Current location: 2430 Waynoka Road
New location (in May): 11641 Ridgeline Drive
Thomas Paquette and his team at Insight Analytical Labs perform autopsies on broken electronics.
But don’t call the lab about your busted toaster. Companies from all over the world — from Colorado Springs to California, New York, Australia and China — ship electronics, usually stripped down to the printed circuit boards and even more often to the tiniest components soldered onto those boards.
“They say, this guy here isn’t working,” Paquette said as he pointed to a metal rectangle no bigger than the tip of a pencil on a circuit board. “It’s our job to figure out why.”
Paquette started out as an electronics failure analyst for Ford Microelectronics, which had offices here in the 1980s and ’90s. He moonlighted as an independent analyst for local intellectual property company TAEUS, which stands for Take Apart Everything Under the Sun. He disassembled electronic components to see if he could prove any patent violations.
That eventually evolved to include failure analysis. Businesses heard about Paquette’s skill and started sending him failed electronics and asking him to figure out what went wrong.
He quit his day job and opened the business on St. Patrick’s Day 1993 — 20 years ago.
“Initially it started in my garage,” Paquette said.
The analysis can be a hugely important job. If something electronic failed because of a design flaw, the company responsible could have to recall all of them. If it failed because there was Post-It Note glue on one of the components, it could be an isolated problem.
Some of the electronics that the lab tests belong to the brains of highly technical and important machines like military aircraft, space shuttles, cars, boats, submarines and everything else down to average consumer computers.
“We kept them from stopping a space shuttle launch once,” said Pamela Ritter, vice president of marketing and sales.
She didn’t know what space shuttle or when. The client never told her. Most clients send components with limited information about what they do or how they fit into the bigger picture. They don’t even say how it’s failing sometimes.
“They don’t want to bias us,” Ritter said. “Of course, we always act as if we didn’t know anything anyway.”
The lab has grown steadily over the years to service about 100 regular clients a year, some who send pieces weekly and others who just send one a year. The company employs 15 full-time workers and occupies the entire space in its building at 2430 Waynoka Road, where it started with just one suite.
“Now, there’s nowhere else for us to go,” Ritter said.
That’s why the company has purchased two office condos in the north part of the city at 11641 Ridgeline Drive near Voyager Road. The new location offers a few advantages. It’s closer to Interstate 25 and farther north, which will make it easier for out-of-town clients who fly into Denver, Ritter said.
More importantly, the new location will nearly double the company’s space from 4,000 square feet to 7,000. And it will allow the team to design the space around the equipment rather than the other way around.
That’s particularly important because the lab is buying a new $1 million microscope. It’s so big it will take up more space than the company’s existing conference room.
“The problem is that as these electronics get smaller and smaller, we can’t see them anymore,” Paquette said.
They already have microscopes that can zoom in at 100,000-times magnification. But the new one will allow analysts to get really up close and personal at 350,000.
The dual-beam focused ion beam and scanning electronic microscope is hardly the company’s first major investment in high-end technology. The lab uses everything from X-ray machines to sonic radar, night vision and heat sensors along with machines to detect the elemental makeup of an object. It also includes plain ol’ microscopes and trained analysts who know what to look for to diagnose an electronics failure.
The new microscope should enable Insight Analytical to expand its business, Ritter said. Being able to look for flaws in some of the tiniest electronic components will drive new clients to the firm, the only one of its kind with its caliber of equipment in the state.
Paquette had been renting the $1 million microscope for a long time before he realized he was using it often enough to justify the investment. And it should pay for itself in new business, he said.
“This new equipment is going to open up a lot of the market for us,” Paquette said. “Over the next two to three years, I think we’ll add about 50 percent to the staff.”