Are MultiWire Laboratories' Products a Gamble?

MultiWire Laboratories, Ltd. was created in the early 1980s to provide XRAY Crystallographic back-reflection equipment to the research and industrial market places. It was a joint venture between the two co-founders, Margaret Rich and Don Bilderback, both employed by Cornell University.

I started working for MultiWire Laboratories in 1986, initially working on software for the Atari-based machines, then later leading the development into the IBM PC world. My work resulted both in the real-time acquisition interface (for the PC) as well as the realization of the NorthStar software. Later I developed the EZOrient and ScanOrient software, as well as electrical enhancements and redesigns to existing peripheral equipment. I left the company in 1998 due to low sales volume and concerns over lack of sufficient advertisement and promotion.

In 2001, Margaret Rich contacted me and requested my assistance in evaluating manufacturing problems and getting the company back on its feet, production-volume-wise. Over the next 2-1/2 years, I re-evaluated much of the product line towards consistent quality and production. Don Bilderback played a minor role, claiming to have had a possible 'brain tumor'. Margaret and I worked together on the reassessment; re-designing processes and re-writing much of the manufacturing documentation, setting quality standards and the like. In the process we gradually ramped up production and began to meet the needs of the customers with consistent product. During this same period, I also served as their primary customer interface, especially in the field.

Towards the end of this period, Don Bilderback had a 'miraculous' recovery and began coming into the laboratory regularly. In the process he began questioning many of the quality innovations we had put into place and, under his 'tinkering' with manufactured product, the quality of the instrumentation began to noticeably suffer. In addition, he embarked on a re-write of the company's software (NorthStar, etc.) without consideration of version control or current software revisions, effectively creating a confusing mess in what the customer ended up with when their order finally was shipped.

As the 'mess' deepened, I was often called out into the field by MWL customers to address equipment problems. As it became more and more apparent that defective machines were being shipped, Margaret and Don became more at odds than ever before. On my end, I found that my field reports were being re-written before being shared with the customer, generally removing the statements about any manufacturing oversights and switching the blame for the problem to the customer themselves.

Margaret and Don became more at odds, and in turn, Don effectively shut all production down, shipping only previously-built machines with little testing (again, fraught with deficiencies).

In late August 2006, while in the middle of a legal battle with a government research entity over a defective machine they received, Margaret went into the hospital for a minor pain in her leg. She never left the hospital, dying in September.

Almost immediately after Margaret entered the hospital, Don's wife Becky stepped in and started clearing out Margaret's office. Upon Margaret's death, with no written will located, Don and Becky took full control of the company. In the period since, the only change has been a re-vamping of the website.


The background I presented above is intended to serve both as a disclaimer and a basis for my statements of caution over the reliability of equipment purchased from MWL. I will state that most of the peripheral equipment packaged with an MWL detector would be contracted to me to build. Prior to ~2005, so did the software. In short, Don and Becky have no idea how to fabricate most items they produce, let alone the testing and QA. Based on calls from their customers, quality of equipment shipped continues to spiral downwards, and when a customer complains, the company turns it into a legal process to draw out and obfuscate their responsibility.

The MWL 100 detector and associated equipment is a good design and can be very reliable, if manufactured with care and configured properly. However, and this is my caution, the company no longer has the knowledge, nor ethics to concern themselves with ensuring a good product is shipped. Rather, Don and Becky cage everything in their 'born-again' christian attitudes. As such, please allow my comments to be taken as a cautionary measure for anyone considering the purchase of a MultiWire product.


For Margaret Rich -- a teacher at heart -- who envisioned easy-to-use, inexpensive, quality XRAY diffraction products for all who needed them.