Last month, Calumet Electronics Vice President/CPO Elden Hendrickson, Jr. sat down with Mike Brask, President of Integrated Process Systems, Inc. to reflect on their two companies’ growth, industry fluctuations, and the power of partnership.
Mike Brask: I was recently reminded that I’ve been in business 29 years when my LinkedIn account notified me that IPS was having its 29th birthday. Time sure flies!
We’ve both watched our companies transform and grow with the market demands. And we’ve watched our industry contract from 4000+ circuit board shops to under a few hundred captive and commercial facilities left in the USA. We were laughing that we were once the younglings in the industry in the mid-80’s and now we’re members of the sole survivors’ club.
Elden Hendrickson: That’s right. I remember when IPS was just getting started with making tanks and plating lines. Calumet bought some of our first new pieces of equipment, like your earlier automatic ENIG lines, over 19 years ago. That line is still running today! It transitioned through obsolete hardware and components, software modifications, and support and service, but it has remained a fixture at Calumet Electronics and is still performing.
MB: We always love to hear stories like that. IPS made a conscious choice back in 2007-2008 to focus on North America. Many equipment suppliers, including IPS, were striving to be a worldwide influence, but we were getting stretched way too thin trying to service too many markets. We didn’t want to go bankrupt or lose focus.
We rewrote our business plan to concentrate on being the best turnkey wet process equipment supplier for the North American market, serving multiple products and multiple industries to broaden our customer base, and becoming vertically integrated.
Over the years we’ve made several acquisitions, adding key staff, equipment, and capabilities to our portfolio, and made sure we can maintain the service and support our customers need to keep all new equipment running. We also developed a documentation and control system that allows us to reproduce parts for any machine we have made.
These decisions all support our commitment to our customers and to North American supply and manufacturing.
EH: All of those decisions continue to pay off for your customers — your service has always been outstanding. Over the years IPS has provided a number of conveyorized systems to Calumet, some used, some rebuilt and a few new. You always have the parts and service we needed to keep them running.
MB: Over the past couple of years, we’ve tackled some big projects together even with the setbacks of COVID. Both of our companies expanded to fill the void that was developing. We were among the PCB suppliers and manufacturers that couldn’t just shut down. We had to keep moving forward to meet the demands of our industry and to retain our employees.
EH: There’s a lot of power in partnership. IPS and Calumet remained a strong team as we worked around COVID. Around that time, Calumet identified a need for a reliable supply chain for PCB wet process tools. We chose IPS as a supplier for not only our new automatic copper plating line and via fill technologies, but also another new ENEPIG line. This line has added higher throughput and it incorporates all the latest features required by the chemical suppliers. Thanks to IPS, we now have the latest and greatest equipment available.
MB: It’s been a tough few years for our industry, but there are some bright spots. It’s great to see companies starting to reshore and reinvest. They’re starting to build turnkey facilities again in North America to service the needs of domestic companies. And existing companies are continuing to expand to fill the vacuum created by too much manufacturing going offshore.
We’re seeing that with the building of Phase 1 of the Whelen Engineering fully automated captive PCB shop. We’re the primary supplier for that “green facility” in New Hampshire. And the government is stepping up with big investments that will help chip manufacturers become more self-sufficient.
EH: There are still so many challenges that affect our industry: supply chain and delivery issues, inflation, and labor. The US is down to just a handful of tool makers. North American PCB shops will be pretty vulnerable if the supply chain of tool makers continues to dwindle.
MB: That’s one reason why Calumet and IPS are partnering with local schools. Co-ops with the universities and trade schools can help bring new talent back into our industry to supplement our labor needs.
EH: That’s a really big focus at Calumet Electronics. We’re very proud that our products are made in the USA with American labor! Like IPS, we’re strongly committed to maintaining capabilities for the North American market. And we’re very excited to be bringing new talent back into our industry.
MB: That’s right. We still have a lot of work to do, of course. But we’ll get it done, because we must.
It’s important for every business owner to understand their niche. If we’re going to be able to keep up with wages and benefits, reshore our industry and manufacturing, and stay in business, we need to level the playing field; we need to lead and take control.
For IPS that starts with a supply chain, labor, and customers from North America, who recognize the benefits these local capabilities offer one another to be successful and grow. We continue to look forward to every opportunity we get to prove ourselves and perform at the highest levels.
EH: And we do the same at Calumet Electronics.
MB: It’s been great catching up with you, my fellow survivor! See you at IPC in January.
About Integrated Process Systems, Inc.
Headquartered in Cedar City, Utah, IPS is a world-class manufacturer of automated wet process equipment and material handling systems. From automated loading and unloading equipment, to the latest technology for horizontal conveyorized spray process equipment, or their manual and automated plating systems. Integrated Process Systems, Inc. is your solution for the most state-of-the-art process equipment.