Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
The products made by Glendale-based MEC Companies are key components in electronic devices that touch your life almost every day. MEC Companies designs and manufactures circuit boards, used to control electronic processes in a wide variety of machines. Boards made by MEC are used in motorcycles, semi tractors, controls for large-scale mining shovels, thermostats for commercial ovens, large commercial dryers and more.
MEC’s most recognizable customers include Harley-Davidson, Hewlett Packard, Milwaukee Electronic Tool, Rockwell Automation and Waukesha Engine.
MEC’s boards are also used by Adec, a manufacturer of dental equipment that makes equipment used by about 90 percent of dentist offices, said P. Michael Stoehr, president and owner of MEC Companies. They’re also used by DRS, a military contractor, for electrical motor controls on aircraft carriers and submarines.
There is a reason most people aren’t familiar with MEC, Stoehr said.
"Our customers are OEMs (original equipment manufacturers)," he said. "Our product is intrinsic to their product. We don’t advertise. Our customers are the ones who gain notoriety. Our name doesn’t appear on anything."
Because almost all of MEC’s customers are OEMs, the company doesn’t make different lines of products that it sells straight from the box. Instead, it makes each type of board for different applications that its customers need.
"When we come across a company that is a leader (in its industry) and is successful, we take them from a mechanical control and help them leapfrog to the latest in electronic controls," Stoehr said. "We have those blue chip customers that don’t want the same-old same-old. They want something new and innovative."
In the past five to 10 years, OEMs have come to rely more on suppliers like MEC to create pieces in "box build" format.
"In the past five to 10 years, OEMs have become assemblers," Stoehr said. "They want a complete assembly that they can just put in place."
Most of MEC’s customers are long-term relationships, Stoehr said, largely because of the partnerships it creates with customers. For example, MEC has five engineers working at Hewlett Packard’s inkjet printer design facilities, where they can work directly with the customer at their own job site.
"For most of our customers, we do not get the job by constantly giving them the low quote," Stoehr said. "Most of our customers are five to 20 year relationships."
Stoehr acquired MEC, then known as the Milwaukee Electronics Company, in 1985. Then, the company had about 23 employees, and about $850,000 in annual sales.
Today, MEC Companies has about 250 employees and annual sales between $25 million and $50 million. The company has facilities in Glendale; Milwaukie, Oregon and Mexico.
The Oregon facility was acquired in 1999, when Stoehr bought an existing circuit board manufacturer there. The acquisition was made, primarily, to give MEC a customer base west of the Mississippi River.
MEC’s different divisions are named for the regions they’re located in. The Glendale headquarters, engineering department and manufacturing facility are known as MEC Midwest. The Oregon manufacturing and engineering department are called MEC Northwest. The Mexican manufacturing facility, called MEC Mexico, was opened in 2003.
2005 revenues for MEC Northwest and MEC Midwest were up 22 and 13 percent, respectively. Those increases were largely due to two changes the company made in 2002, during a down time in the electronics industry.
"We were considering cutting back our workforce," Stoehr said. "But we decided to keep our engineers, many of whom had more than 20 years experience with us. We decided to sell their services on the open market."
The new division was named MEC Innovation. Customers are able to contract with MEC’s engineers to work on product development or ideas, instead of creating their own engineering department, Stoehr said.
The growing department is now responsible for about 20 percent of MEC’s total revenues.
Also in 2002, MEC decided to create a quick turnaround division for customers that needed a new prototype or short run of circuit boards. The new division of MEC, called Screaming Circuits, is housed entirely at MEC Northwest in Oregon.
Screaming Circuits’ ordering is entirely Internet-based, and offers customers product turnaround times between 24 hours and 10 days. Prices increase with shorter turnaround, and the Web-based ordering gives customers immediate price quotes, Stoehr said.
About 40 percent of the orders for Screaming Circuits have a 48 hour turnaround and about 25 percent have a 24-hour turnaround. The company has even filled three same-day orders, Stoehr said.
"There’s a price for that, though," he said.
After just three years, the Screaming Circuits division now accounts for about 10 percent of MEC’s total sales. The new division has become the company’s most profitable division, with 30 to 40 percent profit ranges, Stoehr said.
Screaming Circuits has also developed some long-term relationships with customers. The quick turnaround business is often used by engineers and product developers making prototypes. Engineers almost inevitably have to order several rounds of circuit boards in the development process, Stoehr said. And as the product is being prepared for full-scale production, those engineers will often recommend ordering larger runs of boards from MEC because the company already has experience in making parts that fit their needs.
The Screaming Circuit division is giving MEC Companies enough growth that the company’s Northwest division may need to move into another facility. MEC Northwest is currently housed in about 55,000 square feet of space.
Since MEC acquired its Northwest division, the company has doubled its employees in that area to 75. The Mexican plant is having steady increases as well and now employs 50, Stoehr said.
The Glendale facility, MEC Midwest, has reduced its manufacturing employees through a constant focus on lean manufacturing principles, but has increased its engineering staff. The company now has 125 employees in Glendale.
"Since 2003 in (Glendale), when we started lean, our sales are up 55 percent," Stoehr said. "And it’s freed up about one third of our building. We’re going to keep on growing (here). That’s the phenomenon of lean."
Location: 5855 N. Glen Park Road, Glendale
Products: Manufacturing, design and engineering of controlling circuit boards
Revenues: $25 million to $50 million
Employees: 250, including 125 in Glendale
Web site: www.meccompanies.com