2014 was a year that, while demanding, was also challenging and exciting. We adjusted to meet the impact of reduced government spending, the slowing of the global economy, and the overall fiscal uncertainty felt by our customers that eventually reflected in our revenues. Fortunately, we were able to recoup this setback and by the third quarter we welcomed solid growth. This was a year of innovation, adaptation, discovery, and investment. Our core business continues to be materials characterization, but the types and varieties of materials, the technology we used and the methodology we applied changed substantially to meet new business opportunities. We integrated our diverse expertise with our scientific inquiry and found new uses for instrumentation, methodologies that addressed environmental concerns, brought new products to market and explored the global marketplace. Our strength continues to be our people—it is their ideas and dedication that keep us moving forward.
Will 2015 be better? I’m excited to say “Yes, it will!” as we’re on track for expansion and growth in 2015. We have expanded into areas that are seeing a surge in the need for analytical services such as Oil & Gas and Construction and Maintenance of bridges and concrete roadways. Our Materials group is investigating the world of engineered nanomaterials, our IH scientists are devising means of monitoring their effects on the environment, and our testifying experts are adding support to court cases requiring scientific certainty. 2015 will have more scientific boundaries challenged, more alternate solutions discovered, and more validation required. So, yes, I am excited that in 2015, RJ Lee Group will meet that challenge and be part of it.
Looking Back to Move Forward – Supporting Innovation
We are always innovating tried and true instrumentation for more diverse applications. In 2014 we adapted high resolution tools, long thought to be exclusive to research, to solve practical problems.
- Our participation in the Berea Sandstone Research Consortium led us to develop novel approaches in shale characterization using a combination of High Resolution Scanning Electron Microscopy (HRSEM) and Raman analysis to identify the structure and thermal history of kerogens—an organic substance that indicates the possibility of shale oil deposits. This technique has significant application in the search for new deposits of oil and gas.
- For the first time in history, a method for asbestos characterization (Method LAB.055.1) that uses Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and was developed by RJ Lee Group, has been accredited by the state of New York as an accepted method for asbestos identification in vermiculite in spray-on fireproofing (SOF-V).
- We developed and implemented the first fully automated algorithm for using the SEM to characterize amphibole asbestos fibers—a breakthrough technology previously thought not possible. We consider this to be a disruptive technology that will have significant application in identifying and quantifying naturally occurring asbestos as well as a wide variety of other fibrous materials.
- By adapting technology we developed more than 25 years ago and using it on the modern Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope, we were able to perform automated particle analysis in the nanoparticle field.
- Our scientists and software engineers have been the recipients of multiple U.S. Air Force contract awards for software support tools and SBIR grants funding scientific exploration and investigation—from changing the way scientific/test data is managed on a USAF base, to investigating the adverse impact of sand and volcanic ash on turbine engines.
Beyond Instrumentation – Sharing our Expertise
In 2014, we brought our skills in analytical methodology, information and data management, and quality systems to bear in addressing industrial and environmental issues including:
- Developing test methods for amputee implants involving wounded warriors at the University of Utah.
- Testifying before OSHA on the feasibility of implementing the proposed new silica standards using current analytical methods.
- Adapting ambient air quality methods to evaluate the potential for low levels of respirable crystalline silica being emitted (fugitive emissions) during frac sand mining and materials handling.
- Digitally streamlining the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s process for the Material Review Board through a $2.35M contract for Digital Thread Infrastructure.
- Collaborating with partners on “take-home-exposure-to-asbestos” studies and evaluation of e-Cigarette emissions using the PTR-MS.
- Training 50+ members of a federal regulatory agency on Foreign Particulate Investigations in Pharmaceutical products.
- Identifying a protocol for determining the ignition temperature of coal in mines.
- Publishing in peer-reviewed journals, presenting at conferences and symposia, and conducting professional training and webinars.
- Continuing our focus on quality, our Quality group has successfully completed eight internal audits this year including three GMP client audits and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors-Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB) audit all of which better position us for growth.
- Expanding our efforts as expert witnesses for gunshot residue and trace evidence, and in cases concerning toxic tort, product liability, and patent infringement.
- Serving on professional society committees, including ASTM, AIHA, ACI, etc. as well as on regulatory subcommittees.
Expanding our Horizons in Business Development
While our focus continues to be on microscopy, we have also been successful in moving forward into complementary areas with new products, consulting, training, laboratory management and software development.
- The thermophoretic sampler (TPS), developed by RJ Lee Group and Colorado State University, was selected for a mission in the International Space Station to investigate the impact of nanoparticles on air quality.
- PTR-MS (Proton Transfer Reaction – Mass Spectrometer) units from Ionicon were sold (through our distributorship) in both the U.S. and in the Middle East and are being used to detect VOCs and radioactive substances in near real time.
- Our new Themis 2.5 LIMS has seen its first sale with installations underway at a crime lab in California as well as two labs in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
- We’ve developed our lab auditing capabilities and have a multiyear contract with the State of Washington.
- Internationally, we are working with partners in Iraq, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia on the implementation of laboratory forensics geosciences and mortuary sciences.
Our staff work hard to provide our clients with the service and results they need on time, sometimes requiring long hours in the lab. Even so, they are still willing to devote a portion of their free time to helping those less fortunate.
- A highlight for us was recognition from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: ‘Whereas the Senate of Pennsylvania takes great pride in recognizing those businesses which, through adherence to the highest standards of service, contribute in a meaningful way toward a better and more productive society. . . the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania congratulates RJ Lee Group upon its richly deserved recognition . . .
RJ Lee Group’s partnership with West Greene High School began through a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission in 1998 and continues today to provide financial and technical support for a microscopy center at the school.
- RJ Lee Group’s internal non-profit organization “Group Troop” raises funds and creates awareness for social programs including adopting a different cause each year. The cause in 2013 was the Wounded Warrior project ($2,763) and 2014’s recipient was The Children’s Institute, which will receive a donation of more than $3,000.00.
- The annual Make-A-Wish Foundation Christmas basket raffle proceeds delivered $1,500 to that organization for a total of more than $17,000 since 2007.
- Additional causes and activities included the Polar Plunge for Autism Awareness and the Thanksgiving Food Drive for a local food bank.
- For the past three years, our Pittsburgh laboratory has partnered with Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy to mentor students with their Senior Executive Experience by giving them an authentic work experience while developing research and collaboration skills.
Driving Growth: Investment at Home and Expanding Global Initiatives
If there is a single driver of our business that has emerged in the last few years, it is the recognition that, as new domestic and international markets emerge, the demand for RJ Lee Group to continue expanding our services at home while generating new business abroad will increase. A new venture that we are particularly excited about is a partnership recently formed with an American-Chinese firm to explore taking our products and services into growing Asian markets. And though some of the analytical work generated internationally will be done in our U.S. laboratories, the lion’s share of our role will be in delivering our technology and experience in lab management, training, advising and quality monitoring. This is both exciting and daunting, and while some changes will be needed to meet these challenges, I am excited to see what we can accomplish together in these new areas.