Carlisle manufacturer staying in control
Barry Bowman found the perfect formula to keep Flight Systems Industrial Products growing steadily as a niche manufacturer of electronic products: Be in control.
FSIP manufactures the controllers used in many electric and gas-powered vehicles, such as golf carts, scrubber-sweepers, mining cars/locomotives, electric boats and go-karts. A big part of the company's business is remanufacturing the controllers made decades ago.
“We're still repairing stuff from 40 years ago,” said Bowman, company president.
FSIP began producing controls in 1970 and has grown and branched out ever since, reaching $19 million in sales in 2013. In 2003, the company relocated from Mechanicsburg into the former Tyco building on Harrisburg Pike in North Middleton Township.
Plans are in motion to expand the 45,000-square-foot building by another 15,000 square feet as soon as the company receives approvals from the township. Bowman said he hopes to break ground by the start of 2015.
“We are out of space again, so that's a good thing,” said Pam Jones, director of sales and marketing for FSIP.
In the meantime, the company wants to use its experience to capitalize on the green push to electric-powered vehicles and machinery.
“Anything battery powered is the core part of our business,” Bowman said. “We've been able to take advantage because there's always more and more things being converted to that.”
Flight Systems began in 1968 designing and manufacturing aircraft and runway strobe lights, using unique solid-state controls technology. The company received patents and Federal Aviation Administration certification for its solid-state relays, timers and circuit breakers, which were used on various spacecraft.
In 1970, the company began re-manufacturing solid state controls for lift trucks. The controls basically serve as “the brains” behind the equipment, Jones said.
Business ran steady for the next 27 years under the Flight Systems umbrella. Bowman came aboard in 1987.
“I started off as a draftsman and worked my way up the ladder through the school of hard knocks,” he said.
In 1997, the Industrial Products Group was sold to the Brynavon Group and renamed Flight Systems Industrial Products. The company kicked off its independence with 21 employees. Keeping the Flight Systems moniker was a tough decision, Bowman said, but the company opted for the name recognition.
“It's a very niche business,” he added, noting the name still causes confusion. “I've been in Carlisle for 15 years and people still ask me, 'What do you do?'”
FSIP began growing more significantly once it moved to North Middleton, Jones said. Deals with Curtis Instruments and General Electric bolstered the client roster. In 2010, the company acquired portions of GE's motion control business, essentially buying out a competitor.
“We took their plant that was in Puerto Rico and moved those operations here,” Jones said.
Those deals helped bring FSIP to the 118 employees it has today. George Lemmon Jr., managing director of the Brynavon Group, said FSIP is in a good manufacturing sector and led by a strong management team.
An important key to FSIP's success is its relationship with the OEMs, or original equipment manufacturers, Bowman said. OEMs resell another company's product under their own names and branding.
With the rapidly changing technology and numbers of older controls in the market, having that close relationship with OEMs is essential, Bowman said.
FSIP also provides many OEMs with a failure analysis in years three, four and beyond, to assist the OEMs with continued improvements on their products, Jones said. In addition, FSIP replaces not only the faulty components within the products they re-manufacture, but all components that may have been weakened due to the initial root cause.
“Our competitors are typically not going to go to those lengths,” Bowman said.
Still, a small company like FSIP is not immune to political and marketplace vagaries.
“One of the big things that hurt our business was the auto bailout,” Bowman said, adding that the bill included a stipulation that all forklifts five years and older had to be scrapped. That took thousands of potential repairs off the market.
Finding skilled labor is another challenge for FSIP. It can take up to two years to get a technician properly trained, Bowman said.
Then there's the health care dilemma.
“Health insurance is a big issue for us,” Bowman said. “We have trouble getting competitive rates. Last year, we absorbed a 28 percent increase in our premiums.”
Despite those challenges, FSIP continues to grow and seek new opportunities. The electric car market, for one, is an area the company would like to break into.
“We have these relationships with manufacturers and it allows us to give the customer exactly what they need,” Jones said.