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Sunday, 18 August 2013 22:00

Lighting company continues growth thanks to strength of manufacturing industry

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Muskegon-based Smart Vision Lights makes lighting systems used in a variety of industrial equipment and processes. As the manufacturing sector has rebounded, the company has grown from five employees to 15 in the last two years, said Dave Spaulding, the company’s president. Smart Vision’s products incorporate a great deal of customer feedback, which Spaulding says has helped it succeed in a niche market. Muskegon-based Smart Vision Lights makes lighting systems used in a variety of industrial equipment and processes. As the manufacturing sector has rebounded, the company has grown from five employees to 15 in the last two years, said Dave Spaulding, the company’s president. Smart Vision’s products incorporate a great deal of customer feedback, which Spaulding says has helped it succeed in a niche market. COURTESY PHOTO

Given the ongoing recovery of the manufacturing sector, one Muskegon-based company that makes lighting for industrial equipment believes its future is particularly bright.  

The six-year-old Smart Vision Lights LLC makes specialized industrial lighting systems used to illuminate products for automated inspection processes in manufacturing plants, as well as a range of other uses.

In the last two years, the company grew from five employees to 15, and Dave Spaulding, the company’s president, says there’s no expectation of slowing down that growth trajectory for the foreseeable future.

Smart Vision has come a long way from its early days in the founder’s basement and its three-year stint as a tenant of the incubator space at the Grand Valley State University Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center, he said.

While working at the incubator helped the company gain traction, Spaulding said graduating from MAREC in 2010 and moving into the company’s own 12,000-square-foot facility at 2359 Holton Road north of Muskegon helped open new growth options for Smart Vision.

“It’s been great for business,” he said of the move. “It’s allowed us to really expand our business and increase our production activities. We were limited at the end of our stay in the amount we could manufacture and the number of people.”

When a company has a widget it needs to test for size or color or defects, it can use a specialized high-speed camera trained to identify deviations from product standards. Smart Vision makes the lights that help those cameras scan the products, sometimes as they go by at a rate of more than a thousand parts per minute, Spaulding said.

Smart Vision’s lighting systems are put to work in a variety of manufacturing plants, whether for automotive components, electronics or pharmaceuticals, he said. The company also worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop a lighting system that works with a railcar scanner used to determine the origin, destination and route of the given car, he said.

“For us, automotive is huge and so are all of the tiers that go there, whether it’s plastics or metals — anything you can think of that needs inspection,” he said. “We’re in a niche market.”

Thanks to a stronger manufacturing industry and a focused effort on exports, Smart Vision expects to grow sales by 30 percent in 2013. Spaulding declined to share 2012 annual revenues for this report, but a previous MiBiz story noted the company had sales of $1.7 million in 2010.

The company also plans to launch six to 10 new products this year.

“There’s a standard set of lighting our competitors have, but we’re innovative,” Spaulding said. “We’ll listen and meet with customers and send them samples and products to try out so they can help us identify what needs to be changed.”

The company also expanded into global markets by taking advantage of programs aimed at helping grow American-made exports. Spaulding said Smart Vision works through about 70 distributorships all over the world and has been “making great strides in Europe” after help from the State Trade and Export Promotion Program (STEP) and after working with groups such as the Van Andel Global Trade Center.  

About 10 percent of Smart Vision’s sales now come from exports, Spaulding said.

“We want to build on that over the next couple of years,” he said.

Another opportunity the company wants to market is its recent investment in laboratory equipment it purchased to test for compliance with eye and skin safety requirements that are already in place for LED systems in the European Union and “coming to the States as well,” Spaulding said.

The EU’s photobiological safety standards require product manufacturers to evaluate the side effects of exposure to industrial equipment with LED systems over an eight-hour workday.

Smart Vision plans to open up its test lab for a fee to other manufacturers working with LED systems, Spaulding said.

That specialized gear and other laboratory equipment led to the company reconnecting with another former MAREC tenant, Logical Lighting LLC, which works with energy efficient lighting and automated controls.

Because the two companies share some synergies and do not compete, Spaulding said it made sense to offer Logical Lighting the ability to use some of its equipment during off times.

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