Area company partners with IBM to make customized sensors
By Rumasa Noor
In 2003, a small manufacturing company in Wisconsin, known as DuckCo, was rebranded and became iButtonLink. Five years later, the company caught the eye of computer technology giant, IBM and the two have been collaborating ever since.
Originally born as a 1-Wire company, iButtonLink touts its proprietary use of sensors that can be customized to meet various clients’ needs. Some of the sensors created within iButtonLink are used to regulate temperature and humidity.
The relationship with IBM began in 2008 when Rob Olson began working with IBM as a vendor but it wasn’t until 2012 that iButtonLink entered a Joint Development Agreement to collaborate with IBM directly on the development of products. As of earlier this summer, iButtonLink sensors were occupying about four million square feet in IBM data centers.
As a result of the collaboration, iButtonLink has also helped IBM save 12 percent in its annual energy costs in IBM’s data centers.
On June 16, iButtonLink announced the release of its data environmental monitoring system that integrates IBM’s Measurement and Management technology, according to a press release.
“They had a great software, we had great hardware, everything kind of mashed up and we came out with stuff like the BlueMote [which] was a pretty pivotal wireless solution,” Patrick Johnson, iButtonLink’s marketing lead and project manager said. “We started building new products for them, working on different areas, but now looking forward, we are looking to release some more new products.”
As the technology is still new, Johnson said it hasn’t grabbed the attention of too many data centers, but they are working to make its presence known.
“The product’s new but hopefully it’ll be out there,” Johnson said.
When his business partner retired, Olson took over iButtonLink. In 2014, he moved the company from the Old Stone School facility in East Troy to Whitewater.
“We had a small business study done and I was shown the Innovation Center by a professor,” Olson said.
Upon seeing the center, Olson was impressed and decided to pursue moving his business there.
According to Olson, the Whitewater Community Development Authority as well as the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance “both helped us stay in the county and make the move to Whitewater. This was a great move for us, especially because of the collaboration with the university,” Olson said.
iButtonLink has not only partnered with UW-Whitewater but has also collaborated with other businesses at the Innovation Center, Johnson said.
Since the beginning of 2014, iButtonLink has had 16 students in all, some through grants, others in paid positions.
“We’ve really grown by bringing students in,” Olson said, adding that given the amount of technology the students know, and new equipment, the company has been able to grow without adding many staff.
“We have access to iMentors and any other staff we need. For example, we’re working with the university’s Physics Department and two professors on branding,” Olson said. Additionally, he explained, university staff has supported the company by writing press releases and grant applications – both time consuming projects.
Currently two UW-Whitewater grads are full time staff at iButtonLink.
Johnson, who is also a UW-Whitewater grad, said he enjoys the fast pace.
“I started in the East Troy location but was very excited when they moved to Whitewater,” Johnson said. “This is my first ‘big boy job” and this has been a fun company to grow with.”
Another recent grad, Amy Ziolkowski, Olson said, began working for the company as an intern and was hired as soon as she graduated.
Ziolkowski, Olson explained, is the supply chain manager, handling all of the purchasing and pricing of iButtonLink’s projects.
iButtonLink is in the process of building two new product lines and released 14 new products in the past year because, as Olson said, “when you’re a tech company, you have to act quickly because everything moves at a much faster pace.”
Johnson said the company is in the process of gathering additional foreign distributors but has also worked collaboratively with four companies in Whitewater.
The collaboration at the Innovation Center and with the university is key to success on so many levels, according to Johnson, who said working with like-minded people is a big advantage.
Speaking of like-minded people, Olson helped bring another company – Thermodata, one of iButtonLink’s suppliers – to the Innovation Center. Unlike other companies that are start-ups or moved a short distance,
Thermodata followed quite a path on its way to Whitewater, beginning in Australia followed by a stint in Boston.
“When you find something good, you want to tell others about it,” Olson said.
Heather Ruenz contributed to this story.