Duo-Gard Industries Inc.
In 1984, Albert Miller founded the business that would eventually become Duo-Gard Industries Inc. (DGI). The business started out as Michigan Energy Control and worked with regional industrial partners, retrofitting factories. The team worked closely with clients to develop better natural lighting solutions for large facilities, eventually moving into the architectural market with new products and technology.
David Miller, Albert’s son and current CEO, now runs the business. However, before joining the family business, David owned another company. In the 1980s, the businesses shared office space. As DGI began to take off with new green innovations, David and his partner, Michael Arvidson, now DGI’s executive vice president, became more involved. “A year and a half later, we scrapped our business and joined forces,” David recounts. “And we never looked back.”
One of the company’s earliest flagship product lines was smoking shelters. Utilizing cellular polycarbonate and well-honed aluminum fabrication skills, Albert and his team began to build a market for day-lit structures. Decades later, this has grown into an enormous aspect of the business. DGI’s architectural experience has attracted clients from a broad range of transit authorities and private businesses.
Today, DGI’s products in outdoor structures include bicycle shelters, designed with exceptional architectural appeal, which accommodate a burgeoning demand. Growing capabilities and strong support from a large market have also allowed the team to further develop the architectural end of the business. The company now works with strategic partners developing and integrating new technology for a diverse spectrum of construction sectors.
In the architectural market, DGI has grown into a position where the team collaborates closely with architects and engineers to help develop sustainable daylighting and illumination systems for new buildings and renovation projects. Over the years, David explains, his team has become more and more involved with sustainable technology. By fostering partnerships with innovators in the industry, DGI has been able to integrate technologies in ways which have never been successfully marketed before.
“That’s what we do today,” David elaborates. “We find and integrate technology, such as photovoltaic LED lighting, high performance daylighting systems and bringing natural light into buildings. We now find ourselves with the broadest product line in the industry. Integration of technology allows us to look at any given project, evaluate the goals and objectives of a project, take into account geographic location and orientation of the building and then develop a product based on those criteria.”
David adds that the business rarely produces a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, the team seeks out technology, combines solutions and builds performance on a project-by-project basis with what David calls a focused design approach that sets DGI apart.
“With every project, we ask this critical question, ‘How can we build the best and most sustainable building possible, one with top performance?'” David explains. “That’s the approach we believe the entire industry should be considering.”
One of the company’s most significant partners in development is Illumination Devices. “This team knows lighting, controls and circuitry better than anyone I’ve ever met,” David explains. “For specialty situations where we want to illuminate a wall or building, we call on them. They meet the architect with us and we engineer a solution together. With photovoltaic work, they have helped us develop some very unique products.”
David goes on to note that the company also works with a leading maker of photovoltaic products. “We like them because they have flexible glass products,” he continues. “These products involve solar wafers that they can position anywhere between 2 pieces of laminated glass. This allows us to bring in enough daylight to light a building and generate a significant amount of power. The industry used to be very inflexible, but we have found flex partners who want to work and create products with multiple purposes and benefits.”
When the team first got into photovoltaic work, the business was working with a professor from the University of Michigan. “At the time, we had always worked on the demand side of energy,” David recalls. “We started looking at photovoltaic panels and the technology available on the market and we wanted to take an architectural approach. We wanted to build skylights and building components that would generate power building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). For a long time, to a large degree, people in the industry took a power plant approach, placing photovoltaic equipment on steel racks up on the roof. We began to develop more architecturally oriented canopies.”
Now the business is looking at curtainwall and skylighting strategies that integrate photovoltaic technology to generate power, bring in natural light and bring in LED illumination that works in conjunction with natural light. Three separate technologies can work together, creating synergy and top performance over other technologies on the market today. The business is currently working on a grant with the Department of Energy to test one of the team’s latest integrated systems. David and his partners want to integrate these systems into retail environments in Chicago, such as grocery chains and FedEx stores. This introduction will help DGI prove the technology’s effectiveness and demonstrate a strong return on investment for potential clients. The sustainability component of what DGI does is already proven, but David and his team strive to make this technology a sensible, affordable option.
Another up and coming product line is DGI’s new Health Wall. The Health Wall is based on research from major universities, such as Harvard, which have been able to isolate the component of daylight that makes people feel good and perform better. “We can deliver that with architectural illumination with LED lighting,” David explains. “This is a tremendous product. It will assist kids in school by adjusting the circadian rhythms that leave kids typically groggy in the morning and awake at night. This product can also improve health and healing in chemotherapy patients and has been shown to improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. We don’t want to provide a light you have to sit and stare at; we want to integrate it into the architecture.”
David and his team are working toward the creation of healthier spaces through the responsible use of technology and innovative delivery of products. The company’s potential grant with the DOE will help future consumers know what to expect through accurate modeling and testing. Knowing and seeing how the technology works will reduce the perception of risk for future buyers and help DGI boost product marketability. David hopes to see these technologies become mainstream building components within the next five years for commercial, institutional, business and residential use.
One step ahead
DGI’s continued success has resulted in new opportunities opening up throughout North America. The team is currently working on a project for a transit system in Canada. David and his partners are working as part of a design consortium for a new high-speed rail system. The system requires the application of sustainable technologies such as LED illumination, photovoltaic systems and daylighting for stations and stops. David and his team are excited about the project and foresee this work opening up more work as more communities embrace the innovative rail systems.
Earlier in 2014, the company took another major step with its development of the Prostock Program for contractors. “Until now, contractors had to pretty much go it alone working with translucent daylighting systems,” David says. “Our new program provides them not only with standard systems but also includes strong design and technical support. This will enable contractors to expand their markets and their profits.”
Innovation is what has kept DGI on a path of growth and David has no plans to slow down anytime soon. He explains that even during the recession, his team did not rely on an existing product line or market. Instead, the business expanded horizontally. Looking ahead, the business continues to expand. In the coming years, Duo-Gard Industries Inc. has strong and growing market potential in the United States and beyond.
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