Plasma Etch on track for another record year

Brian Duggan/Nevada AppealJan Remigio, the general manager of Plasma Etch, and company president Greg Delarge.

Brian Duggan/Nevada AppealJan Remigio, the general manager of Plasma Etch, and company president Greg Delarge.

It's a story not many Carson City manufacturers are telling these days, one of expansion and skyrocketing business.

But for Greg Delarge, president of Plasma Etch, that seems to be the case. His company is on track for another record year in 2011, selling a vacuum-based cleaning machine that uses ionized gas - also known as plasma - that can clean the surface of things such as plastic car bumpers, semiconductors and golf balls.

"We were on the same trail as everyone else when it slowed way down and didn't have any business," he said. "The secret to it is lower your prices."

Delarge said the surge in business came after he developed a more efficient version of his company's product a year ago, which reduced its price.

In six week, the company plans to start construction on a 10,400-square-foot production facility adjacent to its current 15,000-square-foot location at 3522 Arrowhead Drive in east Carson City. The new building, which will be built by Howe Construction Inc., will include a powder coating shop.

And after a record year in 2010 with $6 million in sales, Delarge said the company is expecting to do $10 million in business this year. Meanwhile, the company is looking for six new employees, including engineers, welders and programers.

"We've doubled in size in the last year and we're already double last year at this time," he said. "We're running a couple shifts here and we don't have enough room and we don't have enough employees."

It's the sort of problem many companies in the region wouldn't mind having these days.

"We're selling to universities, we're selling to aerospace, we're selling everywhere," Delarge said. "During the recession, still, people have less money. So I came up with a cheaper machine that lowered our prices and we skyrocketed."

Plasma Etch was founded by Delarge's father, an electronics engineer, in 1980 in La Habra, Calif.

"He was brilliant with electronics, but was scared to death of anything mechanical," Delarge said. "So I came in 1982, and I wanted to build the machines and I wasn't scared to tackle that. So we started building, basically trial and error."

After trying to expand the business in California, the company moved to Carson City 15 years ago. Delarge said the red tape in the Golden State was too much to bear.

Delarge said the technology that drives his business has been around since the 1970s, "we just fine tuned it with some unique features that set us apart from everyone else."

The machines look like a futuristic vault. Inside its main chamber, a vacuum is created and a gas such as oxygen is pumped in, hit with radio frequencies that turn the gas into plasma. That plasma swarms around whatever object is inside the chamber and cleans it.

"What it's really doing is super cleaning, removing any organic contamination," Delarge said.

The machines are as small as a microwave, which cost about $11,000, to a sedan, which cost about $250,000. Delarge said he's sold 60 of the smallest models over the past year and is expecting 200 orders of the largest model over the next six years.

Delarge said the plasma vacuum cleaning business is a $100 million industry, which includes about a dozen companies - half of them in the United States. Plasma Etch is one of two companies in the country that make the large machines.

About half of the company's sales come from overseas, many in China, Delarge said.

"I think there's a little bit of a rebound going on out there," he said. "People, especially after the elections, are more willing to spend money now."


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