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March 28, 2016 Manufacturing Excellence Awards

Space Age expanding with efficiency

Courtesy Space Age Electronics has branched beyond commercial work to fire safety systems for job sites.

For years, Sterling-based Space Age Electronics has manufactured parts for commercial fire alarms, but the life safety parts manufacturer has pushed its offerings a step further, developing a new system for sites that haven't been completed.

The device, called the ECS Power Box, is a bright yellow box with a fire extinguisher, panic button and strobe light all in one place. Contractors can bring it to job sites where it serves as an emergency response and notification system for unfinished buildings. Space Age developed the box after clients asked for a security system at their work sites.

“If something happens on the third floor [of a construction site] they might not know it on the 10th floor, and that’s a really big problem,” said Adam Cutler, the company’s marketing manager. “This is something that’s very important, because we’re trying to keep these guys safe.”

The Power Box is one of Space Age’s newest products, but the company has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve. Space Age strives to be a leader in innovation for the industries it serves.

“They’re constantly thinking of ways to better help customers make innovative products,” said Kevin Smith, project manager at the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

No excuses

Space Age is a family-owned company that today has 59 full-time employees, most of whom are based at the main plant in Sterling. The company has a few sales representatives in different regions across the country and does the bulk of its sheet metal production at a new fabrication facility in Templeton.

Nearly every part of the manufacturing process – drafting, wiring, assembling, screen printing, shipping – is done in house. That is a source of pride for the entire company, Cutler said.

“We know every place, every set of hands that have touched a product,” he said. “We want to be bringing more and more in house.”

The company has a pretty strict “No excuses” policy, meaning it does whatever it has to do to get the job done and educate clients on best practices, Smith said. Smith works with Space Age as part of a training and $250,000 best practices grant it received, where employees learned lean manufacturing as well as productivity techniques.

“The thing that sets them apart is they use what they learn, which is very gratifying to me,” he said.

Innovation and industry leadership

A company focus going forward will be in efficiency on the customization side of things. Customers can call in with an idea for a product, and a Space Age representative can instantly draw up blueprints in a program called AutoCAD.

“Before, someone would call in for an idea, and we’d send it in for drawing. We’ve really tried to streamline that a lot, get layouts solidified with them, get it sent back to manufacturing floor,” Cutler said. “It’s going to cut down the timeline on the job site considerably.”

This practice started in December, so it’s in its early stages. Not many other manufacturers are doing this, Smith said.

“Space Age actually took the people, invested all the training and the time to come up with the knowledge, and design to their customer’s needs,” Smith said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article wrongly said Space Age manufactures residential security systems. Its primary focus is commercial fire systems.

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