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Customers in the military, nuclear, and medical industries have benefited from the contract manufacturer's ability to provide unique redesigns that reduce total cost and ensure fast delivery.
President of Kimchuk Inc., Jim Marquis, is fond of noting that one of his customers once told him that his company might be a tier three supplier in numbers, but it's a tier one in performance. It is the ability of his design engineers to think outside the box and redesign for cost and manufacturability that continually drives up his sales numbers and the number of satisfied customers, he said.
One pleased end-user, the U.S. Military no less, recently applauded Kimchuk's work on a sniper detection system, earning Marquis's company a Connecticut Quality Improvement Award. Known as the Boomerang Sniper Detection System by Raytheon BBN Technologies, it is able to alert soldiers to hostile incoming fire within one second and pinpoint the location of the shooter. The system tells the operator the direction, distance, and elevation of the shot. The original design from Raytheon BBN was improved by Kimchuk's engineering department to make it "better, smaller, and less expensive," Marquis said, adding that most of the design changes involved the packaging.
Daniel F. Williams, a maintenance control officer within the 1-28 infantry battalion, said that soldiers are wary when new equipment is added to their vehicles. But while on patrol with their newly installed Boomerang system, one of the platoons came under direct fire from an enemy combatant and proved the new detection system to be extremely effective, he said.
"Immediately, the system alerted the two gunners to the exact location of where this individual was firing from. The patrol located him, positively identified the shooter, arrested him, and turned him into the IP," Williams wrote in an e-mail to Kimchuk.
Kimchuk (www.kimchuk.com), described on its website as a "fast-paced, high-tech, high-product mix electronics firm specializing in engineering design and electronic contract manufacturing services," supports a variety of U.S. military and government projects. The ITAR-trained and registered company uses a procurement program that has extensive expertise in handling QML, JAN, and MIL PRF product, as well as the value-added service required for military component procurement. The company saved Raytheon BBN about 50 percent on the Boomerang system through unique design changes and by eliminating manual effort and replacing it with injection molding for a much more compact product, Marquis said.
Thinking "outside the box" to come up with design changes is one of the company's unique attributes, Marquis said. The company is making a simulator for an AR-15 rifle so that soldiers can train without using live ammunition. "They think they have the same gun in their hands and it feels like it's the same weight and has the same reaction time and same kick," Marquis said of the design, which is being 3D printed using one of the company's three additive manufacturing machines.
The company recently began offering 3D printing services to provide low-cost, fast-turn, rugged thermoplastic model creation for quicker design development, prototyping, and low-volume manufacturing. Marquis sees a strong future in 3D printing, and providing the additive manufacturing option has attracted many customers, he said. It's also a good prototyping tool. "When we design something that's going to go out for molding, we'll build one first to make sure we don't have any problems and to make sure everything goes together before we cut metal," he added.
Kimchuk offers its military customers tin mitigation and specialty lead forming, and uses an established UID labeling system with expertise in batch/lot and component traceability. In addition to the sniper detection system, Kimchuk manufactures a light, wearable system that provides detection similar to the sniper system and can direct a .50 caliber weapon to stay on point—even in a vehicle going 60 mph. Both systems can report back to central command from several different sources to give the command total situational awareness in a graphical depiction and map overlay. As a soldier moves, the wearable system will continue to point to the source of the shot and can report to a central command post. "We're also in the final development phase of a device that will detect almost any kind of incoming systems, such as rocket grenade or large gunfire, rockets of all kinds, as well as small arms," Marquis said, adding that there are currently about 15 Blackhawk helicopters that will be equipped with the system.
For military and safety and security markets, Kimchuk manufactures a tunnel detection system that can detect digging and other seismic activities and report them via direct or satellite connection to central monitoring. "If you start digging, it picks up the vibrations in the soil and reports it," Marquis said of the system, which comprises a large cabinet with sensors. In addition to being used in Iraqi prisons, the tunnel detection system was recently employed on the Mexican border to discover a truck tunnel that "you could literally drive a dump truck through," he added.
The Boomerang system is through a contract with Raytheon BBN, which came to Kimchuk, Marquis said, because the company was impressed by the level of detail and the questions asked on their proposal. "We just celebrated our 10,000th system, and their (Raytheon's) executive staff came down here to talk to our employees and buy them lunch, and basically said we're in a class by ourselves," he said.
The military requires a second source; however, on a recent contract, Kimchuk was able to finish the whole contract before a second source was even ready to get one piece qualified. "BBN basically said they weren't spending any more money on a second source and came to us for everything," Marquis said.
Part of what Raytheon BBN applauds Kimchuk on is the company's ability to lower the total costs of products. "We look at what they're doing and try to think outside the box and try to come up with methods that make it more producible," he explained. "In the U.S., the less hands-on work you do, the more competitive you are with the world. In the case of products that are made in China, many are coming back. But in order to bring them back, we normally have to redesign them so they're more machine-usable than they are people-useable. In China, the labor used to be so cheap that they didn't mind putting in a lot of manual labor," he continued, explaining that if the same OEM asked a supplier in the U.S. to quote it, they probably wouldn't be able to be competitive because there's so much touch labor in it. "But if you can eliminate or minimize the touch labor, then you can significantly reduce the cost," he said.
Many engineering projects require taking old products and redesigning them to today's technologies, such as with package on package (POP) assembly, where the memory chip is put right on top of the processor. "This was started about four years ago, but it still hasn't caught on," Marquis noted, adding "we have one or two projects where we're recommending that POP is the way to go, and that it can significantly increase performance and decrease cost." Marquis said he could not discuss the projects because they are still under development.
Growth Driven by Nuclear
While Kimchuk serves about 15 industries, including military, medical, telecom, energy, and safety and security, nuclear is its fastest growing industry and the reason for the company's latest expansion project.
In 2012, the company expanded into a fourth building in Danbury, Conn., adding 18,000 square feet and 75 employees. By December, Marquis said he was already contemplating adding a fifth building. The company currently employs 250 workers and might hire an additional 50 if the fifth building is added.
Driving the company's recent 20 percent annual growth is a contract with Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) to build a number of cabinets for nuclear power plants in South Korea and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In the UAE, Westinghouse is building two plants with the possibility of going to six plants, in which case a fifth building for Kimchuk would absolutely be needed, Marquis said. The company also has plans with Westinghouse to build cabinets for eight power plants approved for the United States, as well as four more in the early stages of planning.
The company recently won a "Preferred Supplier Agreement" with Westinghouse, which appointed Kimchuk as preferred supplier of the manufacture of safety related and non-safety related systems for the Westinghouse AP 1000 nuclear power plant design. Kimchuk was also named a sub-supplier to Westinghouse in their contracts to support the Korean Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) APR 1400 plant design. This agreement calls for Kimchuk to obtain a 10CFR50 Appendix B qualification, as well as provide procurement, manufacturing, test, and burn-in of their systems.
A typical nuclear power plant has 75 to 150 cabinets that contain all of the control systems, such as rod control within the nuclear reactor. Kimchuk manufactures Reed Switch Position Transmitters (RSPT), which detect the position of neutron shields surrounding the fuel rods in a nuclear reactor. At the request of Westinghouse, Kimchuk is working on obtaining the Appendix B qualification. "It's a government regulation on what you have to do on safety-critical items; it takes quite a while to get a program in place and is quite expensive to maintain," Marquis said, adding that the qualification will open up the door to more business opportunities.
Because the war in Iraq has recently ended and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, Marquis said he expects some slowdown on the domestic side of business from the nuclear military industry, explaining that they have done quite a bit of work on the U.S. nuclear submarine fleet. Now, he said, he expects a speedup from his nuclear industry customers for confrontations in places like Egypt, Mexico, and Colombia.
Medical, Telecom, and Beyond
Medical continues to be a strong industry for Kimchuk, which is ISO 13485:2003 registered and offers engineering support and manufacturing of medical and medical support products, such as an embedded heart bypass pump intended for patients awaiting a heart transplant. Marquis said the company has taken projects from design to UL and FDA approval and has been instrumental in design, clinical trial field testing, and FDA audits.
The company offers complete batch/lot and device traceability, as well as revision and engineering change controls. Other products Kimchuk manufactures include surgical cutting instruments, electrosurgical devices, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units, acoustic lithotriptors, fungus detection systems, blood analyzers, and electroshock therapy instruments.
For telecom, Kimchuk manufactures critical communication systems in wire and optical, telephone PBX and control PCBs, laser communication systems, predictive dialing systems, TDM over IP, voice over IP, ethernet, and fiber optic communication systems. Some telecom customers take advantage of the company's FasTrak prototype program and Quote/Buy program.
"With FasTrak, we recognized the need that when people want to build a prototype, they want it in one to two weeks, not four to eight," Marquis said of the often lengthy purchasing and quoting process. "What we've done is developed a system that bypasses almost everything. A credit card is issued to the buyer so they don't have to go into the computer and generate a purchase order. "So when it's received, it gets a special label on it, which means it doesn't go into the stock room; it goes directly to the buyer's desk," he said.
It's been so successful that many customers not only want to buy prototypes, but also low-volume work. "We've probably done about five dozen different products using FasTrak, and there have been cases that we've turned the whole thing around—including buying the material, getting it in and building it, within five working days. Our goal is ten working days," Marquis said.
With the Quote/Buy program, speed is of the essence and a customer can save in the long run. "What it means is we go out and find the part and buy it, and we're not going back to the customer to get approval," he said. "We're just going to do it as fast as possible. Once the customer experiences that, then that's the way they do it all the time because when you go out and quote competitively, you're quoting best price. But when you're doing prototypes and FasTrak, you don't care about price; you're quoting best delivery."
Sometimes a part that costs 90 cents is being quoted at $15, and Kimchuk obtains it even though its price is inflated because, in the long run, it's all about "when can I get my hands on the part," Marquis said. "Holding up a product for a month or two can cost you tens of thousands of dollars, so to spend a couple hundred extra dollars on a part is worth it," he said.
Kimchuk offers complete printed circuit board assembly, including through-hole, surface mount, and mixed technologies. The company's automated systems are capable of handling the latest designs in both flexible and rigid circuitry, and can place a range of package types starting at 01005 and including fine pitch and ball grid arrays. Kimchuk processes single, double, and multi-layer PCBs and its state-of-the-art tracking system offers the customer a detailed timeline of their product's manufacturing process.
Marquis joined Kimchuk in 1971, when the firm had five employees and operated as a machine shop. Last year, he won the city of Danbury's Cecil J. Previdi Award. The prestigious award is issued by the chamber of commerce to an outstanding local entrepreneur who has demonstrated progressive business attitudes, contributed to the growth of local business, and made a significant contribution to the area's economy.
"It's one of these things that, once you're nominated for one thing, it steam rolls," Marquis said, noting that he has since been asked to serve on two local advisory boards—one on disabilities and the other for three area hospitals.
Keeping customers satisfied is about making design and cost improvements with attention to detail, Marquis said, adding that the success of a company can often come down to good timing. "Typically in contract manufacturing, they (OEMs) don't normally go around and invite new people to come in and then give them a big contract. Typically you start small and crawl your way up, and it just happened that Raytheon BBN and Westinghouse hit us at the same period of time," he said.
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