Crystal clear Featured

6:09am EDT August 30, 2002

You can't avoid them; they're everywhere.

Liquid crystal displays, commonly known as LCDs, are those flat digital screens in computers, cell phones, PDAs, watches and microwave ovens.

LCDs are lighter and thinner than traditional displays with cathode ray tubes, but they've always been manufactured out of glass, which increases the expense and the weight. And glass shatters; plastic doesn't.

Gary Freeman noticed this problem when working for Zoll Medical, a manufacturer of pacemakers and defibrillators. Freeman thought if the LCD displays on ambulance defibrillators could be converted to plastic, it would greatly increase the durability of the devices.

Meanwhile, Freeman's brother, David, was a real estate developer who had a client in Florida designing a Smart Card with a built-in LCD, but he couldn't find a flexible plastic that would work as well as glass.

The brothers set out to create a material that would serve both markets, but what they found was their technology had the potential to tap a $22 billion market in everything from cell phones to, one day, computer and television screens.

"They ended up finding that the center of technology for LCDs was here at Kent State," says Paul J. Fischer, CEO of Twinsburg-based Viztec Inc., the company the brothers formed. "Gary started doing research and development and really made some breakthroughs in this area, which was the genesis of the company."

At Kent State, the brothers developed Viztec's patented Plastic Pixel technology. The manufacturing process uses two sheets of very thin flexible plastic that are combined to make a display that is 1/15th the thickness of conventional glass displays, but with better screen clarity and contrast.

Despite the difference in the materials, Viztec's displays can be manufactured using existing equipment.

"They can be drop-in replacements for traditional glass displays," Fischer says.

The brothers formed Viztec four years ago, but the last 12 months have been the busiest. In May, Fischer was hired as CEO, while Gary Freeman stayed on as chief technology officer and David Freeman remained as vice president and general counsel.

Also in May, Viztec received a $1 million Ohio Technology Action Fund grant from the state, which it will use to further develop its unique manufacturing process. How to reach: Viztec Inc., (330) 487-1526