Phoenix Products Co. Inc.
8711 West Port Ave., Milwaukee
Industry: Impact, vibration and corrosive-resistant lighting for mining, marine, industrial and architectural markets
Employees: about 80
Phoenix Products Co. Inc., makes lighting products that are designed to withstand some of the harshest environments – where reliable lighting is crucial for safety and continued operations.
The company’s fixtures and lamps are made to withstand shock, vibration and corrosion, and can be found in some of the world’s largest mines and mining machinery, military and merchant marine craft, and industrial operations.
“The fixtures are made with special aluminum alloys and have built-in shock absorption materials and structures,” said Scott Fredrick, chief executive officer of the company. “We protect the very fragile lamp with our fixtures.”
Phoenix Products got its start in the lighting business in the 1950s, when a mining equipment manufacturer asked it to develop a shock-resistant light housing. Since then, the company has made lighting the cornerstone of its business. Today, Phoenix Products sells its mining-related lighting products to some of the largest mining equipment makers and mine operators around the world, Fredrick said.
“(Because the fixtures are so durable) they save on down time, because they’re not having safety and maintenance problems,” he said.
The company’s fixtures for the marine industry are made to withstand heavy vibrations, as well as the corrosive conditions that salt water environments can present. Making corrosive-resistant lights requires extensive sealing on fixtures, which has also helped Phoenix Products develop its fixtures for heavy industrial uses.
“When you’re in a hazardous location, you have to be sure your light isn’t going to set off an explosion,” Fredrick said.
Some of the lighting units that Phoenix Products makes are designed for high-output uses. The company makes units for large mining shovels, and as signal or directional lights on fishing, crab or shipping boats. Some of these lights have been adapted for architectural purposes, to accent or highlight large features of landmark buildings.
“A lot of architectural locations are irrigated with corrosive water,” Fredrick said. “We started adapting marine fixtures for architectural uses in the 1990s.”
Today, the company’s lights are used on exteriors of several prominent buildings around the nation such as the Wisconsin State Capitol, Los Angeles’ City Hall, San Francisco’s City Hall, and many of the resorts and casinos on the Las Vegas strip. The company’s architectural fixtures can also be seen in some of metro Milwaukee’s landmark buildings including Discovery World, the 1000 North Water Street office building, Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, the MillerCoors LLC brewery, Potawatomi Bingo Casino and more.
In addition to its lighting products, Phoenix Products Co. has a division named Phoenix International that makes ovens for welding rods, which keep welding rods dry and hot on job sites. The company is the largest producer of welding rod ovens in the world, Fredrick said.
“For bridges, pipelines and ships (under construction) they are required to have welding rods stored in ovens,” he said.
Phoenix Products is owned by the Wordingham and Fredrick families. The company was founded in the 1890s by George Wordingham. The company now has about 80 employees in its 68,000-square-foot headquarters and manufacturing facility on Milwaukee’s far northwest side.
Like many companies that serve the industrial and commercial construction markets, Phoenix Products’ sales slumped last year. However, it was able to avoid layoffs through cost-cutting efforts, Fredrick said.
The company’s efforts to reduce lead times over the last five years helped it maintain some customers during the slowest months of the recession, largely because of its work with the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing at the University of Wisconsin.
“We’ve put in a lot of time there and it’s shortened our lead time by half to two-thirds,” Fredrick said. “Instead of six weeks, it might be two weeks. And instead of two weeks, it might be three days for certain products. It’s helped us pick up both incremental sales and pricing because we can be first to deliver. And it can make you the supplier of choice for people in a hurry. And today, a lot of people are in a hurry.”
Phoenix Products is now working to develop new LED-based lights to its heavy-duty markets now.
“We’re on the fast track to adapt LED technology for mining and marine, those are our first areas,” Fredrick said. “We’ve got some of them in the market now, and we’re rapidly adapting more fixtures now. We’ve got six different fixtures in beta tests now.”