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A GDSI employee tests the circuitry in a keypad that will soon find it’s way onto an electronic device. Photo by Jessica de la Cruz.

Pushing the buttons on a microwave or dispensing pop from a pop machine, most of us give little though to the fingertip-sized domes that collapse beneath our fingertips. But with every popping, push-button sensation an electronic message is sent. Underneath the numbers we see is a whole lot of technology…razor thin circuitry is printed and then sandwiched between many layers of plastic and adhesive, and topped off with artwork that means something to you and I. These membrane switches, as they’re called, are just one tiny piece of the technology needed to bring you your favorite beverage. And that’s exactly what’s made right here in Amery, at Graphic Display Systems Incorporated—or GDSI for short.

They don’t make buttons for pop dispensers at GDSI, although you might find some of their technology inside pop dispensers. 

No, the bulk of what they make finds its way to the medical industry—ventilators, c-pap machines, drug delivery systems and more. Another smaller chunk, roughly 15 percent, ends up in John Deere equipment.

In an era when touchscreens and wireless tech are taking a foothold, one might think that membrane switches were becoming a dinosaur of sorts. Not so, according to President and CEO Mark Ester. In fact, his team is developing new and exciting ways to put the same technologies and capabilities to different use. 

“There’s still a niche for membrane switches,” he says. “We’re moving more into the printed electronics area with heater circuits and medical sensors. There are better growth opportunities there.”

Ester pointed to what looks like black squares and silver lines on a sheet of plastic. 

“These black squares are printed inks. That’s the heater element. The silver is conductive, so it takes the electricity to that black ink, and it heats up,” Ester explains. “So, at it’s very simplest, you could maybe set your coffee cup on it to keep it warm, or wrap it around a pipe or conform to an irregular surface.”

Ester says that GDSI is partnering with companies like Dupont to find applications for the technology. 

GDSI celebrates 25 years in business this year, and with exciting technology like this Ester thinks that the company’s future is even brighter than its past.

What began as two guys working out of a garage in Northfield, Minn. has grown into one of Amery’s premiere manufacturers, now 65 employees strong. The group celebrated with a boat ride in Stillwater.

Celebrating successes is something he and his employees do quite regularly, he says. 

And there certainly is a lot to celebrate. In fact, Ester adds that this August brought their biggest sales month in nearly seven years.

They’ve gotten a little too large to celebrate every birthday like they used to, but he still hands out the pay statements to each employee, face to face. Even after 25 years, that close connection with his employees is something Ester still enjoys, and one thing he hopes will never change.

Congratulations to GDSI on an amazing 25 years, and a very bright future to come!


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