GRANDVILLE — It was a “moonlight” operation at first, started by a group of engineers who at the time were making aircraft instruments, Ted Thompson recalls.
Their first idea was to develop a silver tape that enabled doctors, nurses and x-ray technicians to easily label an x-ray with the patient’s name, replacing the lead letters in x-ray cassettes that were once used.
From those beginnings in 1963, X-Rite Inc. has become a $103 million company that produces precision instruments that measure light, color and shape for customers in the digital-imaging, printing, coatings, telecom, electronics and medical industries.
The company’s innovations in medical equipment over the years has earned X-Rite a spot in the Grand Rapids Magazine Medical Hall of Fame, formed in 2000 to recognize achievements by medical and health professionals and organizations in Grand Rapids.
“We had that disease of engineers. We wanted to be in business for ourselves,” Thompson, X-Rite’s founder and chairman, told Grand Rapids Magazine, sister publication of the Business Journal.
“It’s been a wonderful 37 years,” Thompson said.
Following up on its medical marking tape, which X-Rite still produces today, the company decided to produce precision instruments and developed what’s known as densitometers and sensitometers that are used to measure optical and photographic density and expose x-rays for comparison to a set standard.
The 1980s and 1990s brought additional products for the automotive, paint, plastics, textile, telecom and imaging industries. X-Rite is responsible for the equipment behind Kodak’s Color Watch system used in one-hour photo stores, as well as the sensors that allow the clerk at the hardware store to accurately reproduce a paint sample.
In the medical field, X-Rite’s precision devices assure that the colors in a medical image are accurate, enabling a medical or health professional to accurately read the image, X-Rite Chief Executive Officer Rich Cook said.
“There are a lot of decisions made by doctors and medical professionals based on color,” Cook said. “How do you do that? Everybody sees color differently.”
In 2000, X-Rite introduced its latest medical instruments. One is a device, developed through a joint venture with International Medical Innovations, that measures a person’s cholesterol level in the skin through a chemical reaction, a non-invasive procedure that eliminates the need to draw blood. The Cholesterol 1,2,3 System is now undergoing U.S. Food and Drug Administration trials.
X-Rite also is preparing to bring to market this month a new device that dentists can use when making a crown or replacement tooth. The Share-Rite Dental Vision System measures the shade of a tooth’s enamel, helping a dental technician to accurately replicate the shade of the tooth being capped or replaced.
“In three years, this will be our biggest product. I think it will sell like gangbusters,” Cook said.
In looking ahead, Cook sees X-Rite’s future steeped in the development of additional non-invasive medical devices using optical bi-sensors, a product line that will bring X-Rite full circle to its beginnings.
“We’re absolutely on the road back to medical,” Cook said. “We are truly coming back to our roots.”
X-Rite is among 11 inductees into the Medical Hall of Fame. The company was recognized in the Medical Business category.
Others inductees in the 2001 Medical Hall of Fame are:
- The Hon. Douglas W. Hillman of the Hillman Commission, for Collaborative Program
- Glenes Jean Hamersma, R.N., C.S., GNP, for Nursing
- Noyes L. Avery Jr., M.D., FACP, for Physician/Medical Pioneer (Posthumous)
- Robert H. Puite, M.D., for Physician/Medical Education
- Richard A. Rasmussen, M.D., for Physician/Surgical Innovation
- William E. Sprague, M.D., for Physician/Humanitarian
- Alfred B. Swanson, M.D., FACS, for Physician/Surgical Innovation
- George F. Vande Woude, Ph.D., director of the Van Andel Research Institute, for Research
- The Lacks Family, as Significant Donors
- Leslie E. Tassell, as Significant Donor
An induction ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 18, in the Ambassador Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.