With barely a week to go before the company’s new product is scheduled to ship, the manufacturing department is smack in the middle of moving.

RYAN GARDNER/Gazette-Times

Senior Engineer Christian Herden and Manufacturing Coordinator Jeff Howell assembling an embosser
Senior Engineer Christian Herden and Manufacturing Coordinator Jeff Howell assembling an embosser
In ViewPlus’ new space, manufacturing coordinator Jeff Howell, left, will have dedicated workstations for printer assembly. Howell and engineer Christian Herden explain how they turn a dot matrix printer into an embosser.

The old fabrication area is already cleared out, but the new one is still being set up. Employees are ferrying parts and equipment from one building to another on handcarts, and somebody dropped one of the finished units, cracking the housing. Not that anyone seems concerned about all this chaos — that’s just the price of success for ViewPlus Technologies.

In less than two years, the company has outgrown its 7,000-square-foot building in the Airport Industrial Park and recently leased an additional 1,800 square feet next door. In the coming months, ViewPlus expects to lease additional pieces of the mostly vacant 15,000-square-foot structure. “We reckon that, over the course of the next year, we will fill that up,” said company founder John Gardner, a former Oregon State University physics professor who lost his sight from complications following surgery in 1988.

Incorporated in 1999, the Corvallis company makes a line of computer printers for blind people. Like other printers for the visually impaired, the ViewPlus Embosser prints text in Braille characters using raised dots. Unlike most, however, it can also produce tactile versions of graphic images, from maps to diagrams to drawings that mimic visual shading with seven levels of depth.

The ViewPlus line has been a hit with schools, universities and other institutional customers in the United States and abroad. From three employees and $68,000 in sales that first year, the company grew to 15 employees and $900,000 in sales in 2003, when it moved from incubator space in the Business Enterprise Center to its current location. Today ViewPlus has 30 employees, and it’s projecting $2.5 million in sales for 2005.

One reason for that optimism is the company’s latest innovation, scheduled to start shipping next Monday. The Pro Ink Attachment — PIA, for short — is an add-on that works with the ViewPlus Pro Embosser, the company’s top-of-the-line model. Using twin Hewlett-Packard inkjet printheads, the PIA produces a single-color visual equivalent of the raised-dot image created by the embosser.
Using ViewPlus software that works with the near-universal Windows computer operating system, the PIA can be set up to overprint large text letters on top of individual Braille characters, a useful aid in teaching Braille to people with low or failing vision.

It can also print a grayscale image directly over an embossed graphic or print lines of text between lines of Braille. That capability opens up a much broader potential application: giving sighted teachers a visual analog to what their blind students are reading or writing in Braille.
“I think that’s going to be the lion’s share of our sales,” said Rob Sanders, the company’s bright-eyed young director of sales and marketing. “Blind students are mainstreamed more and more in this country — you’ll have one blind student in a regular classroom.”

In elementary, secondary and university classrooms across America, teachers with no specialized training often struggle to communicate effectively with blind students. Combining printing with embossing can help bridge that gap, and ViewPlus is betting the PIA will fill that niche in the marketplace. “It serves a need in this industry that’s never really been properly served,” Sanders said. ViewPlus hopes to sell 100 to 200 PIAs this year.

“That sounds like a small number, but in the Braille market, that’s huge,” Sanders said.
Huge is right — ViewPlus has sold just under 200 Pro Embossers to date. But the PIA, which ViewPlus has been demonstrating at assistive technology expos, is already generating a fair amount of buzz, with $50,000 in orders booked in advance of next week’s target launch date. Sanders is hoping the add-on will prove so popular it will boost sales of the embosser.
“I think this will sell a lot more Pros,” he said. “No one solves the ink and Braille problem like we do, and that’s the biggest problem out there.”

If Sanders is right, Gardner says, the rapid growth of ViewPlus can continue. “As the company’s revenues grow, we can expand, put more marketing people in the field and sell more products,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this time next year we have 50 employees.”

This article was written by Bennett Hall and published on Feburary 20th in the Corvallis Gazette-Times.

Bennett Hall is the business editor for the Gazette-Times. He can be reached at 758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net.

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