ELKHART — The latest “Hidden Gem” in Elkhart County business is a company that has strong ties to the recreational vehicle industry, but they do much more than that.
While they crank out 350,000 panels for RVs each year, they also do significant work in the shuttle bus and amplifier industries and work with the University of Notre Dame.
HOW THEY STARTED HERE
They started in 1975, distributing monitor panels that were made in Mishawaka. When Mike Hoover bought the company the following decade, “within a short period of time we needed to move into manufacturing our own product,” so they did so in 1986. When he started they had 2½ employees. Now they have 130 employees. “I’m proud of this place,” Hoover said.
WHAT THEY DO
“We’re an electronics-based company,” said Shaun Phy, chief financial officer. They engineer and make custom-printed circuit boards, wire harnesses, pump controllers, cooling-system controllers, electric panels, panel covers and wire harnesses for RVs, sign boards used in buses; and they do electronics work for Notre Dame and companies in ND’s innovation park.
All products get tested before leaving the shop. “A lot of things we test twice, some things we test three times,” Hoover said. Some items get tested up to five times in various conditions, said Bill Faubion, director of engineering.
They also make injection-molded plastic items, from caps for propane tanks to windshield wiper motor covers, from cupholders and lug nut holders to decorative scroll work used in vinyl fencing. They even make souvenir football helmets. “You name it, somewhere along the way we’ve done something like that,” Faubion said.
WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU KNEW
If you eat blueberries or cherry tomatoes, KIB might have helped get them to you. They make specialized electronic controllers for sorting and packing machines.
WHERE THEY REACH
Their products go all over North America and to New Zealand and Australia.
Given the wide variety of their products, they compete in several markets against many companies.
After having problems with specialized heating devices for heat shrink wrapping on wires, they switched to a pizza oven, which works as well and is much more reliable.
Their wire harnesses go from short ones to units with five miles of wiring.
The cooling system controllers they make for a customer in California replace ones the customer had been getting from China. “We redesigned it and now we’re building it,” Faubion said.
They have a 3D printer for rapid prototyping.
During the recession they went from 100 employees to 27, Hoover said, and “probably eight or 10 of them I didn’t need, but they were the core.” The company shut down from Thanksgiving 2009 through the end of the year, but has sprung back, with more employees now than before the recession, and most of their laid-off employees returned. “We took that period of time, looked at our shortcomings, we bought some more equipment, invested in some training time with people, and boy am I glad we did,” Hoover said.
They’re willing to work with anyone to do items in small volumes and to do custom-made items. “There are so many people in this town that have a lot of abilities that people are going away, out of the area, to get things done and they can have it done right here,” Hoover said.
In two weeks you’ll learn about an Elkhart County business that has transported business executives and Indianapolis Colts players, casino VIPs, journalists and emergency officials throughout the region.