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Swiss-owned supplier to solar, power industries moves into 42,000sf in Windsor

[caption id="attachment_34633" align="alignleft" width="313" caption="Ernie Ueng, automated operations supervisor with Multi-Contact USA, inspects pins and sockets for solar connector cables being produced at the company's Windsor manufacturing center."][/caption]

WINDSOR -- Multi-Contact USA is rapidly expanding its manufacturing capabilities here to produce a greater percentage of standard and custom products in North America. Today some 75 percent of MC-USA's output is standard products, while 25 percent is devoted to custom solutions.

The company currently satisfies 70 percent of worldwide demand for solar connectors, producing more than 400,000 pin and socket connectors each month in Windsor for its MC3 and MC4 solutions that link solar panels to junction boxes and power converters.

During 2011, MC-USA plans to add 10 more standard products currently made in Europe to diversify its manufacturing line in the U.S.

The firm's 100 Market St. location in Windsor is the U.S. headquarters for Multi-Contact AG, a Basel, Switzerland-based global leader in advanced electrical connectors and contact systems known for precision engineering and production processes.

In the past three years, Multi-Contact AG has decentralized manufacturing so that one third of its products are now made on each of three continents -- North America, Europe and Asia. Each region specializes in fulfilling demand within its territory, with supply centers close to customers and markets. It balances its prices globally to keep one region from overshadowing another.

"In the U.S., we are focusing on two important areas," according to Ceebee Thompson, executive manager for MC-USA.

"While we are very strong in solar, our forte is high power transmission products, which are not metric-driven in the states. We want to enhance our core industrial power product line by converting specifications from metric to the U.S. standard system.

"Second, we are making a concerted effort to produce inch power forks and crimp sleeves used in energy distribution channels for large power units, turbines and transformers. We plan to have the first series ready for testing in Q3," she said.

In addition to manufacturing a family of solar connectors and industrial connectors for power transmission, Multi-Contact AG also makes contact devices for automation and robotic systems, test and measurement equipment, military applications and flash lamps used in the medical sector.

With 65 employees, including 14 field sales engineers, MC-USA is growing rapidly, evidenced by a more than 500 percent increase in revenues in less than nine years.

Due to an increasing need for space, MC-USA moved from two smaller buildings at 5560 Skylane Blvd. in Airport Business Center near Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport to occupy a single, 42,000-square-foot structure in Windsor in the first quarter of this year.

To celebrate this move and showcase its operations, MC-USA will host a public open house and ribbon cutting on July 20 from noon to 5 p.m. that will include tours of the plant.

The final tour stop will be the observation area on the second floor where visitors can view MC-USA connectors used on the 860 solar panels on the roof that generate 209 kilowatts of energy.

"MC AG is a division of the Staübli Group headquartered in Pfäffikon, Switzerland, a privately held company. Its four main divisions are textile machinery, fluid connectors, electrical connectors, and robotics," said Ian Pratt, Connectors Division Manager, who will become the new head of MC-USA operations when Mr. Thompson retires in August.

"Our parent company operates 12 production plants and has a presence in 20 countries with a total global workforce of 4,000."

The MC-USA management team and employees were all hired in the states.

The company has been looking at the overall costs of making components in Europe and shipping them back to the U.S. As a result, MC-USA has become less dependent upon Germany and Switzerland.

"We are also beginning to see some business coming back from China to the U.S. as fixed costs rise in China driven by demands for higher salaries, healthcare benefits and an increasing standard of living."

According to Pratt, the company has made a rapid transition from being just a U.S. sales office to becoming a high output manufacturing facility in just a few short years.

Now the company is also looking to partner with other solar arena firms and push the product line upstream by going beyond niche offerings to create a complete, full system solution package for end-to-end implementation.

The company is considering the possibility of entering the electric mobility market by producing curbside solar-powered recharging stations.

He said MC-USA is also gearing up internally to design more intelligent connector systems and standard junction boxes leading to DC or DC-to-AC conversion, as well as team with others to bring next generation combiner boxes and fuse disconnects to market.

"We believe in using local suppliers and giving nearby manufacturers a chance to participate whenever possible. This vendor list includes machine shops, injection molders, electroplating firms and metal extruders in the Bay Area."

Mr. Pratt said the next energy industry challenge is to get the cost per watt for solar at parity with coal and oil energy without government subsidies.

Ways to achieve this include increasing the efficiency of panel components, by maximizing panel output and also by upgrading DC to AC converter throughput.

MC-USA uses state of the art engineering, computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) techniques, customizing its manufacturing floor using ERP and SAP software. It is also phasing in Programmable Logic Control (PLC) to deploy in smart tables, while also utilizing highly advanced quality control procedures.

For example, engineers provide 3-D CAD data to a Viper SLA system that converts proprietary materials and composites into solid cross-sections, layer by layer, producing a scale model plastic prototype in just a few hours.

The quality control group uses advanced Micro Vu equipment providing up to 491x magnification views, increasing the accuracy of final inspections.

For information about MC-USA, go to www.multi-contact-usa.com. To view the company's custom solution process for industrial and photovoltaic applications on YouTube, search for "multicontactusa."