By Angela Rose | Aug 14, 2022
Standard and customized workstations, workbenches, and laboratory furniture
Ron Isles founded Isles Industries -- the 'I' in the current IAC Industries -- out of his garage in the early 70s. "At the time, Ron worked for North American Rockwell in Anaheim, California, where my dad also worked," says Notti. "Ron was running an experimental lab to develop products for the space race, but he got tired of having to wait for the facilities people to build out the lab so he could get to work."
Isles manufactured workstations and workbenches for many years before selling the company to the Kidde Corporation, which later sold it to Webber Aircraft, which sold it once again to the Hanson Group. Don Murphy, the current owner, acquired Isles Industries around 1990 along with another company called Advanced Engineering, and a third called CF&A. Murphy rebranded the combined organization as IAC Industries.
"I started with the company in late 1977 at the ripe old age of 20," Notti says. "I've been with it basically it's entire existence." Now IAC Industries' Director of Operations, Notti learned from Isles firsthand the advantages of bringing as much of the manufacturing process in-house as possible.
"After I had been here for a maybe a month," says Notti, "Ron said to me, 'If somebody else could make money at it, if somebody could have a company and put their kids through college at it, then I can make money doing it.'" At the time, the company was purchasing drawers, cabinets, and other sheet metal parts for their workstations and workbenches. But Isles made the move to expand the facility from 12,000 square feet to 35,000 in order to enable production of more of the product components.
Today, IAC Industries is housed in a 50,000-square-foot building with more than 46,000 square feet devoted to manufacturing. "We still buy small items, like small brackets," Notti says. "We don't want to waste time on the expensive equipment we have around to make them. But we make just about everything else here. We have full sheet metal fabricating, welding, powder coating, laminating, assembly, and packaging shops. We do it all here, under one roof."
Notti notes that the company has invested a lot into updating its computer systems and automating internal processes -- that used to be handled by hand and on paper -- to enable the machine operators to launch their own work orders from the floor. IAC Industries is also in the process of adding co-robotic welding equipment and plans to invest in one or two of the machines by the end of the year.
Efficiency is essential, with the manufacturing team producing between 2,500 to 3,000 tabletops -- an important component of each workstation and workbench -- per year. "But I can’t tell you how many total products we sell because we have both standard and special products," Notti continues. "The bulk of our products are workbench related. And when I say workbench, of course, that's split up into many different types. But basically, we're selling a tabletop that somebody is going to sit at. And sometimes those tabletops are big enough that two or three people sit at them."
IAC Industries offers both quick ship and built to order -- or customized -- workstations, workbenches, shelving, storage and carts, and other lab furniture such as casework, wall cabinets, reagent racks, and tables. "I think that's one of the keys to the success of the company," Notti adds. "We pretty much offer everything under the sun in just about any size under the sun. And if we don't have it, we can make it."
Notti says that the company's basic, flat top workbench is currently a best seller, followed by the Dimension 4 modular product line. About 20 percent of orders involve customization. "We sell to anyone and everyone," he continues. "We sell to some of the biggest companies in the world that are making stuff and to the hobbyist who is working out of their garage. We sell to automotive and biomedical companies, medical and dental clinics. We've sold benches to the U.S. Mint and engineering firms. We've sold to grocery stores, schools, and colleges."
While customers can order products directly from IAC Industries, many sales come through a large representative and distributor network.
Challenges: Notti notes that finding workers is one of IAC Industries' biggest challenges. "Staffing at all levels," he continues. "We're a manufacturer, and this is hard work. But we have a generation of workers coming out of schools that want an easy job. They want to be CEOs in six months, or they're not interested. We rarely find pre-qualified people for manufacturing. We have to hire at a lower level and train them up. So, we'll bring in a general laborer and find out what they might be good at."
Another issue: the supply chain. Notti says that the cost of glue the company uses for its laminated workstation tabletops has quadrupled in the last 12 months. Other components have become impossible to find, but the engineers at IAC Industries have either begun designing and manufacturing these parts themselves -- sometimes using 3D printers -- or reconfiguring the company's products to work around the shortages.
"I'm working on a project right now with a battery charger that we can't get anymore," Notti says. "We have to change where the battery charger goes and the engineering manufacturing around it. Since the pandemic, I spend a good 20 percent of my week figuring out how to use different products."
Opportunities: Notti says he's concerned about interest rates and the economy. "At the beginning of the year, the picture was different because the Fed was saying they were going to raise rates, but they hadn't really defined the plan," he explains. "Now, the plan is defined, and our current outlook has changed a little bit. We've actually pulled back."
That said, he sees opportunity in expanding the companies buying IAC Industries' products. The company has already surpassed its sales projections for 2022. "We were projecting a modest 15 percent growth, and we're over 20 percent already," Notti adds.
Needs: "We need willing workers at all levels of operation," Notti says. "We need reliable sources for the items we buy. We need qualified service technicians to serve our equipment needs, both mechanical and computerized. We need fewer restrictions and regulations. We need plentiful and inexpensive energy to operate our equipment. And we need customers who benefit from all these things the same as we do."