By Eric Peterson | Jun 06, 2022
Lid-closing machines and control panels
Papierski worked for CMED Automation (a division of Colorado MEDtech) as the company shut down, then went out on his own as an automation integrator with Xpect Solutions in 2001. He soon expanded into building electrical control panels to smooth the ups and downs of contract work.
In 2004, Alpharma, an animal pharmaceuticals manufacturer in New Jersey and an Xpect automation client, asked for a "machine to snap lids on five-gallon buckets," says Papierski. "Instead of hammering with a mallet, they needed something to do that automatically."
Xpect's lid presses can handle small pails to big buckets; the larger units deliver more than 3,400 pounds of force to seal a lid securely. The catalog includes a number of options and accessories, including conveyor belts, washers, and lid crimpers, that are designed to be integrated with other automation.
As of 2022, about 90 percent of the business is building electrical control panels for a variety of industries, with the remaining 10 percent stemming from sales of lid-closing equipment.
Xpect's panel customers are "across all industries, but we do a lot for other automation companies," says Papierski. Top markets include medical, controlled environment agriculture, oil and gas, and solar.
"We understand the automation world, we understand that you're building a piece of machinery that's going to control all these different things in the field. The knowledge base is there and we should be able to easily understand your project and your design with little to no questions."
The lid-pressing machinery offers a good hedge for the ups and downs in panel orders. "They continue to sell," says Papierski. "It's anything from a pint can up to a seven-gallon container, and anything in between."
Xpect Solutions roughly doubled its square footage with a move from Longmont to a 10,000-square-foot facility in Frederick in August 2021. "We needed more space," says Papierski. "We had to find a facility that would allow us to grow."
Now that the space is aligned with the needs of the company, Xpect Solutions invested more than $200,000 in a laser engraver and a Perforex panel-cutting machine since late 2021.
The plan is paying off. Revenue doubled from 2020 to 2021, and Papierski forecasts similar growth in 2022. "We have more work, we have more customers," he says. "We weathered COVID very well. We were busy throughout the whole pandemic. . . . We were fortunate, I think the word would be."
A decentralized management structure is helping the company handle the growth. "I empower all of my employees to communicate with my customers at different levels," says Papierski. "Through the communication that we offer, we feel that it provides a better quality of product that goes out the door."
"When something doesn't look right or there's a question about a drawing or a design, I empower them to call and ask them. This is their baby and their design; we're just here to put it together."
"It has worked really well. Instead of trying to funnel it all through one or two different people, now I've got the majority of the company assigned to different jobs and talking to customers. The end result is the panels show up and our report card is usually good."
Challenges: "What I didn't see coming was the challenge of a supply chain being at a snail's pace crawl," says Papierski. "That has hindered overall sales and throughput. I've got all these things that are built -- 95 percent finished -- and I'm waiting on one part that I can't cross to something else."
Lead times have increased from weeks to months. For electronic parts and processors, the trendline is not positive, he adds, as lead times grow from weeks to months. "It's gotten worse."
Opportunities: Contract manufacturing with the company's new equipment, says Papierski. "It adds another source of revenue," he says. "Now we can cut enclosures for other people and other customers that may just need enclosures cut but don't need panel-building services. Before, we were doing it all by hand."
Papierski says a lack of skilled labor is driving sales. "We have companies come to us and they say, 'Well, we used to build all of our enclosures and panels here, but we don't have the time or the labor to do it so we send it out.' A lot of big companies are starting to look at that model."
Exports are another opportunity. The lid-closing equipment is increasingly going to customers in Canada, South America, Europe, and Singapore. "We have left the shores of the United States," says Papierski. "They're global."
Needs: People. Papierski says the company needs engineering and production help -- about five new employees in all. "The issue now is: Can I find the qualified people for the task?"