Laney’s parents, Marge and Don Laney, founded Alert Tech SMT. At first, they made drive-through intercoms and on-site music systems. Then, a regional retailer told Marge Laney that it needed a way to allow customers inside fitting rooms to reach out to employees for help, and she created a system to do that.
“We iterated that into a whole suite of enterprise retail solutions,” Laney says. “And unusually, rather than having somebody else build those solutions and contract it out, we always did it in-house.”
Unforeseen benefits of in-house manufacturing
That turned out to be fortuitous. If Alert Tech SMT hadn’t manufactured its own products, it would have been far more vulnerable when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. “All of retail just froze, particularly in the fitting rooms and the service kind of components that we were specialized in,” Laney says. But Alert Tech SMT was able to pivot to contract manufacturing.
The company moved quickly. It hired people who had 10 to 30 years’ of experience in electronics manufacturing and who had just been laid off. “We were scaling up while everybody was scaling down. And it allowed us to bring on an amazing team,” Laney notes.
Today, Alert Tech SMT offers a range of printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication and assembly services. “We can generate bare boards for folks who want to incorporate those into their finished product on their own. We do full box build, wire harness,” Laney says. Testing services include functional testing, flying probe testing, and radio frequency performance testing.
The company also provides help with design and engineering. “When people have gotten to the point where they have their schematics--they have everything they need, they just need the board laid out and then produced--we often get with people early on and help them iterate towards production,” Laney explains.
Alert Tech SMT works on orders for telecommunications, radio frequency, and security devices. Laney intentionally works with diverse industries. “It's very easy for Houston, Texas, companies to become very entrenched in oil and gas and energy services,” he notes.
“Our perfect customer is a mid-cap company with a mature product line that is currently in production, adding new products that they have on their timeline,” he continues. Customers typically switch to Alert Tech SMT because their previous manufacturer didn’t provide enough personalized service or had issues with quality.
Alert Tech SMT’s business-friendly location is an advantage from a growth perspective. “Houston is a get-stuff-done kind of city,” Laney says. “There's very little in our way.”
Strong growth and strong focus
In the last two years, revenue has increased by 200%, and Laney predicts another triple-digit percentage increase in the next year. While the business has experienced fast growth, he’s careful to control quality and avoid over-promising.
The company occupies 20,000 square feet, including a 10,000 square-foot production environment. Essentially all of the equipment was purchased within the last three years through an investment of over $4 million.
The entire factory is integrated with Aegis’ FactoryLogix system, so that every board is traceable down to the minute or second. “That was one huge investment that I don't think many companies would've made at our size when we did, but I'm so glad we did it before we took off, because it's been the infrastructure on which we've been able to scale,” Laney says.
Laney is a Ted Lasso fan, and he’s hung a “Believe” sign at the end of the production line by the American flag and the Texas flag. In addition to adhering to Lean Six Sigma principles, he likes to refer to several aphorisms, such as “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”
Fulfilling an order starts when project managers go over the customer’s CAD data and specifications to ensure everything’s clean. Once a customer accepts the quote, Alert Tech SMT purchases the materials.
“We have a full turnkey purchasing department led by a 30-year veteran. She's amazing. She can find parts when nobody else can, which has been a huge competitive advantage for us,” Laney says. If a component isn’t available in the U.S., strategic sourcing employees can get it from mainland China.
The build begins with a safe launch process whereby the first boards are inspected before they build the second panel. After employees build and test the boards, they may integrate them into a larger assembly if required and ship them to the customer.
Laney stresses customer support, honesty, and collaboration, particularly because he’s been a customer of EMS companies himself. “Man, did I learn a lot about how I don't want to be treated.”
Challenges: “It's a challenge to maintain our culture,” Laney says. “We have to make sure that we maintain the same type of folks that we've had here so that we can give individualized attention to each of our customers.”
Opportunities: Laney points to the company’s location near NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “There's huge growth in commercial space flight, and our proximity to some of these really great private space companies is a huge opportunity for us.” He’s pursuing AS9100 certification so Alert Tech SMT can build aerospace systems.
Other opportunities stem from the energy sector’s new focus on batteries and its shift toward renewable energy sources like wind and solar. “Fortunately for us, those are all technology challenges,” Laney notes.
Needs: Alert Tech SMT needs a new facility, which is under construction. “We should be in there by the end of the year,” Laney says.
The new space measures 35,000 square feet, with the option to add another 20,000 square feet later. Laney predicts they’ll need the larger area within a couple years, based on his experience relocating Alert Tech SMT to its current building. “As soon as we moved in, I felt like we needed more room.”