Robotics company explores future
Berkeley Springs Instruments, a new robotics company in Paw Paw, plans to manufacture fuel storage tank inspection robots and tank cleaning robots locally. The company is also exploring future products that feature sensor technology to monitor oil pipelines and possibly mines.
The technology currently being researched could monitor information from sensor equipment anywhere in the world 24/7 from Paw Paw. Plans are in the early stages of research, development and marketing.
Opened August 1
Berkeley Springs Instruments began its first day of operation at Office Equipment Services in Paw Paw on August 1, said Office Equipment Services manager Kelly Adams. Office Equipment Services has been leasing space to Berkeley Springs Instruments president and owner Gene Silverman.
Adams has been contracting four employees to assist Silverman with research and development. Their company has personnel with strong backgrounds in electromechanics, Adams noted.
Silverman presently uses his robots to inspect huge oil tanks for companies like Chevron and BP, Adams said. He and Silverman have an agreement for the company to work toward the development and manufacturing of the robots that Silverman makes.
Office Equipment Services had space available due to losing some of their company's copier remanufacturing business to Mexico, Adams said. They were able to provide Silverman a facility and the instant infrastructure that he needed, he said.
Silverman is also an expert in sensors, Adams said. Sensors could be used to monitor pipelines for breaks and corrosion, he said. They could also detect gases and lack of oxygen in the mines.
We have a lot of confidence that we can put together a system to lessen the dangers to miners, Adams said.
Silverman said he has been involved in the robotics industry since 1981. He formed a company that originally built machines for use in confined spaces, small rooms and contaminated spaces for nuclear power plants and the power industry.
In the mid 1980s, Silverman's company moved into the commercial sector. He adapted his technology for use in the oil industry in 1991 through today. His robots monitor and clean fuel storage tanks for gasoline, oil, diesel fuel and jet oil.
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Silverman has worked with the Electric Power Research Institute, the Department of Defense and other government agencies.
Silverman expects the new sensor technology for monitoring oil pipelines to be ready by March, 2008 when a field test on an oil pipeline is planned. Field trials will continue through 2008. He hopes to get his product funded by a pipeline or oil company.
Silverman said he would have a better idea of the timeline of his company's plans by the end of the first quarter of 2008. He hoped to get into some manufacturing by 2009. The technology could also be adapted for use in other industries, he said.
Silverman felt there was good solid technical talent in the area. It was a good location, with a high quality of life and a slower pace than Baltimore and Washington, D.C., he noted.
Adams and LeFever have been so accommodating and open to new ideas and business, Silverman said. He views their collaboration as a great opportunity.
Presentation to officials
Silverman briefly described his company and shared his personal background and experiences in the robotic industry at a December 11 presentation for more than 20 local officials and state representatives. Silverman also gave a PowerPoint presentation about the technology and a demonstration of the robots' abilities.
Those present included Morgan County Commissioners Glen Stotler, Tommy Swaim and Brenda Hutchinson, Morgan County Administrator Bill Clark, members of the Morgan County Economic Development Authority and the Paw Paw Municipal Development Authority and Town of Bath Mayor Susan Webster.
Representatives from the offices of Governor Joe Manchin, Senator Robert Byrd, Senator Jay Rockefeller and Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito were also in attendance as were officials from Work Force West Virginia, the Small Business Development Council and Natural Capital, a business loan company, along with others.
The presentation was organized to show the capabilities of the company and to find where they could get some help for technology grants, private funding or loans for future expansion or products, Adams said.
The possibility of Silverman's technology helping the mining industry was received with a lot of excitement, Adams said.
Potential for future jobs
Silverman hopes to create jobs by entering into contracts with more oil companies. If everything comes together, the business could create around 100 jobs for the area and even outside the area, Adams said.
Other applications for Silverman's patented technology include bridge safety and storage of chemicals, said County Administrator Bill Clark, who was excited about the technology's possibilities.
Commissioner Hutchinson said Silverman seemed very knowledgeable and the technology was very interesting. The robots look for storage tank areas that might leak and one robot cleans sludge, she said. There are also applications for sensing tremors and potential cave-ins inside a mining shaft, Hutchinson said.
It sounds like it has a lot of promise, she said.
Commissioner Swaim was really impressed with Silverman's presentation and thought the technology had tremendous potential. It could be good for Paw Paw and also for our county as an economic boost, he said.
The tank robots check the condition of the tanks while inside, without the tanks needing to be drained. They can be used in dangerous places where you don't want people to go, Swaim said.
Swaim thought that Kelly Adams and Office Equipment Services owner Douglas LeFever had a good eye for business and had high confidence in the future of their collaboration with Silverman.
Commissioner Stotler also thought the robotics had great potential and could provide a substantial number of jobs.
It's a real positive thing for Paw Paw and for Morgan County, Stotler said.
Paw Paw officials are really excited about the great opportunities for Paw Paw, said Town Recorder Julie Kidwell.
The jobs offered will be quality, high-tech jobs, she said. They'd like local college graduates to have the opportunity to work there, Kidwell said.