For Ligonier firm, motors not on the mend for long


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Electric motors are used everywhere: in cars, in planes, in sewage pumping stations. But when the motors break down, they can take weeks to repair -- a time frame that is problematic when the motors are handling essential tasks like pumping a town's water or keeping a person on life support.

Kress Motors LLC, a Ligonier company that was founded in 2009 by local attorney Lynda Dupre, thinks it has a solution.

The company's Axial Flux Motor is free of the complex electrical windings and magnets that make up traditional electric motors. As a result, the design is easier to repair: Rather than hauling a large, heavy broken motor out of a water pumping station and waiting weeks for it to be repaired, a mechanic could repair a similarly damaged Kress motor on-site in a matter of hours, said Brian Ott, the company's chief technical officer.

And the motor could continue to run even while a mechanic repairs its parts, Mr. Ott said.

Kress has already patented some aspects of its design -- which was created by childhood friends Timm Vanderelli of Ligonier and Rodney Carter of Tennessee -- and the company is building prototypes. The latest prototype, which is 0.25 horsepower, resembles a disc about a foot in diameter encircled by a dozen reams of copper coil.

To convince customers to take a chance on its creation, the company needs to build more prototypes.

Mr. Ott said Kress is currently scaling up its latest model to a 10-horsepower engine. If the motor remains functional and efficient even in the more powerful version, he said the company will begin courting customers more vigorously.

Or to put it in marketing terms, "We're looking for a champion customer that is interested in the high efficiency, easily repairable, low life-cycle cost that the Kress motor would represent," Ms. Dupre said.

Competition in the multibillion-dollar electric motor market will be fierce. In the United States alone, roughly 30 million motors are sold for industrial purposes each year.

Kress hasn't brought any products to market yet, though Mr. Ott and Ms. Dupre estimate the company will do so by 2014. Mr. Vanderelli believes the new model is flexible enough to be used in a variety of industries. The company will decide which market to enter based on customer interest once it leaves the prototype phase.

So far, Ms. Dupre said the company has spent just under $1 million and has been funded largely by private investment.

Mr. Vanderelli, who used to work as a computer technician for Ms. Dupre's Ligonier law firm, has long had a fascination with technology and inventing.

He and his childhood friend Mr. Carter grew up taking apart household appliances and figuring out how they worked. Though the Kress motor is Mr. Carter's first patent, Mr. Vanderelli already holds several others and created his first invention at the age of 15: a transistor tester.

Mr. Vanderelli decided to devote himself full time to the motor project he and Mr. Carter started several years ago. Ms. Dupre said she chose to invest in their creation because she had faith in Mr. Vanderelli's "inventor's genius."

The company, which is based out of her Ligonier office, currently employs Mr. Carter, Mr. Vanderelli and Mr. Ott, but Ms. Dupre said she intends to hire two to four more people in the next six months as the company progresses further into product development.

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Daniel Sisgoreo: dsisgoreo@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1410 or on Twitter @DanielSisgoreo.


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