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J.D. Brown Center incubator business adds patent, new product to line of grease analysis services

MRG Laboratories Stem Thief™
With a name and a patent behind it, the Stem Thief™ joins a line of services that MRG Laboratories offers.

Take one step inside MRG Laboratories in the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship and it’s easy to see how collaboration sparks innovation. Clinking pipettes and whirring machines are the music to a moving choreography of technicians, lab assistants, students, and, most importantly, those who pursue the entrepreneurial dream.

This York College incubator has been home to numerous startups over the years who, after finding their own paths to success, “hatch” and make their way into the business world.

MRG Laboratories, which moved into the J.D. Brown Center in 2011, has paved its own way with its line of world-class grease sampling and analysis solutions. Its latest invention — and third patent — comes in the form of a lubrication system that is changing machine maintenance.

Solving a costly problem

It was during a conference lunch that Rich Wurzbach, president of MRG Laboratories, heard of a challenge faced by a nearby nuclear power plant. Employees from Exelon’s Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station were looking for better ways to lubricate the stems of their motor operated valves.

In most cases, the threaded stem is backed out of the motor operated valve and brushed with grease. The stem is then placed back into the motor operated valve to spread the grease throughout the stem and nut.

“Some valves could only be greased when the plant was shut down,” Wurzbach said.

This presented several challenges, especially since the plants normally only shut down every two years, and a long list of maintenance items need to be taken care of during that time. An estimated Over a million dollars can be lost for each day the plant is shut down, and there can be hundreds of valves in a single plant.

“Anything that can be taken off of that list during a shutdown is a plus,” he said.

A new invention met with skepticism

Wurzbach left that conference and returned to the MRG Laboratories home base in the J.D. Brown Center to get to work.

After examining the practice and construction of most motor operated valve systems, the MRG Laboratories team invented a tool that connects and seals with the motor operated valve to directly inject grease between the stem and nut, without ever having to pull the stem out or remove the valves from service.

But when he first presented the new invention to engineers in the nuclear power industry, Wurzbach faced skepticism. The brass nut made it impossible to see if the grease was completely coating the stem or if the grease was bypassing some parts of the threads without providing the necessary amount of lubrication.

In his hand was the tool, but would the skepticism leave Wurzbach with an essentially useless invention?

“It seemed like that was it,” he said. “If we couldn’t find a way to prove it worked, it was going to flop.”

Collaborations in the lab

Back in the J.D. Brown Center, Wurzbach stepped into the office of 3Delivered, an incubator business that provided product design and 3D printing.

“I essentially asked for something that didn’t exist,” Wurzbach said. “I wanted them to create a clear nut that I could use for demonstration purposes, so someone could see how the grease traveled between the nut and the stem.”

With the help of students from York College’s Department of Engineering, 3Delivered went to work on designing the transparent nut.

Without a template, the students were challenged to print a thread inside the nut that matched the dimensions of the real nut, and didn’t compromise the optical clarity of the piece.

Thanks to the proximity of the two businesses, the students were able to design small slices of the nut, take it to the MRG Lab staff to see if the fit was right, and head back to the printer to tweak the design.

In just a few months, the students presented the final piece.

“They gave me the ability to remove the skepticism that existed,” Wurzbach said. “Now, we could prove that what we created worked.”

Stem Thief™ joins line of MRG Laboratories products

With a name and a patent behind it, the Stem Thief™ joins a line of services that MRG Laboratories offers, including a lab for oil, grease and hydraulic fluid analysis and education services for reliability programs. Stem Thief™ also is the sister to Grease Thief®, which provides analysis of grease samplings as small as one gram.

Made possible by a community of collaborators

MRG Laboratories working with 3Delivered isn’t the first or only example of the collaborations Wurzbach has taken part of thanks to the J.D. Brown Center, York College and the surrounding community.

Since moving into the J.D. Brown Center, MRG Laboratories has worked with:

  • Partners and Harrison, a former incubator business that provided a marketing campaign for grease analysis of industrial robots.
  • Moena, a student-led incubator business and J.D. Brown Center Elevator Pitch winner, which provided IT solutions, as well as website and app development;
  • and SiGNa Chemistry Inc., which uses the J.D. Brown Center wet lab to develop technology for recovering more oil and gas from underground.

Because of York College’s location in the midstate, Wurzbach said, MRG Laboratories has made connections and works with ES3, Glatfelter, Harley Davidson, IWM International and Exelon’s Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island power plants.

Students from York College’s Chemistry department also have the opportunity to get hands-on experience through MRG Laboratories internships, a program that has led to four full-time employees at the company.

“Rich really radiates what we set out to do when we cut the ribbon on this place,” said Jeff Vermeulen, executive director of the J.D. Brown Center. “His story is one we’re excited to share, and I’m looking forward to see what MRG Laboratories comes up with next.”

For Wurzbach, the gears are always turning to see how MRG Laboratories can use and contribute to the partnerships around them.

“This relationship not only works for us, but I don’t know if we’d have the business we do today without it,” Wurzbach said. “The tools, people and connections are here so we can continue to be innovative.”

A private college located in southcentral Pennsylvania, York College offers more than 50 baccalaureate majors in professional programs, the sciences and humanities to its 4,400 undergraduate students. The College also offers master's programs in business, education and nursing, and a doctorate in nursing practice. York College students enjoy a high-quality education that emphasizes practical application and a community invested in their success. The College provides a personal plan to help students focus their passions and attain their goals so they are prepared for a lifetime of meaningful careers – ready to meet the challenges of their profession and feeling confident and proud of their achievements.