Master Power Inc., a Westminster company that makes pneumatic tools, wanted a Japanese supplier of a compressed air vacuum cleaner to make improvements in its product because of customer complaints.
But when the suppler said no, said Master Power's president, Albert G. Wordsworth, the company decided to develop its own pneumatic vacuum cleaner, with help from a state program. The new device has been on the market for a year and is outselling the old vacuum cleaner by 4 1/2 to 1, Mr. Wordsworth said.
That vacuum cleaner was recognized yesterday as one of the outstanding developments to come out of the Maryland Industrial Partnerships program at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Master Power was one of three companies to receive the MIPS program's first awards of excellence. The others were Litetrends Co. Inc., an Eldersburg company that makes tofu meat substitutes, and Loral Aerosys, the Seabrook-based aerospace division of Loral Corp. of New York.
Master Power received the award in the small business category, Litetrends in the start-up division and Loral Aerosys as a large company
Founded five years ago, the MIPS program has been used by 126 companies, and more than 80 new or improved products and processes have been developed, according to Judith Mays, corporate relations manager for MIPS. The program has spent $7.6 million on 165 projects, supplemented by $27.9 million from the companies themselves.
The purpose of the program and the awards is to encourage more companies to take advantage of state resource facilities and funds. "Working together is what we are trying to emphasize," said MIPS' director, Louis Robinson Jr.
MIPS is a program of the Engineering Research Center at College Park but also includes research facilities at other University of Maryland campuses, Mr. Robinson said.
With a MIPS grant, which included the assistance of the University of Maryland's engineering department, Master Power was able to improve on a type of non-electric vacuum cleaner used in factories where electric vacuum cleaners might be dangerous because of the presence of water or explosive dust.
The new device can pick up finer material, is quieter and has a better filter system than the Japanese version, Mr. Wordsworth said. He said the MIPS assistance was crucial to the development of the cleaner. "They had resources we didn't have," he said.
Master Power, which produces a variety of pneumatic tools, was started in 1986 as spinoff from the professional products division of Black & Decker Corp. The company has about 100 workers and about $10 million in annual sales, Mr. Wordsworth said.
Litetrends received the award for the development of a process that reduced the marination process for tofu meat substitutes from eight hours to 30 minutes. This was done as part of a $40,000 MIPS project, to which Litetrends contributed about $5,000, along with participation by its principals.
"It was very important because without it, we wouldn't have had the competitive edge," said Andrew J. Wilks, president of the new company.
Litetrends, which was also part of the University of Maryland's business incubator program, started operating in January and now has 30 accounts with college and hospital food service operations, Mr. Wilks said.
The company has 10 workers.
Loral Aerosys received the award for developing electronic chips that can be used in ground station operations that collect information from satellites.
The chips compress information for faster transmission and more cost-effective storage, according to Ted T. Chiang, manager of internal research and development for Loral Aerosys.
The development project cost about $400,000, with the company contributing about 60 percent of the funding and MIPS putting up 40 percent, Mr. Chiang said.