In the power-conversion business, it’s who you know

It takes a village: Or at least a healthy network of technology partners, which is exactly what Stony Brook power-conversion specialist Unique Technical Services and sister company Unique Electric Solutions bring to bear.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A six-year-old power play and its three-year-old sister startup are providing something truly unique on Long Island – a two-headed engineering enterprise with the ability to empower the powerless.

That could have many interpretations, but it takes a fairly literal spin at Unique Technical Services, a 2012 launch and member of Stony Brook University’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, and Smithtown-based Unique Electric Solutions, that slightly younger sibling.

With a heavy (though not exclusive) focus on the transportation industries, UTS concentrates technologically on energy storage, control and power systems and other engineering challenges to “pretty much electrifying anything,” according to founder and General Manager Joseph Ambrosio.

“We basically repower anything that’s not electric and make it run on electricity,” noted Ambrosio, also UTS’s chief technology officer. “The skills required to do that are part of our core strengths, and we can apply these toolkits to electrify many different types of equipment.”

At UES, the focus is most certainly focused on transportation exclusively. The three-year-old spinoff, where Ambrosio serves as a managing member, concentrates on electric and hybrid vehicle conversions – turning traditional combustion-engine cars and trucks into less-greenhouse-gassy versions of their former selves.

Ambrosio, a graduate of the New York Institute of Technology (BS, mechanical engineering) and longtime member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, is partnering with some fairly heavy-hitting engineers on the two-pronged effort, including Mechanical Engineering Manager Mike Kuhl and Electric Engineering Manager Steve Massaro.

Both engineers are SBU graduates and each brings a singular skillset to the cause. Kuhl is an energy-storage expert with unparalleled understanding of chassis structures in everything from off-road utility vehicles to heavy-duty buses; Massaro is a software specialist with a knack for embedded systems and electric and hybrid-electric vehicle safety systems.

Other team members bring long experience with renewable energy, business development, firmware, control and power electronics and other critical areas, ultimately allowing the sister companies to leverage more than 25 years of technical expertise in electrical, mechanical, industrial, computer sciences and software engineering.

As one-stop solutions providers, UTS and UES don’t stop at the drawing board – or, as Ambrosio put it, “We don’t just send the customer off without testing it.”

“We’ll build the first prototypes and whatnot,” he told Innovate LI. “And we’re heavily involved in seeing if it works fist.”

To that end, the impressive collection of in-house talent is just the beginning. The companies boast a thriving network of “technology partners” that not only help the next-level engineers test their designs, but infuse them first with the latest and greatest tech.

Joseph Ambrosio: Fast friends.

“When it comes to certain batteries and ultracapacitors and other energy-storage devices, we buy them from our partners and integrate them directly into the products,” Ambrosio noted. “Those partnerships move very quickly and effectively.

“But on top of that, with our partners, the manufacturing process can go quickly to volume,” he added. “We can drive to production at reasonable prices because of those partnerships. We’re on the shoulders of giants.”

With multiple partners at the ready, where UTS-steered manufacturing actually occurs depends largely on the product at hand. The Stony Brook-based company has worked with vendors all over the world, but ultimately tries to keep as much of the work in New York State as possible.

“We tend to do most of the electrical stuff close by,” Ambrosio noted. “But for some of the mechanical stuff, we go offshore.”

With two U.S. patents in hand – one for unique packaging of energy-storage systems, another for a proprietary coupling that links electric motors – and three active NYSERDA grants, Ambrosio et al have made real gains off the playing field, also.

But no single achievement may prove as influential as the deal UES struck in November with the United Parcel Service, which announced it was working with the Smithtown startup to develop technologies that will convert United Parcel delivery trucks from diesel to electric power.

Ultimately, United Parcel plans to retrofit a fleet of 1,500 trucks – and while UES is only working on “a handful of vehicles” to start, according to Ambrosio, the company intends to fulfill that entire order.

“We’re going to put our demonstration fleet in New York City,” he said. “And then we’re going for the whole thing.”

What Brown can do for UTS and UES is almost incalculable. But Ambrosio does have a few numbers in mind – he and his partners were scheduled to meet with and pitch potential investors this week as part of a $3 million Series A round set for UES.

Ambrosio – whose professional experience includes ground-up design of electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems, the development of new energy-storage systems, the production of printed circuit boards and the creation of new industrial-engineering quality controls – tipped his cap to the AERTC and Stony Brook University for the role they’ve played in bringing UTS this far, and helping UES get off the ground.

“(Vice President of Economic Development) Yacov Shamash and (Director of Economic Development) Ann-Marie Scheidt and (AERTC Director) David Hamilton have all been real positives for us,” Ambrosio said. “They’ve been super-helpful at every level in terms of creating partnerships and proposals.

“The partnership with the university and the [AERTC] has been stellar for us.”

Unique Technical Services LLC

What’s It? Power-conversion engineering that can “pretty much electrify anything” (plus electric- and hybrid-vehicle retrofitting through sister company Unique Electric Solutions)

Brought to You By: Electrical engineering guru Joseph Ambrosio and some of the biggest engineering brains in Stony Brook University’s orbit

Status: Positive charge