In 1998, when founder and CEO Brad LaPray launched Zentech Manufacturing Inc., he wanted his new operation to reflect the strengths of the successful operations he had worked with previously – Boeing, TRW Automotive, Webasto and AlliedSignal. Also, having worked extensively to implement lean and kaizen methodologies at numerous factories in the United States and Japan, LaPray wanted Zentech’s manufacturing philosophy to reflect those same attributes. In fact, that is how he came up with the company’s name: “Zen,” meaning “all things good,” came from kaizen and “tech” came from technologies.
“Brad LaPray knew from his experience that a manufacturing operation based on the concepts of lean and kaizen would be a solid base for a successful operation,” President and COO Matt Turpin explains. “Zentech is flexible and responsive to the needs of our customers because we’re optimized for quick changeovers and are organized to run small and medium lots, so we can work on many programs simultaneously.”
Baltimore-based Zentech has an ISO 9000-certifed, 42,000-square-foot facility in which it provides electronics contracting manufacturing and offers printed circuit board assembly, testing and design. For its four core markets – aerospace and defense, medical, communications and industrial and instrumentation – the company focuses on providing complex products with medium-volume, high-mix requirements. By combining its design and production expertise with customers’ product and market expertise, Zentech says it can help clients grow and compete with lower-cost competitors in offshore markets.
In fact, while many manufacturing operations have moved overseas in recent years, Zentech has kept its footprint on domestic ground.
“It is all about our value proposition,” Turpin says. “We have built our operations and expertise to help our customers in ways that others – offshore firms and most other contract manufacturers – can’t.
“We work closely with our customers to develop, design, engineer and manufacture the products that will make them most competitive. Some Tier I’s in Asia will do that, but you have to come to them with a really big program. We can help smaller and medium-sized operations here at home – we have a broader and deeper service set, and we are organized to meet their high-mix needs.”
Diverse Cost Savings
With comprehensive design services – such as system, circuit and mechanical design, creation of firmware and algorithm development – process and lab services, creation of test platforms and RoHS compliance services, Zentech has developed the capability to meet the needs of a range of clients in a variety of ways.
On the manufacturing side, the company’s operations are set up to provide clients with:
- Design for manufacturability;
- Prototype and volume production;
- Printed circuit card assembly;
- Lot control and traceability;
- Chassis and box build;
- Test services;
- System integration; and
- Field service return and repair.
Additionally, Zentech works within clients’ supply chains to develop a program with low costs and high efficiency, Turpin says. The company uses its sourcing agreements for commodities worldwide to meet clients’ contract requirements, determine preferred vendors and comply with sourcing restrictions.
Its configuration management team ensures the correct manufacturer is specified for every item on clients’ bills of material (BOM), and Zentech’s ERP software allows for a seamless implementation of complex BOMs and component-level traceability and lot tracking. Zentech is also ITAR-registered to support government programs.
“We produce more than 250 different products in a given year,” Turpin notes. “Managing the entire supply chain from procurement through SMT assembly and box build to functional test, we provide customized solutions to meet our customers’ requirements.
“We also have customers with ongoing programs, and as their components near obsolescence, we help them transition.”
In the last year, Zentech has worked with customers on a number of diverse projects. For example:
- For National Lottery of Annapolis, Md., Zentech designed and delivered the initial units of the VideoCash system. The company says players will be able to win instant lottery cash from these hand-held portable devices that feature video games.
- For Aerospace Technology Group (ATG) of Boynton Beach, Fla., Zentech completed the design and delivery of a next-generation controller, which provides increased functionality and reliability, and will be used in aircraft with ATG’s Powertech commercial shades.
- For Sleep Solutions, a national accredited sleep diagnostic provider located in Glen Burnie Md., Zentech transitioned an existing product from a domestic Tier I manufacturer and performed a review and validation of specification of a FDA 510K-approved design of Sleep Solutions’ existing hardware. Zentech also embedded software to utilize current component parts to ensure improved device functionality.
“Each customer and project is different,” Turpin says. “Most engagements entail moving an existing program from an existing domestic or international CM. But we also work with start-up customers – they have an idea and we help them to execute it. We do an intellectual property review and then work with them from the early design stages through production. For example, we recently helped one company develop advanced LED lamp technology.
“Helping customers save money is key,” he continues. “We helped one client by taking over the repair and return services of a product that has been in production for almost 20 years. We have the capabilities to do the diagnosing and repair functions – regardless of which CM manufactured it in the past – and then we ship the repaired component to our customer’s customer and maintain our customer’s product database.
“Our customer saves money and has complete traceability of their products because all of our information is open. We allow our customers to see whatever they want to see to help their operations.”
In the last five years, Zentech has been named twice to the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies. Turpin explains that during the last four years, the company has more than doubled its revenue and added 50 full-time positions. In the next year, the company expects to grow organically by at least another 30 percent. This is a solid rate of growth during a healthy economy, let alone the current slow market.
“We are in a recession, but customers are coming to us because they know we can help them,” Turpin says. “One of our customers has two higher-volume products, but both of them use parts that are obsolete. We helped them redesign the products to use different parts while improving reliability and lower component count. We provided the board layout and embedded software, and as a result, our customer is saving a lot of money – enough to cover the engineering costs in less than nine months. This is important in any market, but especially crucial now.”
Zentech significantly expanded its facility two years ago, and continues to invest in capital improvements to ensure it can meet demand. On its surface-mount technology lines, for example, the company recently enhanced its vision and placement capabilities. Turpin believes the company will hire at least 20 more people in the next six to nine months to meet its expected growth.
“Customers come to us because we can provide the lowest total-cost solution,” he says. “We bundle many different services – we aren’t just placing parts. What we offer has brought us many long-standing relationships with our customers, and we don’t have customer churn. Our clients are truly raving fans of ours, because we do a lot for them besides just putting parts on circuit boards.”