You might never have heard of Acrylife, a company with ties to Virginia Tech. But that may change as hurricane season approaches.
Two Virginia Tech alumni and brothers – Chuck and Pat Johnson – are principals of Acrylife Inc., a Wytheville company in the roofing systems business. Taking the Virginia Tech motto to heart, they began to “Invent the Future.” After brainstorming alternative ways to secure rooftops, they approached Virginia Tech for help with research and development.
Some background: When Hurricane Andrew made landfall on Aug. 24, 1992, $26 billion worth of damage resulted. The roofing industry would need to change. But instead of coming up with a revolutionary new roofing method, the industry relied on numerous fasteners, which are expensive and compromise roof integrity, to better secure a roof to its structure.
Enter the Johnson brothers with their V2T system.
The V2T is a foot-high plastic structure that has two domes connected by three narrow columns. Airflow is accelerated through the opening between the two domes, which creates a drop in pressure. How it works: The low-pressure system pulls air from under the membrane through the vent, creating a vacuum that pulls the membrane tight to the roof structure, preventing uplift and detachment of the roof membrane. Roofs stay intact even during the most violent storms.
But the V2T didn’t start out that way. Originally, the brothers brought a concept to Virginia Tech consisting of a tube- shaped vent that would rotate to catch the wind. Building on that idea, a team of professors and students, backed by funding through Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology based in Herndon, Va., helped develop the omnidirectional design.
The team designed and built several prototypes with various shapes, distances, and connecting columns – testing them in Virginia Tech’s stability wind tunnel as well as NASA’s full-scale wind tunnel at Langley Air Force Base.
With proof of concept established, more research was necessary to ready the technology for commercialization.
Money to underwrite the R&D came from the U.S. Small Business Administration in a program that included both Virginia Tech and the University of Kentucky. Ted Settle, recently retired director of the Office of Economic Development, introduced the Johnsons to their new Virginia Tech faculty partners: James Jones of the Department of Architecture and Andrew McCoy of the Department of Building Construction.
The first phase consisted of a study of airflow characteristics over buildings to determine the best position and placement of the vents.A second phase of the study “developed a matrix to determine the critical components necessary for a successful commercialization plan,” says Chuck Johnson. McCoy is directing this plan, vital to ensure that V2T will be ready for assembly line manufacturing. “You have to understand that small companies like ours don’t have the capital or the resources to get something like this accomplished. We need to find grant monies to accomplish our objective, and Virginia Tech has been an integral part of the development process, both in helping with the grant writing and conducting many of the research agendas,” Chuck Johnson says.
While the manufacturing process is researched, Chuck Johnson and his team are proving that the V2T technology works. “We have more than 50 installations from the Grand Caymans to the mountains of Virginia,” he says. “The installation in the Grand Caymans on the Royal Plaza has been exposed to two indirect hits by hurricanes since it was installed.” Acrylife has worked with J.A. Piper to complete installations on St. Francis Hospital in Greenville, S.C., and with Hamlin Roofing on Rex Hospital in Raleigh.
Thanks to the help of Virginia Tech, the Johnson brothers were able to see their concept of an innovation in roofing technology become a reality that by all accounts will impact the future of roofing.
“The Acrylife case shows how the university can help strengthen the potential of a company that could benefit from the expertise of Virginia Tech faculty,” says John Provo, director of the Office of Economic Development. “This contributes to the region’s economy by increasing the odds that jobs will be created through local manufacturing.”
Article by Christopher David Klein for Outreach.vt.edu