Making sure COVID-19 vaccines stay cold enough has kept a Warner company busy

  • Norm Carlson, founder of MadgeTech, holds four tiny wires while displaying the technology and required precision at the company office in Warner. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Norm Carlson, founder of MadgeTech, gives a tour of the Warner company’s technology and processes on Wednesday.

  • Young Kim inspects circuit boards at the MadgeTech facility. The Warner company’s technology is in high demand. GEOFF FORESTER hotos / Monitor staff

  • Hak Kim and MadgeTech owner and founder Norm Carlson at the circuit board maker at the facility in Warner on Wednesday, December 16, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The MadgeTech facility in Warner has had to ramp up production to keep up with demand.

  • Engineering manager Phong Huynh works on a new upgrade at the MadgeTech facility in Warner on Wednesday.

  • Mechanical engineer Eddie Currier works on a 3D project at the MadgeTech facility in Warner on Wednesday, December 16, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Courtesy-MadgeTechA rendition of the new front part of the MadgeTech facility in Warner on Wednesday, December 16, 2020.

  • MadgeTech foundeer Norm Carlson at the construction site of the expanded facility in Warner on Wednesday, December 16, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/19/2020 5:32:05 PM

One of the unexpected results of the pandemic has been to focus attention on formerly obscure technologies that everybody suddenly cares about, like face-mask design and ventilation filters. Here’s another example, one that has a Warner company scrambling: Temperature monitors.

“What we’ve been doing behind the scenes – everybody is seeing it now,” said Meredith Orbacz, manager of marketing for MadgeTech.

The 25-year-old firm has had to add a shift and is building an extension to deal with a flood of customers who suddenly need to ensure that vaccines don’t get too warm en route to our arms.

“As we were speaking, we just heard from Walgreens,” said Norm Carlson, founder of MadgeTech, during a recent interview. “They’re looking to monitor the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. This literally just came in.”

While the surge isn’t entirely unexpected for MadgeTech, which has long supplied the medical world with devices to keep track of temperature and other attributes, its size is. The need is driven by the unparalleled speed and quantity of the COVID-19 vaccine development as well as vaccines’ extreme temperature sensitivity.

“We have had a couple very large pharmaceuticals inquire about extremely large numbers of data loggers – hundreds of thousands. We’re also getting requests for quotes from CVS, doctor’s offices, people who understand they’re going to be giving the vaccine and need to monitor the temperature of those vaccines in their refrigerators,” said Ken LaPage, the company’s sales manager.

Technology caught up

MadgeTech was founded by Carlson because the Warner native (Kearsarge High School class of 1977) was a design engineer with an interesting passion.

“I though it was just fascinating to take the parameters of nature – pressure, temperature, humidity – and see what they’re doing over time,” he said. “I had the idea back in the ’80s but the technology wasn’t there.”

The arrival of low-power microchips in the mid-1990s combined with the Internet changed things.

“You could put data into a computer and see it in real time,” he said. “At that time it felt like magic.”

So Carlson started building and selling small devices that measured temperature via thermoelectric effect and logged the result. The company – named after his Aunt Madge, who provided the money to buy the computer on which he wrote the first software – started growing.

“Customers would call in and say, ‘I like that but I also want to measure humidity.’ We’d design it … Then they wanted voltage, pressure. Then water-proof, high temperatures. It just kept evolving. Fundamentally, the products are the same today,” he said.

The company makes a wide variety of systems used in a host of industries, from aerospace to food service to medicine.

“The real thing that drives our sales is compliance, having to comply with regulations,” said Orbacz, manager of marketing. “Say you bought chicken at the supermarket. There has to be a trail of what temperature that chicken was exposed to, up until the time it arrived in the refrigerator in your home. We can provide that. ”

A very different application that caused a spurt of business came from the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max airliners two years ago. Scores of the planes were parked in the desert while investigations continued, and they all needed to monitor temperature and humidity while in storage to make sure that mold didn’t grow or corrosion didn’t occur.

Local focus

Carlson said MadgeTech has always been locally focused, which is why it’s still in Warner, not usually considered a hot spot for hiring engineers and designers. He said it has grown through its own funding, without debt or investment firms.

It has about 75 employee, including 13 engineers, and $13 million in annual sales. As well as design and manufacturing it repairs and, crucially, calibrates its devices. MadgeTech has more than 50 distributors throughout the world, including one each in South Africa and Egypt, Carlson said.

“We design and manufacturer and sell, all out of the same place. There’s not a single country we don’t ship to – well, maybe North Korea, Syria, Cuba,” said Carlson. “We can control the quality, not importing anything from China, Japan. It’s all done in-house.”

Despite its long presence here and occasionally getting in the news, as when Carlson was part of opposition to a proposed gun range in town, MadgeTech shares the fate of many manufacturing companies that don’t sell directly to consumers, in that few people are aware of it.

“People go wow, I never knew this place existed,” Carlson said.

MadgeTech hopes more people learn about it because they’re hiring.

“We did all this from this small town in New Hampshire. It’s nicer here than (closer to a big city). It’s quiet, we’re thinkers, creative, we solve problems, don’t need all the distractions. It’s a way of life,” Carlson said.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)
David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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