LEWISTON – Microwave technology makes a better board, meatball and fertilizer.

Yup, even fertilizer.

That’s the fun of working at RF Technologies, where microwave technology is fine-tuned into industrial uses around the globe.

“It’s fun to pick where we go next,” said President George Harris, who started the company eight years ago with partner Peter Robicheau.

Just over a year ago, the company was bought by Ferrite Corp., a New Hampshire-based firm that uses microwave technology in food processing. The move allowed RFT to remain an independent company, and infused it with capital and work.

Production has doubled since, and RFT is so busy now it’s negotiating to move into a new facility that will triple its space.

“It’s just not big enough anymore,” said Harris of the company’s Foss Road location.

RFT obviously needs the space. Broadcast antennae are tested and stored in the company’s parking lot. What had been intended as office space is now carpeted with 12 microwave devices about the size of kitchen drawers that are being tested before shipment to Washington. In the manufacturing space, wheeled bins holding various components are shuttled from one area to the next. Machinists work within spitting distance of welders.

Harris hopes to be in a new, 30,000-square-foot home by the summer. He also hopes it’ll be in a location that can allow RFT to take advantage of both the Pine Tree Zone state tax incentives, and the Foreign Trade Zone, which holds export tax advantages.

Many of RFT’s customers are overseas, in China, New Zealand, Russia and Europe. Harris estimates 35 to 40 percent of RFT’s products are shipped out of the country.

In fact, he said the company just received an order from a waste treatment plant in Ireland to install a system that uses microwave technology to transform sludge into fertilizer. The plant has been using steam to heat sludge to remove water and pathogens. The new RFT system uses microwave technology, making the conversion much faster and cheaper for the plant operators.

“With microwaves, you stick it in, program it for 20 minutes, it cooks and boom, you’ve got fertilizer,” said Harris of the patented “de-cootying” system.

The same fast-drying technology is being used in coal plants to remove water from newly excavated coal, before it is pulverized into dust and fed into power plants.

Harris and his crew are working on a new patent that will allow microwave communications antennae to spiral, picking up signals regardless of their orientation. It also invented a new way to pre-cook meatballs that prevents them from fusing together – eliminating the warts and craters of meatballs that were fused, then separated, during the cooking process.

Harris predicts the process called boost heating will be used technology will be used in processing links, patties and other meat-based food products.

“You get a juicier, fuller cooked meatball, with less waste,” he said.

And RFT continues to make advances in the laminated veneer lumber industry.

One of its first patents was awarded in 1998 for a technology that applies microwaves to cure special adhesive between layers of wood. The end product, laminated veneer lumber, is hot in the building trades since it’s straighter and stronger than similarly sized conventional lumber. Even though it costs about 30 percent more, it’s preferred in construction for things like floor joists and ridge beams.

“There’s a monster demand for it now,” said Dave Lawson, a technical specialist with RFT.

Harris said he expects the laminated veneer lumber industry to grow, and with it, RFT’s patented components. He predicts RFT will hire between 10 and 15 people over the next 10 months, an increase of about 30 percent of his work force. The expansion is welcome. RFT nearly went under after it lost a big contract following Sept. 11.

“God, we are busy,” said Harris, as he surveyed the shop. “It feels great.”



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