid me off in December 2010.
BSC: Yeah that was a rough year all-around. A lot of people shared that fate.
JH: I was a sales manager at the company for a long while, and I spent a large amount of my time turning away business that was too small—management didn’t want to deal with it. I started a spin-off company using these smaller pieces of business (Bifrost). After several years of consulting and other work projects, this last year I re-started Bifrost. It really feels like a fresh start.
BSC: What are the biggest opportunities for growth in Bifrost’s future?
JH: The biggest opportunity right now is the medical imaging device field. Making new probes and a new family of probes is a huge opportunity, and would allow us to compete with the big players in the field: Siemens, GE, Toshiba. But most of what we’ll be doing day to day is industrial.
BSC: What is your biggest competitive advantage?
(John Brannon points to Jon Helgeland’s brain. They both laugh.)
JH: Well, that’s kind of true. The biggest advantage is that I know everyone in the industry, and I’m really well-versed in how the industry works. It’s really not very competitive. Everything is niches. You tend to get designed in. All your average applications start out with all these nickel-dime guys who call you up, and yeah a lot of them are crazy dentists who think they may have just invented the coolest thing in the world. Some of the ideas really are huge, but they take awhile to get going.
BSC: How will intellectual property factor into your business in the future?
JH: Going forward there are several things we’re going to try to patent or lock up in some form. We’ll do our best not to run afoul of anyone else…
John Brannon: Well that’s why you hired a good IP partner.
You can check out everything Bifrost Engineering is up to here: http://bifrostengineering.com/