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Technology takes Litton, Inter-Pak to next level

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

You could say the circuits were overloaded at Litton Advanced Circuitry and Inter-Pak Electronics.

The company just completed a $2.5 million expansion of Inter-Pak's facility, said Bob Schutz, president of the Springfield company.

The company is actually two separate companies: Inter-Pak spun off of Advanced Circuitry in 1982, Schutz said. It was a department within that company and became its own entity.

Inter-Pak assembles back panels for large computer systems ranging from the AS 400 mid-size computer to large mainframe computers. The company also works extensively for the telecommunications industry.

The back panel is to the computer as the central nervous system is to the human body, Schutz said. The company opened in 1982 in a 10,000-square-foot former Ben Franklin Five and Dime store on Commercial Street.

It moved into the building it now occupies in 1984 with 30,000 square feet. After moving into the larger facility, the company spent the next several years designing and building its own automated equipment to assemble back panels.

The company realigned its focus, choosing to put an emphasis on the high-end technology used by Inter-Pak. Advanced Circuitry, which makes printed circuit boards, was at that time high on volume but low on technology.

The printed circuit boards were being shipped to a variety of customers, among them Inter-Pak, its sister company, which used the boards to assemble the large back panels.

Other big customers were automobile makers, Schutz said. That group accounted for 40 percent of Advanced Circuitry's business. In order to refocus on Inter-Pak, the company had to pull the plug on that $17 million business, he said.

"In 1990, Litton, our corporate fathers, bought into our vision to make this investment in Inter-Pak, and, as a result, made the decision to pull Advanced Circuitry out of the automotive business," Schutz said.

In the beginning, the company was making circuit boards that sold for $47 and were two layers; now, it makes boards that are 18 layers and sell for $400, Schutz said.

"We really shifted the focus from the low-end technology and high volume

to the higher-end technology," Schutz said.

Inter-Pak is one of Advanced Circuitry's biggest clients, but the company also sells its products to Lucent Technology and other companies who need the special large boards, Schutz said.

Inter-Pak has come along in its own right, growing to the point of expanding facilities and adding employees. In 1982, the company did $900,000 worth of business; in 1998, it is projected to do $92 million.

"What has driven that success is the capability we have at Advanced Circuitry to build these products, and the processes we've created that are very good processes. We also have very innovative employees who have a can-do attitude and challenge themselves to continuously improve," Schutz said.

The companies have added about 200 people to their ranks in the past two years.

They now have a total of 775 employees, with plans to expand to more than 1,000 by the year 2002, the year the company hopes to also reach $250 billion in sales, Schutz said.

Ten years ago, the company had 1,300 employees. Innovation in its processes has reduced the volume of employees needed, he said.

Employees are cross-trained and receive certification in areas in which they have extensive training.

"We want to give these employees marketable skills, and documentation of those skills. We want them to be able to use what they learn at our company throughout their lives," Schutz said.

The parent of the two Springfield companies, Litton Industries, is based in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Litton is a $4 billion company. It has four divisions: advanced electronics, information systems, marine engineering and production, and electronic components and materials, the division Inter-Pak and Advanced Circuitry are in.

The electronic components division is the fastest-growing division in Litton, Schutz said.

Litton started out making printed circuitry for the military in the 1940s and 1950s, from there developing the products that it would later sell to the private sector, Schutz said.

The recent Inter-Pak expansion brought the size of the building from 27,000 square feet to 37,000 square feet, which was the best the company could do on the land it had available, Schutz said.

Schutz is also hoping to make a successful plea for an expansion on the Advanced Circuitry side when he meets with Litton officials.

The expansion of the data communication and cellular markets' needs for the Springfield companies' products will not only keep them in business but will help them reach its 2002 goal. The products are also used in satellite communications, which will expand in the coming years, Schutz said.

"We've got the quality of people and the quality of production to meet the challenges and get it done. A quarter of a billion in business is a very attainable goal for us," Schutz said.

The company had set a goal of $100 million in sales by 1998's end.

It has already achieved that goal, taking in just more than $100 million in 1997.

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