The secrets of SUN Automation’s very public success  

Upon its establishment in 1985, SUN Automation (SUN) embarked on an impressive journey towards success. The sky (or perhaps more fittingly, the sun) was the limit. 

The Glen Arm, Maryland-based company has consistently shown a commitment to fostering innovation, cultivating strategic partnerships, and establishing a customer-centric approach. All these have been instrumental in its growth and achievements over the years. 

SUN has a history worth telling. It began as a small start-up with just a handful of dedicated individuals who shared a common vision for technological advancement.  

From the outset, the company focused on developing cutting-edge solutions that would revolutionize the way businesses operate in the manufacturing sector. Perseverance, determination, and plenty of hard work quickly became a winning formula, and SUN gained recognition for its innovative products and services. 

In the early years, SUN forged strategic partnerships with industry leaders, leveraging their expertise and resources to enhance its capabilities. Consequently, SUN expanded its product portfolio and entered new markets, positioning the company for sustained growth. 

One significant milestone in SUN’s journey was the successful launch of its flagship product, the Extend-O-Feed, in 1987. It quickly gained market traction and established the company as a key player within its target niche. SUN has sold over 11,500 feeders worldwide since its introduction of this industry-trusted solution. 

This breakthrough product not only showcased SUN’s technical ability but also demonstrated its aptitude to address critical customer needs effectively and through an innovative lens. 

By actively engaging with clients and analyzing their requirements, SUN continued to grow its scope of operations while also refining its host products and services alongside evolving industry trends. It also made strategic investments in research and development, attracting talent and cultivating a culture of innovation.  

Throughout the years, SUN has expanded its global footprint across key international markets such as the US, Canada, Mexico, UK, and Ireland. SUN introduced its presence with a headquarters in Bristol, UK in 2001, shortly after acquiring its location in Guangzhou, China in 2007. Thus far, it has sold products in over 60 countries worldwide. By leveraging its expertise and adapting to local market conditions, the global leader in corrugated packaging equipment has successfully penetrated new territories and diversified its revenue streams. 

“Today, SUN stands as a trusted name in the industry,” says Pat Carner, Senior Vice President of Operations. “We’ve become known for our pioneering solutions, exceptional customer service, and unwavering commitment to excellence.  

“With a solid foundation built on decades of experience and our forward-thinking approach, I firmly believe we’re poised for continued success and are well-equipped to navigate challenges and opportunities that inevitably lie ahead.” 

Problem-solving methodology 

SUN is a global industry leader known for providing box plants with innovative corrugated solutions for feeding, printing, and converting. Its wide range of products are proven solutions for increasing production, efficiency, and profitability, and can be adapted for both modern and legacy equipment. 

Pat joined SUN in 2013 as Director of Materials but was promoted to Director of Operations in 2017. She landed her current position earlier this year.  

With over four decades of leadership, excelling in supply chain and materials management in automotive, defense and global commercial product categories,
it’s safe to say SUN is in good hands when it comes to its Supply Chain and Manufacturing Operations. 

“I have a passion for operational excellence, strategy creation, and developing objectives and plans to realize the fulfillment of those strategies,” Pat asserts. “I’m committed to improving process integration of engineering, manufacturing, distribution and supply chain.  

“When it comes to environmental and social responsibility, I uphold a strong ethical code of conduct with both my suppliers and team members. High standards are incredibly important for SUN – even amid swirling global challenges of inflation, labor shortages, and increased lead times. 

“Though these seem insurmountable at first, the good news is that not everything is out of your control,” she goes on. “When you apply a strong problem-solving methodology and work to resolve the bigger challenge by breaking it down to areas you can modify and control, you can overcome anything.” 

Pat cites numerous examples as they relate to SUN: incorporating strategic buys on high volume, long lead time, and scarce materials; evaluating and evolving internal processes to generate efficiency and operational gains; increasing inventory levels to reduce dependency ratios; and adding new suppliers to create more options, shorter lead times, and more competitive pricing. 

Outstanding customer service 

Another aspect of the business Pat is keen to champion is its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). “Being a 100 percent ESOP firmly sets us apart from other companies,” she notes. “Our culture provides an environment where everyone is encouraged to grow and learn. 

“We’re hopeful that this continuous mindset geared towards individual and team improvement will help secure the company for future generations of SUN employees. 

“ESOP creates a direct link between the company interests and employee interests,” she continues. “Since we adopted the model in 2003, all our company’s stock has been held in a trust for employees as a qualified retirement plan.  

“Therefore, participants have a vested interest in the results of their work and the company’s performance and growth. Overall, the internal culture as well as our innovative and skilled employees is the cornerstone of working for SUN. 

“Our employees and our partnerships are fully committed to outstanding customer service and product development for our customers. Our collective vision, mission, values, and expectations as well as being an ESOP, truly makes SUN stand out from the crowd. 

Exceptional product portfolio 

“We have a robust strategy and we’re results driven,” Pat comments. “Our responsiveness and collaboration with customers, assisting them with their challenges and pain points, is often referred to as the primary reason behind why people want to work with us.” 

Another reason is, of course, SUN’s exceptional product portfolio. Recently, the company released its new Electra-Flow Electric Ink Pump.  

Pat’s on hand to tell us all about it. “The pump provides an energy saving solution that eliminates air consumption utilizing a low-voltage DC motor,” she reveals. “It delivers up to ten gallons of liquid per minute, and the low voltage motor also allows for adjustment of the flow volume, making it safe for operators. 

“The pump is also self-priming, has positive displacement, and allows for reduced foaming of inks with a smoother flow,” she continues. “While most units have been sold in the US so far, we believe Europe will embrace this technology due to its strong energy efficiency.” 

Going forward, the company intends to expand its portfolio even more. However, particular attention will be focused on its aftermarket services. Additionally, SUN will consider growing its manufacturing capabilities globally, specifically concentrating on manufacturing efforts with its presence in Guangzhou, China. 

But all in good time. “For now,” Pat concludes, “we’re continuing to look for strategic acquisitions and partnerships and growing our portfolio of machinery and software platforms. 

“Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we will continue to invest in our people and culture to ensure we’re providing them with the right resources to meet their personal and professional goal, while additionally raising the value of our company for shareholders, who themselves are the employees.”