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In Lower Swatara Twp., Phoenix Contact stays close to source

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Look at what the development team at Phoenix Contact USA has produced recently and it's not hard to see why the German-based company decided to expand the Lower Swatara Township campus that is the hub of its U.S. operations.

For starters, there's a low-power radio that collects sensor data from a system and communicates it back to controllers.

"Say you have a tank farm," said Dave Skelton, Phoenix Contact USA's vice president and general manager of development and manufacturing. "If you want to know whether a tank's full or empty or on or off, this system would allow you to do that wirelessly so you don't have to install all the wires or cables."

It's useful in almost any process industry, Skelton said, particularly oil and gas.

Then there's a process infrastructure that provides signal conditioning and isolation between a control room and instruments out in the field. Phoenix makes it for the Americas and for the European market.

"You need to have a system that's very robust," Skelton said. "This is done in process industries a lot — oil and gas, refining, petrochemical industries."

There's also a plug connector for electric vehicles. In all, the Dauphin County facility has been responsible for developing 11 product lines since 2005. Some are manufactured here, some elsewhere, and the local staff also preconfigures many products for clients' specific uses.

Both Skelton and Doug Ferguson, Phoenix's director of U.S. operations services, noted that Phoenix has had a lot of recent success serving certain industries: oil and gas, including natural gas; renewable energy; and telecommunications.

Competitive and economic pressures their customers face also make Phoenix's services more valuable, as the costs of holding inventory make shortening the supply chain increasingly important.

"One of the largest ways the U.S. companies and the North America companies are trying to be more competitive is through automation and advancements," Ferguson said. "That's our business and our products. While the economy generally may be slow, the demand for technology and automation to make the U.S. more competitive, that has helped us in our growth."

All that activity didn't just happen, Skelton said — it was the result of a strategic decision in 2005 to focus on being close to customers. It worked, with manufacturing and especially development here generating such growth over the last few years that some employees are currently working out of leased space.

In short, Phoenix has earned its expansion. Scheduled to be completed before the end of the year, the addition will total about 117,000 square feet.

"We wanted to expand within the existing footprint of the real estate that we have, and also tie in the synergies of our automation in the existing production areas tied in with our automated logistics system," Ferguson said.

Ferguson estimated the addition will allow the campus to handle 250 to 300 more employees, a number that could expand depending on how future manufacturing shifts are structured. That will probably be enough capacity for at least the next five to seven years, he said, and both this location and Phoenix's plant in Michigan still have enough land for future growth.

In terms of Phoenix's global operation, the local development team is only a small part, Skelton said, but its growth has been significant, and two new floors have been designated for the product development team.

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