February 22, 2016

Stanadyne’s Windsor R&D site key to expanding its global sales

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
Stanadyne engineer Angie Cheung (foreground) uses a microscope to examine a fuel-pump component
PHOTO | Contributed
A Stanadyne technician inspects a welding station.
PHOTO | Contributed
A Stanadyne fuel pump
John A. Pinson, Stanadyne president and chief technology officer
Peter Gioia, economist, Connecticut Business & Industry Association

Windsor's Stanadyne LLC recently muscled its way into a lucrative contract with a major automaker to which it will deliver emissions-friendly fuel pumps for 3.8 million passenger vehicles.

Stanadyne, citing a confidentiality pact, won't say who that automaker is — although a few obvious clues point to one U.S. giant in particular.

However, on a recent walkthrough of its sprawling research and development building — one of three on its 52-acre, Deerfield Avenue headquarters campus — the process it used to secure such a lucrative deal is more than an open secret.

At one station, a pair of engineers use an electron microscope to gauge precisely the acceptable volume of metal debris before it interferes with quality production of tiny, precision parts for on- and off-road vehicles made as far away as China and India.

At other stations, technicians test the functionality of different metals, and measure components to tolerances smaller than the width of hair. At one of a dozen test rigs running round the clock, seven days a week, a worker monitors the performance and reliability of diesel and gasoline fuel pumps and fuel injectors for passenger vehicles and farm tractors.

Corporate test kitchen

Amid all that, Stanadyne does very little manufacturing in Windsor these days. Those chores are relegated to any of five Stanadyne production facilities, all outside Connecticut, in North Carolina, and overseas, in China, India and Italy. This spring, the company is opening a Dubai plant, to supply pumps to Pakistani tractor maker, Millat Ltd.

Instead, Stanadyne's R&D works function more like a corporate test kitchen, where engineers and technicians, working in super-clean rooms and well-equipped test stations, devise and calibrate its highly toleranced methods for manufacturing and assembling fuel-system components.

In the world of manufacturing, the concept is known as integrated-product development — IPD for short. Observers say it's a format that permits manufacturers like Stanadyne to fully leverage their engineering/technical innovations sourced in Connecticut and elsewhere, without the labor and operating expense of actually producing components in a relatively high-cost region of the country.

"This process brings together key functional areas to simultaneously develop a product, the process for manufacturing and support processes,'' according to Stanadyne spokeswoman Kerry King. "It includes many activities happening in parallel; including sourcing of suppliers and materials, engineering and design, manufacturing, operations, performance, quality and reliability testing, and others.''

R&D for large contracts

In short, said John A. Pinson, Stanadyne's president and chief technology officer, "it allows for us to do product development much quicker … rather than doing it in our factories. That's why we've been able to win these very large contracts recently.''

According to Pinson, that mystery fuel-pump buyer claimed that Stanadyne's had the highest quality and lowest defect rate it had ever seen.

"It's a full, state-of-the-art metallurgical laboratory,'' Pinson said.

And Stanadyne appears bent on keeping it in Connecticut, at least for the time being. The company, Pinson said, recently applied to the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) for "First Five''-type assistance that will enable it to retain and expand operations. Such aid typically requires recipients to add or retain jobs.

Pinson declined to elaborate on the amount or kind of assistance it seeks. A DECD spokesman, citing confidentiality guidelines, too declined comment.

Scores of engineers

Of Stanadyne's 192 Windsor employees, nine out of 10 are engineers, said engineering-services director Russell Otten, adding the company competes directly with East Hartford jet-engine builder Pratt & Whitney for engineering talent. Worldwide, Stanadyne has about 1,300 workers.

The inclination of manufacturers to embrace the integrated product development model to distill out the relatively more efficient, less expensive innovation process from the more costly production aspect concerns some Connecticut policymakers and industry experts.

Hartford economist Peter Gioia, of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said this state's relatively high labor costs and taxes "makes it very expensive to do manufacturing here," giving companies greater incentive to move that work out of state, even if they retain R&D here.

Jerry Clupper, executive director of the New Haven Manufacturers Association, said all Connecticut manufacturers need to do more R&D and product and process development, adding, "it's not unique to those who are just outsourcing their manufacturing.''

Eco-friendly

Begun in the 1876 as the Hartford Machine Screw Co. — later known as the Standard Screw Co. before embracing the name Stanadyne Automotive Co. in 1970 — Stanadyne for decades was a major source of summer employment for high school and college pupils. Also, more than a few immigrants found work and raised families on pay from Stanadyne.

Today, Stanadyne is one of a number of private portfolio companies owned by New York equity firm Kohlberg & Co. that in 2004 bought it for a combination of equity and debt totaling about $330 million. Kohlberg declined to comment about Stanadyne.

Stanadyne views itself as a "green'' company, said Pinson, whose products enable makers of automobiles and off-road vehicles, such as farm tractors, meet engine emissions standards in the U.S. and overseas.

Moreover, the ever-tightening nature of emissions rules virtually assures Stanadyne that enhancements to its fuel-system products that satisfy them will be embraced by its customers.

"That's what gets me up in the morning … ,' Pinson said. "We spend a lot of time developing technology and processes to make us better and faster to market. It's certainly the most challenging assignment I've ever had.''

Pinson, a mechanical engineer who has both doctoral and MBA degrees, spent 14 years at U.S. auto giant General Motors, working in R&D, including in diesel-engine development. He also worked on GM's engine joint venture with rival Fiat Chrysler in Italy.

GM, John Deere half of sales

According to Stanadyne's latest 10-K filings, GM and farm- and garden-tractor maker John Deere combined for about half of Stanadyne's 2013 net sales of $268 million. Sales were $252 million in 2012, and $246 million in 2011. Its operating profit each of those years, respectively was $21 million, $23 million, and $11 million.

In particular, GM has previously employed Stanadyne's high-pressure fuel pumps in its vehicles. GM confirms Stanadyne is currently a fuel-pump supplier, but declined comment on its future supply deals. Asked whether GM ordered another 3.8 million pumps, Pinson was coy.

"We work,'' Pinson said, "with all the major [original equipment manufacturers].''

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