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Industry Flexibility Drives Flextronics’ Growth

Local high-tech business expands in aerospace, defense and medical device markets

Posted: September 24, 2013 4:53 p.m.
Updated: September 24, 2013 4:53 p.m.

Pictured is Flextronics local headquarters building in the Valencia Commerce Center.

 

Serving medical, military, space, industrial, and RF and wireless markets, the Santa Clarita Valley location of Flextronics is a 140,000-square-foot facility that is so bathed in light, pristine clean and quiet visitors feel as if they are stepping into the future. And to a degree, they are.

Visitors walk along a tiled path surrounding the perimeter of the work floor so as not to create any electronic magnetic disturbances.

Employees work on an all white floor, which is conductive, and wear special devices on the heels of their shoes to prevent disruptions, as well. Robots handle more than 100,000 parts per hour while assembling microelectronic circuit boards.

All of the utilities are installed underground so the plant’s main floor can be reconfigured at any time to accompany assembly flow.

This high-tech microelectronics business has a high-tech research and development lab, manufacturing and assembly facility located in the Valencia Commerce Center just off the Interstate 5.

Flextronics houses some 200 workers — most of them in lab coats — and a 15,000-square-foot clean room where highly skilled employees don protective gear from head to toe, including face masks. In the clean room, workers inspect dyes and work with wires one-tenth the thickness of human hair.

Because so much nitrogen is used to preserve parts and protect them from moisture, the company has its own nitrogen-producing operation out back.

Skylights and a custom light grid allows employees to more easily see while working with tiny, some almost microscopic, electronic parts — parts that propel everything from spaceships to the Mars Rover to pacemakers and heart monitoring devices.

Production is all automated. High-tech, heavy duty machines do everything from assembling to washing, inspecting and conducting extreme environment and life cycle tests.

Counted among their customers are big name companies, but the nature of their work is either classified or secretive for competitive reasons — therefore the names are not for public knowledge.

Flextronics, however, works with the top 20 aerospace and defense firms, as well as medical — all Fortune 100 companies, said members of its management team. And every customer is assigned their own program manager.

Originally founded as Kimball Microelectronics in 1974, its name was changed to Stellar Microelectronics in 2003. Alfred E. Mann served as chairman of the board.

In 2012, the multimillion-dollar company was acquired by a global company — Flextronics International Ltd.
Flextronics has grown through acquisition. Locally the company has grown organically, said two members of its management team, Greg Horton and Larry Veiga.

“We are a high-reliability supply chain,” said Greg Horton, vice president of aerospace and defense for the Flextronics corporation. “We see a weakness and we go after it. Very little limits us.”

The design of the entire plant also allows every employee to look down upon the floor at any moment and see the work in progress and have a sense of ownership in the process.

Every employee knows what the company is working on and where the product is going, which is critical to Flextronics’ local successes, said Larry Veiga, general manager of the Valencia operations overseeing the aerospace and defense, as well as medical, products developed locally.

An advantage the local company team has, he said, is that it is part of a global company with locations in 30 countries to help support its customers in any market and help a business grow. If the talent or expertise doesn’t exist locally for a specific product, the company always has it at another location, Veiga said.

The industries Flextronics serves are giants in the nation.

In aerospace and defense, the Department of Defense said in 2011 that it announced contracts valued at $6.5 million or more each business day.

As for the medical device industry, it accounted for more than 409,000 employees in 2009, according to a 2011 report by the Milken Institute.

The industry accounted for $26.5 billion in wages and was responsible for $66.2 billion in economic output.

Every job in the biomedical sector supports another 3.3 jobs elsewhere, the report concluded.

The Valencia site of Flextronics has a high degree of expertise for highly regulated industries, Horton said.

“We produce high-reliability (items),” Veiga said. “That means these items cannot fail in their environment or mission.”

And every single component, no matter how small or microscopic, is imprinted with a serial number or 2D bar code using a laser, he said.

In these fast-paced industries, not only is counterfeiting a concern for systems that must not fail, but technology changes so fast that parts can become obsolete quickly, as well, Horton said.

To that end, Flextronics has an engineering department and Research and Development capabilities to help customers build what they need. The company is always pushing the leading edge of technology, Veiga said.

Propelled by that rapidly evolving technology, Corporate Communications Manager Annie Eitman quoted one executive as saying: “The future isn’t tomorrow. It’s this afternoon.”

NASA-certified and compliant in International Traffic in Arms Regulations, employees continuously go through certification training in the company’s training lab, including all managers.

Flextronics can produce any size order, but it can also handle low-to-medium volume products. In total it puts out some 10,000 units per month, Horton said.

Being located in Santa Clarita has definite advantages too.

There is such a legacy and huge customer base in Southern California, he said. The region is also home to a trained labor force that knows how to develop according to NASA and military standards.

“We have a good mix of people and talent here that come from Santa Clarita, San Fernando Valley and Ventura County,” Veiga said. “And as we hire more people, it brings additional revenue into the community.”

The work at Flextronics creates a huge potential for high-end jobs in the Santa Clarita Valley, Horton said. The company has also developed a program that works with vets, allowing them to go to school and work at the company while earning degrees.

Because of its international client base, the company fills hotel rooms and restaurants when they bring clients and their families into town, the two men said.

Clients sometimes bring their families with them because of Six Flags Magic Mountain. And the company also said its East Coast companies especially love to come to Santa Clarita during the winter months.

Often those customers come into town to collaborate on solutions for products.

“We’re starting to see a lot of medical startup firms in the Santa Clarita Valley. They’ll develop a product and invest money in research and development but don’t want to spend the money in manufacturing, so they look for partners to handle that end,” Veiga said.

“It provides flexible manufacturing for them,” he said. “And we’ve helped some companies get to market with their devices.”

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