Innovating What’s Next
It’s the type of scenario most of us would rather not ponder: water from the Hudson River filling New York City’s Holland Tunnel during rush hour, the nearby Houston and Canal Street subway stations in lower Manhattan likewise deluged.
For Francis “Fran” DiNuzzo ’78 ’81G, thinking about not just these scenes but their solutions — high-tech fabric plugs and barriers that can be quickly deployed to hold back up to 28 feet of water — is all in a day’s work. Since 2014, DiNuzzo has served as president and CEO of ILC Dover, a Delaware-based manufacturing company that develops high-performance engineered flexible materials for commercial and government use. While ILC is best known for manufacturing the space suits used by every U.S. astronaut for extravehicular missions since the first Apollo mission, DiNuzzo says his company’s reach is far broader. “We’re innovating what’s next in high-tech fabrics,” he says.
“The study of engineering is excellent preparation for a business career; [it] teaches you how to problem-solve by breaking things down.”
Following an itinerant childhood, DiNuzzo found a home in Durham, earning both his undergrad degree and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at UNH. Prior to taking the helm at ILC Dover, he spent some 27 years with Hewlett Packard’s Agilent Technologies subsidiary and another six as president and CEO of Strategic Diagnostics — though only two-and-a-half of the nearly 35 years that comprise his manufacturing career involved hands-on engineering work.
“The study of engineering is excellent preparation for a business career, “ says DiNuzzio, who completed a business minor at UNH. “Engineering teaches you how to problem-solve by breaking things down. [Mechanical engineering professor emeritus] Charlie Taft always pushed us to explore the why behind the work and experimentation we did in his class. It was great training.”
UNH is also the place DiNuzzo met his wife, Gail ’79, ’81G. The couple lives in Pennsylvania, and while they make frequent trips back to New Hampshire to visit Gail’s mother in Newmarket, a quick visit to Durham in July was Fran’s first time back on campus in many years. “Kingsbury Hall has changed a lot,” he laughs. “It’s good to see that UNH is investing in STEM and keeping up with the pace of change in technology.”
“Our solutions are based on flexible materials, which are easy to store and easy to deploy. We’re using fabrics to solve problems that in the past have been addressed with steel.”
DiNuzzo’s mission at ILC could be described as keeping ahead of the pace of change in technology. Founded in the 1940s, ILC’s business for much of its history was tied to the U.S. space program and NASA, manufacturing not just space suits but also space helmets, military blimps, tethered aerostats and other “lighter than air” structures. That business leveled out as NASA’s focus shifted away from space missions, and DiNuzzo was brought on board to help expand the company’s commercial businesses. Today, he says, the privately held company has four lines of business — two in the government sector and two in the commercial arena — and 400-plus employees in Delaware, Texas and Switzerland.
Of those businesses, DiNuzzo gets the most animated discussing the company’s specialty films for pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical products and its rapid deployment flood containment products — the latter of which are currently being installed by the New York City Transit System. “Climate change has led to increased storm intensity and rising sea levels, which can cause catastrophic damage to infrastructure and real estate,” he explains. “Our solutions are based on flexible materials, which are easy to store and easy to deploy. We’re using fabrics to solve problems that in the past have been addressed with steel.”
Notwithstanding the sometime sobering needs behind his company’s product and the fact that he’s removed from the day-to-day work of research and development, DiNuzzo uses the word “fun” to describe his work at ILC. “The company is a playpen for engineering,” he says.
Originally published in UNH Magazine Winter 2017 Issue