Small world

Microscopic innovations lead to mammoth developments for Appleton’s Encapsys

Posted on Apr 29, 2019 :: Cover Story
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Though it creates a product so infinitesimal it’s invisible to the naked eye, microencapsulation is a big concept to understand.

If contemplating working with microencapsulation technology gives people a “but … how?” reaction, Encapsys President Mary Goggans gets it and has a layman’s explanation.

“Basically, you’re packaging a core in something like a bubble with a thin, hard shell,” she says. “We actually make the bubble, the package, so our customers bring the core to us and we microencapsulate it.”

Appleton-based Encapsys provides microencapsulation solutions for industries ranging from consumer products to paints and coatings, and its phase-change materials can help consumers stay more comfortable, providing cooling properties in bedding materials and pillows.

While microencapsulation in 2019 encompasses an ever-growing list of applications, its roots lie in a more prosaic product: paper. Appleton Papers began using the tool with carbonless paper in 1953. The core, in that case, is ink that breaks when a pen writes on it, creating the image on a four-part form.

Today, carbonless paper represents a dying use for microencapsulation, Goggans says, but Appleton Papers, and later Appvion, continued to uncover applications for it. Encapsys operated as a division of Appvion through 2015, when it was spun off to Baltimore-based private investment firm Cypress Capital Group, forming an independent company.

Following a nearly 25-year career with Kimberly-Clark Corp., Goggans joined the Encapsys division of Appvion in 2012 first as general manager and later as vice president before being named president after the company’s spinoff.

Since that time, the company — as well as the number of uses for microencapsulation — has only grown. 

“I’m trying to take what was a division of scientists and turn

us into a well-run company seeking more growth and new business opportunities,” Goggans says. “I have great people here, and I have a great board who has supported us along this journey. We are very different than we were three years ago.”

Picking up the scent

For years, Encapsys’ scope of work focused mainly on making carbonless paper capsules. That changed in 2004, when the company began developing perfume microcapsules. By 2007, the product was ready for commercial production.

Since then, fragrance microencapsulation has become big business for Encapsys, where it works with customers     both large and small. The company has won multiple awards for the fragrance solutions it’s provided for the laundry   products industry.

Fifteen years ago, manufacturers simply added fragrance to detergents. Much of that scent, however, got lost in the washer and the heat of the dryer, leading to a lackluster consumer experience. Fragrance microencapsulation transformed that experience. Encapsulating sets fragrance into clothes, where microcapsules break on contact and give the consumer a long-lasting fresh scent. 

“The technology has gotten better and better, so now there’s even fragrance capsules in those little pods you buy for laundry,” Goggans says. “It’s enabled a lot more product uses, but also helped reduce the amount of fragrance needed in the products.”

Today, laundry products from dryer sheets to laundry beads use fragrance microencapsulation, and it has allowed companies to cut the amount of fragrance they use in half. This proves beneficial since fragrance is an expensive material, says JC DeBraal, executive director of new business for Encapsys.

While the innovation has created a large impact — laundry products have become Encapsys’ biggest market — the work happens on a microscopic scale. The company’s microcapsules measure between 15 and 30 microns. Anything smaller than 100 is invisible to the naked eye.

In addition to its fragrance work, Encapsys, which holds more than 90 patents, works with biocides used in paints and coatings. These slow-release capsules help prevent mold — think of the paints used in bathrooms.

Phase-change materials, or PCMs, have become another strong area of focus for the company. The bedding industry uses microencapsulated PCMs to deliver cooling benefits that can help lead to a more comfortable night’s sleep.   

Encapsys’ EnFinit product offers a heat-absorbing PCM that, when incorporated into a mattress, provides cooling and relief from excessive body- or environment-generated warmth. In addition, EnFinit uses a bio-based PCM that’s free of formaldehyde, making it more environmentally friendly.

To understand how PCMs work, think of a blue gel pack that’s used for a twisted ankle, Goggans says. When it freezes, that’s an example of phase change. In its work with the bedding industry, Encapsys creates phase change capsules that never break.

Mattresses that contain PCMs include capsules that absorb excess body heat. The capsules regenerate in the morning, and by the next night they’re ready to go again, DeBraal says.

“People are constantly finding new ways to use the technology because it provides multiple benefits,” DeBraal says. “You’re getting a new consumer benefit like we did with the fragrance or the phase-change material, but then you’re also getting an efficiency gain out of using microencapsulation.”

Mike Friese, an executive director with Encapsys, credits the company’s scientist teams with bringing its innovations to market. They understand the gravity and magnitude of what they’re trying to accomplish, he says.

That dedication and focus helps when timelines for projects can last from two to seven years. For example, it took three years of development to get perfume microcapsules ready for market.

“When you’ve spent five to seven years doing something and you see it really blossom, that’s pretty exciting,” Friese says.

Once products are developed and ready to be scaled up, they go to Encapsys’ plant in Portage. The 58,000-square-foot facility there is undergoing a multimillion-dollar, 20,000-square-foot expansion that’s slated for completion this summer and will add space for storage and production.

Goggans says the company’s encapsulation innovation and Portage manufacturing capabilities combine to draw customers.

“We’re known as an innovation partner that has best-in-class scale-up capabilities. I never have a problem finding people who want to talk,” she says.

Free to be

When it comes to developing new products, it helps to have a talented staff. Encapsys employs top scientists. Some are world-renowned, including one who helped develop the gelatin capsules used for fish oil. Others have worked with inventors dating back to the company’s time as an Appleton Papers division.

To draw the best from those bright minds, Goggans says Encapsys embraces a collaborative culture and gives scientists the freedom to generate new ideas.

“The most powerful ideas come from the collection and collaboration of individual ideas. That’s probably the biggest thing that’s driven a lot of our innovation is that collaboration among our scientists and giving them time to just think,” she says.

Encapsys not only offers time to innovate, it also provides the ideal space. After the company was spun off from Appvion in 2015, it began looking for a place of its own. Not wanting to lose people, company leaders drew a 15-mile radius and tried to stay within it.

New North Inc. and the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce helped identify vacancies, and eventually the choice came down to an existing building and an open area in an industrial park. Constructing a new headquarters emerged as the best value, and the company selected a site in Appleton’s Southpoint Commerce Park.

To ensure the building would include the features staff wanted, Goggans created employee committees that made decisions around customer experience as well as office, lab and pilot plant space. These groups took the lead on all decision making.

With the new facility, Encapsys aimed to create a strong corporate identity while improving on the ongoing safety of its operations. Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects designed the 42,900-square-foot building. Inspired by the shape of microcapsules, the architecture team incorporated curves into the building, which went on to win EUA a 2017 Top Project award from The Daily Reporter.

Collaborative workspaces encompass more than 10 percent of the floor plan at the headquarters. These include the hub, a cafeteria and gathering space, and laboratory, which features an open concept and ergonomic flooring to meet the needs of scientists who spend much time on their feet.

The lab also features ample natural light and views to the outdoors. The space includes best-in-class hoods and flexible spaces to accommodate teams that include scientists, process engineers and technicians. In addition, everyone has a work screen in the lab that’s connected to a computer at their desk to avoid cross-contamination.

“It’s an innovation center, so we wanted it to look more innovative and less boxy, but we didn’t want over the top,” Goggans says. “Our architects did a really nice job giving us a nice design that feels like home to us.”

It’s not just the building that makes people feel at home at Encapsys. On any given day, a visitor might walk in and find employees engaging in a group stretching session or even a yoga class. Goggans encourages her employees to pursue their passions through employee groups, including ones focused on wellness and community giving. The gardening committee even created an onsite community garden.

Mike Weller, CEO at Mike Weller & Associates, serves as an executive coach for Goggans and Encapsys. He says Goggans makes decisions that benefit the customer, company, employees and community.

“You have a leader that has provided the environment where it’s a great place to work,” he says. “The new building they have certainly helps, but it is really the culture, the can-do, the people that are very passionate about what they do, how they do it, the support they get.”

Encapsys employs a diverse staff, including many female scientists. Kathi Seifert, president and owner of Katapult, LLC and a former executive for Kimberly-Clark Corp., has known Goggans for more than 20 years and praises her mentoring of young people, particularly women and people from diverse backgrounds.

Seifert describes Goggans as exceptionally well-rounded, delivering both scientific and marketing expertise. “Because she’s a chemical engineer by background, she understands the science of encapsulation, so she can talk to people at all different levels of her organization as well as customers. Not everyone would be able to do that.”

Unlimited potential

Encapsys is poised for growth. While the company’s expansion in Portage is underway, Goggans says it eventually will need to add more manufacturing in another location, possibly overseas, as it serves customers around the globe.

In addition, new applications for microencapsulation emerge all the time. For Encapsys, the challenge isn’t finding new opportunities but rather identifying which ones make sense to pursue. With years needed for development, the company must think strategically when choosing projects.

Food and pharmaceuticals represent one of the fastest-growing uses for microencapsulation. The food industry has long used the process. Just-add-water pancake mixes, for example, include encapsulated eggs and oils. Microencapsulation also can be used in products such as fish oil capsules to help mask the fishy flavor.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that microparticles hold promise for pharmaceuticals in that they can protect active agents in drugs, control the release rate, offer easy administration and even provide preprogrammed drug release profiles that can match therapeutic needs for patients.

Pursuing the food or pharmaceutical industries would introduce whole new levels of regulation and manufacturing needs, Goggans says. The company is keeping an eye on the industries, however, as it charts its path forward.

“We are pursuing pretty aggressive organic growth. The technology’s exciting in that it can touch so many markets,” Goggans says. “You’re making bets on something that could happen, so it’s how many irons you keep in the fire to get one good idea to come out. We’re going to keep growing.”

 

A new take on talent

Anyone who attended the New North Summit at the Fox Cities Exhibition Center last December likely will remember a young man who stole the show.

Yes, the day included a celebration of the Green Bay Packers’ 100th birthday complete with cake, but even with that excitement, one presentation managed to leave everyone abuzz. Following her ED Talk at the event, Encapsys President Mary Goggans introduced Kai McKinney, an Ohio State University sophomore who completed an internship at the company.

McKinney, the son of Jei McKinney, who works in sales for Encapsys, interned for two summers at the company. His work included increasing social media engagement and creating content that helped simplify the complexity of what Encapsys does as well as increase overall awareness of the company.

With few accredited microencapsulation programs in the world, Encapsys set a campaign to home grow its talent.

Encapsys employs world-class chemists and chemical engineers. McKinney was part of an internship program that was built on the idea that brilliant employees often produce brilliant children. The company hires employees’ college-bound children as summer help, offering them meaningful internships.

The program allows interns to work alongside chemists, engineers, finance, IT and other professionals. It offers a mutually beneficial experience. Interns share their energy and new ideas, and the company increases awareness about the availability of exciting high-tech jobs in the region, making it more likely they may return to the region when they seek full-time employment.

“It was really insightful for me. They’re brilliant, they’re fearless and they’ll try anything. Their passion is incredible,” Goggans says of Encapsys’ interns. “My objective turned toward, let’s try to keep them here and find more opportunities.”

For McKinney, it seems like it just might have worked.

“I’m what some might call ‘statriotic’ — and it’s become one of my core identifiers,” McKinney said during his presentation. “My friends tease me for how often I reference Wisconsin, like the fact that we have more lakes than Minnesota and that our cows are happier than California’s.”

 

Encapsys

Headquarters: Appleton

What it does: Provides microencapsulation solutions to several industries

Applications: Fragrances for laundry products, phase-change materials used in bedding, time-release biocides for use in paints and coatings to provide mold and mildew resistance

Number of employees: Approximately 100 across its Appleton and Portage locations

Year founded: 1953, as part of Appleton Papers

encapsys.com