Switchboard Apparatus Inc. has found success by taking a personal approach with its customers, Senior Vice President Phil Johnson says. “We visit them at least once a month, meet with their engineers and consultants and see where we can help them with projects now, [and] in the future,” he says.
Based in Chicago, the company manufactures such items as high-voltage switchgear, electrical switchboards, panel boards, energy controls, custom enclosures and polyphase meter banks housings and cabinets. While the company’s roots go back 100 years, its current owner, Dale Hoppensteadt, bought the firm in 1992, Johnson says.
Today, the company serves the OEM market, which includes engineers and consultants, Johnson says. “[Some clients] don’t have manufacturing equipment [and we] end up building it for them,” he says, noting that it built custom switchgear for the United Nations Building in New York. “[We also] just finished up the FBI building in Virginia.”
The company has developed special breaker cabinets for Intel Corp. that allow electricians to work on switchboards without being exposed to any live parts. “It’s a patented [product] that we’ve developed here,” he says.
Usually, Johnson says, an electrician would be exposed to wiring and cables if they took the steel panel off of a breaker cabinet. Instead, “We provide covering so you go to work on the cables without being exposed to the current,” he says. “Over the years, we’ve built hundreds and hundreds of them for Intel.”
Johnson joined Switchboard Apparatus in 1999, and previously served as the vice president of manufacturing at GE Zenith Controls. “I came [into Zenith] as a turnaround specialist,” he says. “We turned it around in a year [and] made it very profitable.”
Before he came aboard, “They were losing money year after year,” he says. “They were always running out of parts, [and] missing deliveries.” Johnson’s approach to save the company was obtaining new contracts and building new equipment. When Johnson joined Switchboard Apparatus, the company was focused on serving contractors. But Johnson recommended the company focus on OEMs. At the time, “There were about 10 switchboard builders in Chicago, all fighting for the same [clients],” he recalls. “By [targeting] OEMs, we go after a different market.”
After 10 years, Johnson says he enjoys the environment at Switchboard Apparatus. “I like the attitude of the employees,” he says. “It’s a unionized shop but we’re sort of particular who we bring in because we want them to have the proper attitude.”
Switchboard Apparatus has stayed current with state-of-the-art technology, Johnson says. “Our fabrication shop is tooled with the latest manufacturing fabrication equipment,” he says. The shop, which spans more than 50,000 square feet, runs two shifts. “That’s for a quick throughput,” he says, noting that this allows it to serve customers who have problems very quickly. “[If] they’ll need something, we get it on line right away.”
For instance, if Switchboard Apparatus’ customers contact it with a crisis during the night, “We then can get the work out to the second shift supervisor, [and] he’ll … get it ready for us to fabricate in the morning,” Johnson says. “We’ll get it out to the [client’s] job site in the afternoon. It’s 24-hour service in the [case of an] emergency.”
Johnson sees a future for Switchboard Apparatus where the company will form more alliances with customers who need its products. Led by an experienced and energetic staff, Switchboard Apparatus is ideally positioned to continue providing the highest quality equipment to its ever-expanding customer base.