Centrotherm Eco Systems LLC, an Albany-based manufacturer of venting systems and accessories for heating professionals, is the dominant supplier of polypropylene flu gas technology in North America. But in 2014, it was a young company distributing technology made by its German parent and looking to begin domestic production. That was when it began working with FuzeHub and the Center for Economic Growth (CEG), the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) center in Albany.
We spoke to Joel Dzekciorios, CEO of Centrotherm, about that engagement and how it has helped Centrotherm get where it is today.
How did you work with FuzeHub and CEG eight years ago?
We were looking for a more efficient way to make some custom parts that were being fabricated by hand. We thought 3D printing might be an option for these short-run parts. Through FuzeHub, we joined an ongoing 3D printing project with Rochester Institute of Technology and XEROX on the use of alternative print materials. Our goal was to 3D print with polyolefins.
While the collaboration did not yield the desired result, we ended up pivoting and using 3D printing for R&D and the manufacture of prototypes. That gives us the ability to touch and feel including fit and function checks. Our systems have gasketed connections, so it is nice to be able to test and make sure we have the proper seal. Using 3D printing allows us to quickly evaluate a design concept.
FuzeHub and CEG connected us to the 3D printing program at SUNY New Paltz and we partnered with them.
Do you still use 3D printing?
Yes, but we have since brought those capabilities in-house. In addition to prototyping, we 3D print the majority of our jigs and fixtures for manufacturing. That was a direct byproduct of investigating 3D printing for short-run production parts. Not only are we using it as an R&D tool, but we are using it to produce really cost effective and time effective jigs and fixtures.
To me that has certainly been a big win for us.
You have grown quite a bit since 2014
We have probably tripled or quadrupled our business since then. We have grown 120% just in the past two years. We employ about 80 people in Albany. In 2014 we had fewer than 20. We run 24 hours a day. We do extrusion, thermoforming and fabrication here so the majority of the products we sell are of U.S. origin, made in Albany.
Certainly, we have transitioned from a small business into a mid-market business. For us that is certainly exciting.
Clearly the pandemic didn’t slow you down.
We launched an additional product during the pandemic—Air Excellent, a dedicated system for heat recovery ventilation (HRV) and energy recovery ventilation (ERV) that allows you to independently control the air quality in each room of a residential or commercial building. We launched with the help of CEG and have been gaining traction in the U.S. and Canada.
Air distribution is a growing market with the trend toward electrification. New York is aggressively pushing decarbonization. Our initial product, the InnoFlue Polypropylene Vent System, is dependent on gas appliances. As you move toward higher efficiency homes that are better insolated—actually airtight—you need an HRV or an ERV. They are the lungs of your house. So, as demand for HRVs and ERVs grow so does the demand for our Air Excellent ducts.