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San Diego
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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In Carlsbad, Nordson Finds What It Needs for Manufacturing

Dozens of empty steel cases, coated in white paint, stand chest-high at one end of Nordson Corp.’s big factory on Loker Avenue in Carlsbad. They line up like soldiers in formation.

By the time factory workers finish with them, the cases themselves will be factory machinery. They will go on assembly lines producing all variety of electronics, and 80 percent of them will go to work outside the United States.

Nordson (Nasdaq: NDSN) made the metal boxes in nearby Vista, in a 41,000-square-foot plant that the Ohio company bought from its former owner.

Would it be cheaper to make the cases in Tijuana? Probably.

‘Millimeters Matter’

Why not make the cases in Tijuana? “Millimeters matter,” my guide tells me.

Once they’re finished, the assembly line machinery in the various cases will be mostly the same — but not identical. Some 10 percent of a machine has to be optimized for the end customer. Each customization is different.

Nordson has a facility in Suzhou, China, but that factory near Shanghai is better equipped to do “more repeatable” things, said Joe Stockunas, the Nordson vice president who oversees the company’s advanced technology systems segment. The people who assemble the products really need to concentrate on the details.

So Nordson, a publicly traded company based in the suburbs of Cleveland, keeps producing its popular Asymtek Spectrum fluid dispensing machines in Carlsbad, despite its high California overhead. In fact, it recently expanded its campus.

Customers, say Nordson marketing materials, “require exacting levels of precision and high standards of reliability.”

The California address attracts a certain caliber of employee. One quarter of the 600 employees that Nordson employs in San Diego’s North County are engineers, who do the work of tailoring the fluid dispensing machines to customer specifications, often in the space of four to six weeks. “We’re able to solve extremely difficult problems for our customers,” Stockunas said.

Nordson acquired Asymtek in 1996.

A Low Profile

Though Nordson is one of the bigger employers in San Diego’s North County region, it doesn’t make a whole lot of noise. The corporation operates 225,000 square feet of manufacturing and office space in Carlsbad and Vista, expanding into 93,000 square feet of new space in early 2016. One of its buildings used to house Ashworth, a golf equipment company.

Nordson’s Advanced Technology — Electronic Systems group makes machines that dispense tiny squirts of glue, solder paste or coatings. Often an electronic circuit board will need a protective layer of liquid, which the machines provide. The machines place the fluids precisely along the X and Y axes. And the machines place the fluids discreetly. Some of the spots are so small that a person needs a magnifier to see them.

Once the machine has consistency and accuracy, it can go for speed — perhaps 300 cycles per second, or faster.

Software is also developed in the North County area.

Nordson’s Carlsbad complex also houses the March line of automated gas plasma treatment systems — used for semiconductors, circuit boards and medical devices — and the Yestech line of X-ray inspection systems that can identify product defects as small as 1 micron. (For comparison, a red blood cell can be 6 to 8 microns wide.)

Manufacturing Strategies

The Carlsbad factory that turns steel cabinets into finished Spectrum dispensers currently works two shifts. It combines several production strategies including Toyota Motor Corp.’s lean manufacturing strategy and the Six Sigma concept. A tool board at one cell in the factory has a place for every tool. One spot is missing its tool, so a factory worker sees an outline on the pegboard — a signal that something is not quite right.

Nordson Corp., based in Westlake, Ohio, makes other systems for dispensing or fluid control in industrial environments. Worldwide, the corporation has more than 6,000 employees.

The company reported net income of $272 million on revenue of $1.81 billion in 2016. The previous year, it reported net income of $211 million on revenue of $1.69 billion.

Stockunas, a Carlsbad resident, said the company is on track to produce 17 new products by the time its fiscal year ends on Oct. 31.

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