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Auxadyne to make loaves and pads, not sports shoes

Joe Condon illustrates the properties of Xylafoam. Ordinary foam spreads out when pressure is applied. Auxetic foam shrinks, becoming denser in the middle, which strengthens its protective qualities.

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS — A sign on the door of the Auxadyne building—the former Keystone Building Supply—tells callers that the new company isn’t hiring just yet: no need to rush down to Commercial Circle with your resume until further notice. But stand by.

The sign suggests the Keystone Heights community is certainly aware of one of its newest businesses with a sense of excitement and expectation, and maybe a few misconceptions about what the company is and what the future holds.

Joe and Betsy Condon licensed a patent from Florida State University a few years ago and started the business in their garage. They make auxetic foam, they call it Xylafoam, and it looks like the dark packing material you may have seen cushioning electronic or sound equipment or fine breakables in metal boxes. Xylafoam may look like packing foam, because that’s what it’s made from. But it’s very different.

The Condons take a less expensive foam product and give it almost magical properties, using the patented process that, for now at least, belongs entirely to them.

Auxetic foam is in one key way the complete reverse of ordinary foam.  When pressure is applied to ordinary packing foam, it bulges out and gets thinner at the pressure point. Observe a marshmallow when you mash it with your thumb. When serious pressure is applied to ordinary foam and it thins out at the pressure point, it also loses its protective quality.

However, when you apply pressure to auxetic foam, it gets thicker at the pressure point. If it were an auxetic marshmallow, it would curve inward and become stronger, denser and more protective. It would do the same job as regular foam, but since you can use less of it, the auxetic foam would be thinner, lighter in weight, and would surpass the protective quality of regular foam.

Auxetic foam is not new and has been around for 21 years. Auxadyne is not the only company in the world that knows how to make it; lots of company’s can make auxetic foam by applying chemicals or heat. But the results from these methods vary, they have unwanted side effects and production costs are high.

One company trying to make auxetic foam mattresses for better hospital beds added chloroform to regular foam mattresses. They made auxetic foam, but the problem was they couldn’t get the chloroform out, with completely unacceptable consequences for hospital patients.

Companies working with heat discovered that the outer cooked portions of their foam pads became auxetic, but it left the center of a pad raw as a Thanksgiving turkey. The result didn’t do what it was supposed to do.

Then too, chemicals and heat were more expensive than the endgame sale price could bear in the marketplace.

A number of years ago, the VA gave a grant to Florida State University’s science and engineering departments to create auxetic foam to be used as cushioning in prosthetic limbs for wounded warriors. The auxetic foam padding would expand and contract during the day as needed, saving the warriors time spent putting on and taking off cushioning socks.

FSU labs discovered a process requiring neither chemicals nor heat and patented that process. They transferred the patent to the university’s commercialization department, which puts patents out to vetted entrepreneurs for development and mass production. Naturally, the university gets a royalty off the patent forever.

Joe and Betsy Condon had backgrounds in engineering, science and production. Joe had once headed a medical device company, including prostheses. The Condon’s were retired, but still ready for new challenges. They won the bid on the FSU auxetics patent and set up a production lab in their Keystone Heights garage.

A Tallahassee ABC news affiliate and other media outlets got hold of the story and suddenly the Condons’ phone started to ring.

Around the same time, Betsy decided to run for the Clay County school board. Everyone’s cell phones started to ring. Suddenly the Condons realized they either needed a much bigger garage or space elsewhere.

They contacted a bank about the True Value space, and shortly thereafter moved in, subleasing parts of the “campus” they aren’t using yet.

At present Auxadyne’s entire operation takes up about a tenth of the total floor space in the main building. Joe Condon said by the end of this year, he hopes to have the building fully occupied and humming.

Betsy turned the sheltered lumberyard over to the Keystone Heights High School’s FFA program—for the moment. Somewhere down the road Auxadyne Inc.—a name Betsy came up with—may have to use the lumber facility for shipping.

Joe said last week Auxadyne is still in Phase 1, the point where they are out of the lab and into the first stages of product testing and development. They are also learning to mass produce the product to a company’s scale in size and quantity.

In off hours, Clay school employee Janice Goetzman took a small pad of Xylafoam and sewed a heel protector for bedbound patients—useful for fighting bedsores. Still in development, the cuffs look like the toe end of a foam slipper.

In this case, the auxetic foam does what it’s designed to do: it becomes stronger and more protective at the pressure point, but is lighter in weight and slip-proof, in case the wearer gets up to move around.

Auxadyne will probably not, however, be making heel cuffs or prosthetic limb cushions or packing materials or even protective sports shoes and protective sports gear. Other companies will do that.

What Auxadyne will be making is big loaves of auxetic foam—they’re called buns, Joe said–and each one may need to be twice the size of your refrigerator. Or since Auxadyne may have a variety of customers, other customers may need thousands of smaller tablet-sized pads.

Condon said he is already billing customers for small purchases used for materials testing. A growing number of manufacturers are trying to see what they can and can’t do with Xylafoam.

The beauty of Condon’s Xylafoam is, if the testing of one potential product fails, there will be others where it works splendidly. After all, there are many uses for foam: furniture, bedding, shipping, transportation, medical products, space programs, the military.

Auxadyne’s future depends on the size and quantity of pads the Condons can turn out. Joe said he already has 12 part-time employees and has used at least three local contractors for short-term projects.

He hopes to have a minimum of two products using Auxadyne’s foam on an on-going basis by the end of this year.

So stay tuned, Lake Region. A new manufacturing operation appears to be here now, and at this point, Auxadyne’s 2017 appears to be bright.

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