Fort Payne firm knocks the lead out of radiation shielding
Artemis Shielding’s mission is to protect people and the world from the dangers of lead and radiation. The veteran-owned-and-operated company, headquartered in Fort Payne, focuses on manufacturing lead-free, non-toxic, radiation shielding materials (RSM) for a variety of industries, including medical, nuclear and security.
“We’re a newer company with a new technology,” says Randall Ham, director of sales and marketing. Founded in 2016, Artemis has already achieved a global impact, providing its patented Nanotek shielding products to businesses in Canada, the United Kingdom, Austria, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and India.
“It’s about protecting people, not just from radiation, but from lead,” says Ham, pointing out that while there are other companies who make lead-free products, the materials they use to manufacture those products may still be toxic.
Artemis Shielding products, however, use a proprietary blend of hybrid polymers and high atomic number elements instead of lead. It has a lot of advantages. The products not only provide superior protection from radiation exposure but also meet the qualifications for California Proposition 65 and Restriction of Hazardous Substances compliance.
In addition to being safer to handle and work with, they also are more environmentally friendly. “When you’re working with lead, you have to wear all kinds of personal protective equipment to handle it,” Ham explains. “When it comes to remediation, or if you wanted to repurpose a room that you had shielded with lead, that gets very expensive because you have to figure out how you’re going to dispose of it. You can’t just throw it in the dumpster.” Artemis Shielding products are 100% recyclable and the company will even repurpose materials that are returned to them.
“One of the things we probably do best right now is in the airport security industry,” says Ham. Artemis provides materials for airport security baggage scanners, including custom designed scanner curtains and pliable RSM used to line X-ray and other scanning equipment cabinets. Ham adds that the same technology is found in food processing facilities. “Pretty much any piece of food you put in your mouth has been X-rayed at some time. Meat, as it goes through processing, is X-rayed to check for bone fragments or metal contamination. Cereal boxes — they x-ray those to make sure they’re filled properly.” Artemis expects to have the same impact in the food industry as it has in security and has begun working with Eagle Product Inspection and Mettler Toledo.
Another strong area for the company is in the medical industry where it produces mobile barrier shields to protect X-ray technicians, as well as a Nanotek formulation designed specifically for room shielding in radiology and Computed Tomography (CT) suites. They also provide materials for mobile medical units, such as those that provide breast screening services.
“One project that we’re working on in partnership with the Siemens medical division is shielding for mobile CT units for the military,” says Ham. He describes a collapsible container, similar to a shipping container. “They can put it in the back of an aircraft and fly it anywhere — whether it be a combat environment or a rear medical facility — they unfold this thing and have a CT unit where they can treat patients.” Artemis entered a 10-year contract with Siemens in 2019 and delivered their first units in 2020.
“Of course, we just made our entrance into the aerospace industry in February,” says Ham, referring to the Feb. 20 launch of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus 15 resupply spacecraft that delivered electronic components protected by Artemis RSM to the International Space Station, in partnership with Alpha Space Test & Research Alliance.
Alpha Space, a Houston-based company, reached out to Artemis Shielding in mid-2020 because they were having problems with electronic glitches in their avionics boxes caused by extended exposure to harsh doses of radiation in space. Artemis’ RSM offered a solution that was flexible and, more importantly, lightweight. With the customizable RSM, Alpha Space was able to add a protective layer to its avionics boxes that didn’t dramatically affect the weight of the equipment. “As you can imagine, every ounce when you’re launching a vehicle into space has to be accounted for,” says Ham. “The fact that we can make our products very thin and very lightweight was definitely a perk for Alpha Space.”
“We are very proud to play a role in the next phase of space exploration and advancement,” said the company’s chief executive officer, Buddy Lockwood, in a statement in February. “We strive to shield our clients’ equipment and personnel to keep them safe from harmful effects of this world and beyond.”
Artemis is excited about the success of its latest industry breakthrough and has already caught the eye of other companies in the aerospace industry. And it has more plans to grow. The company’s business plan calls for its manufacturing to be brought entirely in-house to Fort Payne in the near future. Preparations are well underway, says Ham. “We’re in the planning stages now and we’ve been in contact with the city of Fort Payne about properties and tax abatements.” The facility is expected to initially add about 25 jobs to the area.
“Artemis believes in supporting our community and families,” says Lockwood. “We look forward to the future where we can make a larger impact and employ the great people of our city and county.”
Ham adds, “We’re growing. It’s taken some time, but our technology is really starting to gain traction.” Artemis, like many other companies, did not see the expected growth in sales in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They did, however, spend a lot of time building relationships with companies in the U.S. and abroad.
“We expect tremendous growth,” says Ham. “And, of course, we want to be profitable. But our focus is more on protecting people and the environment.”
He points to states like California and countries like India that have been aggressive in banning lead from consumer products and expects to see similar initiatives take off in the next few years. Artemis Shielding is proud to be leading the way with them.
“Just like anything else, people get comfortable doing the things they’ve always done and they’re hesitant to do something new and different,” says Ham. “But people are really starting to grasp what we’re doing.”