Quality, safety top test lab

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From left; Atrona President Atif Odeh and Senior Metallurgical Engineer and Fastener Metallurgical Engineer R. Bruce Meade perform scanning electron microscopy, an essential tool in failure analysis. Atrona performs product testing and has grown its business 25 percent in 2011.

LOVES PARK - At ATRONA Test Labs Inc., 5271 Zenith Parkway, staff doesn't manufacture products, they improve them and help save lives along the way.

Founded in 1999 by Atif and Robin Odeh of Roscoe, ATRONA uses the latest technologies to test products for the automotive, aerospace, medical, food, off-highway and the racing industries as well as heavy equipment manufacturers. Customers come to ATRONA to test their products for metallurgical, polymer, mechanical and engineering properties. ATRONA also helps make customer products lighter, stronger, tougher, more durable and able to pass the test of time.

Atif "Ott" Odeh, principal metallurgical engineer, works with a team of 15 engineers, scientists, and technicians serving more than 500 customers around the world, including a growing number of manufacturers in the Beloit and Janesville area.

"Our number one expertise is failure analysis. We determine the root cause of why components fail. We are in direct contact with engineers on components and assemblies that really affect peoples' lives," Odeh said.

Business has been booming since Atif founded it with just his wife on State Street in 1999. The company later moved to Willow Creek Road in Machesney Park, and later doubled its size when it moved to its newest location in Loves Park in November.

ATRONA tests primarily for small and large manufacturing companies, aerospace companies, the military and government institutions, although it has counseled a grandma who wanted information on a sink rust issue and worked with a few mom and pop shops.

One example of ATRONA's life-saving work was testing out a tiny gear which had broken in someone's pacemaker. The company has also worked on a 50-ton earth mover frame which broke in a Canadian gold mine.

ATRONA also performs extensive life cycle testing for the automotive industry for seat belts, latches, recliners and more. When it comes to consumer products the company has tested door handles, faucets, kitchen utensils, golf clubs, hand tools, and even the hangers in department stores.

Whatever the product, Atif Odeh said the engineering properties are important and testing for those properties is similar.

Much of the testing conducted is proactive and products are certified up front, but in many cases ATRONA is contacted when a failure has happened. In this circumstance the failure is analyzed in the lab or at customer's site to determine root cause for prevention and improvement or to establish liability. Depending on the product, for life cycle durability testing, it could be cycled a thousand times or even a million times for safety.

ATRONA also conducts "competitive analysis" or reverse engineering. For example, it compared 50 different box cutters, to show the manufacturer how well its product stacked up to the competition. Engineers had to design, fabricate and assemble a machine to test the box cutters ability to cut wall paper, drywall and plastic.

"We repeated that cycle 1,000 times for every blade to see how they would perform against each other. After about three months of testing, we produced a 500 page report comparing the 50 different blades," he said.

Racing is also a growing industry for ATRONA Test Labs.

"In racing a fraction of a second makes a huge difference so we work with companies on lubrication, surface finish and the strength/toughness of racing components. Enhancing the engine efficiency by reducing friction coefficient among mating components can gives you an edge over your opponent in racing," Odeh said.

Atif Odeh explained the company has five departments - Metallurgy, Polymer, Mechanical, Calibration and Education. In the education department ATRONA offers seminars and classes on metallurgy and heat treat, tool steels, materials of the industry, welding, and in the process of developing seminars for polymer sciences, quality control, and fastener metallurgy. There is often a waiting list for engineers around the Midwest to sign up. Odeh is considered an expert on heat treat and often instructs at local companies. He helped train and instruct a heat treat department in China for American companies needing help.

ATRONA's staff consist of metallurgists, chemists, mechanical engineer, technicians, and calibration experts.

"Each person has his own set of skills that they bring to the table. When we put our heads together with the instruments we have in the lab, we can have an advantage over others in solving problems. We are family with many talents," he said.

Odeh credits his company's growth to its expertise, customer service and diversification.

"We rely on no one sector. The top 10 customers we work with make up less than 25 percent of our business," he said.

The company's had steady growth since its inception. In 2008 it purchased Body Cote Testing group, a local franchise of a large testing laboratory, and merged it into its labs. It continued expanding and grew 25 percent in 2011.

Although there are about 10 competitors in the Chicago area, Odeh said ATRONA is one of the few test labs which performs all testing in-house. And as manufacturers seek to cut costs, many of them are eliminating their own test labs in favor of out-sourcing the work to ATRONA.

Odeh graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and was selected as the first recipient of Alumni of the year in 2006. He still participates with University of Illinois as a board member of material science and engineering college. His past work history includes the Army Corps of Engineers, an aerospace gear company in Downer's Grove, Ill, and a local premier off highway manufacturer where he was chief metallurgist. In 1999 Odeh left to start ATRONA.

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