In a 5,000-square-foot space at Science Park at Research Valley, more than a dozen people dedicate their days to the power of heat.
More specifically, they are focused on air-activated heat that requires nothing more of the user than opening a package to melt chocolate and warm up hand wipes within minutes. The technology, developed at RBC Technologies in College Station, can also be used to turn a splint pliable in order to set an injury or warm the military's ready meals.
"We can connect with everyone because humans love warmth," said Chief Executive Officer Adam Laubach, who joined the material science and engineering company in 2011 as chief technology officer.
Having played a role in the development of the Abbott Freestyle diabetes test strip, Laubach predicted, "There's something in our bevy here that's going to make a huge difference."
The self-heating splint, whose technology was developed in 2006, already has touched the lives of people around the world.
In February, Laubach was on a mission with Lifesong for Orphans in Honduras when he came across 11-year-old Marvin with a fractured arm. It was covered only with a dish rag for protection, so Laubach and his team put the Rapid Splint to use -- peeling off the tab on the package, letting it heat up on its own for three to four minutes, molding the material to the child's arm and allowing it to harden.
"The learning for me is that a little bit of First World technology can go a long way, and when possible RBC will make our technology available to those who need it most as a primary motivation versus being solely profit-oriented," Laubach said, recalling the experience.
RBC Technologies was formed in 1989 by Texas A&M professors and focused on rechargeable batteries for cameras. The company eventually transitioned to primary batteries before taking the idea behind hearing-aid batteries, which are powered when zinc and oxygen react, to develop RBC's self-heaters after receiving a Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop a flameless ration heater for the military's Meals Ready to Eat (MRE).
Laubach expects the company's air-activated ration heater to be available to the military as early as late 2016 or 2017. He said the product will allow soldiers to heat their food in 10 minutes without having to pour water into the heating device or do so in an open space due to toxins, as is currently done.
Other products, such as the splints, are already available in doctor's offices and clinics in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia and the U.K., with more to be shipped to other European countries before Christmas. The consumer goods, such as melted chocolate and cheese, and heated lotions and hand wipes, could hit U.K. grocery stores in late 2016 before making their way to U.S. stores in 2017 or 2018, Laubach said.
The A&M connection
The company's Aggie roots have since expanded to include current A&M engineering students and various science-related departments. Laubach and Chief Technology Officer John Beckerdite both sit on the College of Science External Advisory and Development Council, which meets twice a year to support the college in its scholarship and educational efforts.
"Texas A&M is the primary reason we're here in College Station," said Beckerdite, who received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the university. "It's key to what we do."
Those connections have allowed for the company's first Aggie intern -- Jeffrey Speich -- to join the team.
Speich, a 23-year-old student who expects to graduate in December with a master's in biomedical engineering, praised the company's inviting culture and its vision of not only making profit but helping people in developing countries with its products.
"Notwithstanding the products we're working on is the change on the people's lives that are working here," Laubach said. "I have worked in so many different organizations where it's just not fun to come to work, and it really is heartening to hear the ladies who used to work at the chicken farm ... when they connect that they're having an impact on the world around them."