Distinguished Alumni Awards
James P. Liautaud
Founder, Gabriel, Inc., Elgin, Illinois and Clinical Research Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
BS 1963, Mechanical Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
After graduation, James P. Liautaud spent his first five years in a sales and managerial role for a Fortune 500 company. He left to conduct significant research on the application of thermoplastics to insert molding—the art of combining metal and plastic for industrial tools and components—and in 1968, founded his first company to exploit this technology, the Capsonic Group. Prior to his research, the majority of this technology incorporated thermoset plastics, which was severely limited in its application to metal and plastic assemblies used in the semiconductor industry. One of Liautaud’s first patents was the “snap-pak,” a device that allowed these materials to encapsulate semiconductor chips without damaging their wire bonds. In 1970, he developed another patented molding process for General Instruments that replaced the then-standard thermoset polyurethane casting process for making flyback transformers for television tubes, using a new engineering grade of asbestos-filled polypropylene. His process became the cover story in a number of national publications, and led to the rapid acceptance of the technology to other applications, in addition to initiating a high investor interest.
In 1974, Liautaud developed and manufactured the coin counter used on all Western Electric single-coin pay phones, which rapidly replaced their original three-coin system. Two years later, he patented an innovative process for manufacturing higher quality RF antennas for Motorola and other companies, leading to the formation of American Antenna. There he developed and patented another advanced antenna design that incorporated two separate molding stages, and introduced the K40 CB antenna which captured 55% of the U.S. market within one year.
During the same period, Liautaud’s processes were incorporated in the manufacture of the first airbag sensors used on all Ford cars and trucks. General Motors used his technology in the manufacture of its first fuel injection engines for Buick models and the Corvette. Liautaud’s device incorporated five different materials molded into a single mass air-flow sensor, which measured the temperature of the ingested air to allow the continuous adjustment of the fuel air mixture in these engines. The concept designs emanated entirely from Ford and GM, but the technology used to make these products was Liautaud’s. His plants then expanded into the U.S. and Mexico, and went on to manufacture a wide range of specialty products for the automotive, electronics, and other industries.
In the mid-1980s, Liautaud developed and patented the first IC-packaged dip switch, a digital switch used principally to program memory boards, and he formed a third company to produce that product. That package design has since become the standard in the industry. In this same period, Liautaud patented a new technology allowing custom-installed radar detectors to differentiate between front, side, and rear sourced-radar. He dubbed the product Sonar-Radar, and today, that company, K40 Electronics, is the dominant national leader in the custom radar detector installation market.
In all, Liautaud has over 60 U.S. patents. He has won numerous design awards in the plastics, electronics, and consumer electronics industry, including other entrepreneurial awards for his contributions over the years. Liautaud retired in 1998, and devotes considerable time supporting and contributing to the University.
Current as of 2005.