LEWISTON — To hear Jon Chase describe it, the world is a very combustible place.
"You wouldn't believe how many things are made out there that are explosive," said Chase. "Grain bins blow up. Flour will explode if it's the right combustion."
A common culprit: Static.
Chase sells not exploding, not losing data and not risking product.
In a bustling factory off Old Farm Road, PURESTAT Engineered Technologies makes millions of antistatic bags — antistatic inside and out — as well as bags that seal out moisture, are fire retardant, block radio waves and bags so clean they're made by workers wearing hairnets and gloves in a special "clean room," after standing under an air shower.
"Our stuff can go into almost any industry because static is such a problem," said sales manager Chase. "When you fill something and empty something you're creating friction, which is static. You've got to control that build-up."
When friends ask president and co-owner Richard Kullson what he does, he tells them, "You like your cell phone, right? We protect the components in your cell phone while it's being put together."
The 11-year-old company was founded in February 2001, spun off from Maine Poly. Business is good and growing: PURESTAT hired five people in the last year, bringing its workforce to 30. Most of the new orders behind that growth came from the solar panel industry.
The company makes a heavy bag to hold crystal silicon that's crushed for solar panels, Chase said. "You can't contaminate the polysilicon — it can destroy a company.
"You never think of this going through life," he said.
Most sales are out of state. Medical, pharmaceutical and electronics industries account for 50 percent of business, Chase said. The rest is an eclectic mix: Defense contractors, satellite makers, even Australian police.
The static issue in particular is so widespread because so many products use sensitive components, he said. Walk across the room and you build up electrostatic discharge (ESD). Ditto with something moving around inside a package.
"Everything we do, the ESD problem is kind of our nucleus," Chase said. "Ten volts or less can do damage to some products; you can't feel 10 volts."
The auto industry uses a low-gassing PURESTAT bag to hold paint so that the paint doesn't absorb emissions from whatever it is being stored in.
"There can't be things like silicone, nitrates (contaminating the paint)," he said. "Just a few molecules of parts per billion will destroy paint in a car shop. It creates these craters when they go and spray."
The company's also sold moisture-barrier bags that block radio frequency and electromagnetic interference to police in Australia. As soon as a suspect is arrested in a drug bust, his or her phone is secured so a friend can't remotely wipe out incriminating details.
"The waves won't go into the bag to remove the information," Kullson said. He hopes for a new order when supplies run low, joking, "They're not making as many drug busts as I'd like them to make."
PURESTAT also sells bags to the transponder industry, similar to the signal-blocking bags all holders of a Maine E-ZPass turnpike transponder receive.
He sees future growth for the company coming from its "clean room" bags, which are so clean only flecks of dirt or dust on the molecular level are present.
Those could see more use in "the medical industry, pharmaceuticals, even the aerospace industry," Kullson said. "You figure something is going out in space, you don't want dust floating around."
Most of the company's product is made from scratch, from small beads of poly resin stored in silos. It's heated to a liquid in secret combinations, Kullson said, pushed through several machines, blown by air up several stories, cooled, then pressed into rolls.
"We're vertically integrated, we can do everything from beginning to end," Kullson said. "It's rare in the U.S. nowadays that a company does the whole thing."
Once it hits the factory floor, long, quick machines fold, crimp and cut with exacting precision. Output varies by size. An order for 1 million small bags took one machine and worker three weeks to fill, Kullson said.
Calibrating his equipment costs $10,000 a year. There are constant lab and quality tests before a product heads out the door.
"You'll never look at a bag the same," he said.