Category Archive: Insights

Finding Ways to Stay Competitive

NJ Manufacturers Continue to Look for Ways to Compete Across the Globe Despite Challenges New and Old.

By Jim Pytell, Managing Editor  •  From the March 2022 issue of New Jersey Business Magazine

The manufacturing industry has deep historical roots that run throughout New Jersey. In fact, while it is known as the Garden State, New Jersey is actually home to what was the first planned industrial city in America: Paterson. As such, the state played a key role in the start of the American Industrial Revolution, and to this day, manufacturing is still a vital part of New Jersey’s economic prowess.

Home to more than 9,000 manufacturing businesses, including some 2,000 more when considering its STEM and engineering firms, New Jersey’s manufacturing industry employs nearly 340,000 residents, according to data from the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP). Additionally, in 2021, the industry contributed $54.4 billion, or nearly 10%, to the state’s GDP.
However, while manufacturers in New Jersey were deemed essential businesses at the start of the pandemic two
years ago, they were not immune to the challenges brought on and amplified by COVID-19.

“Collaboration and participation will be essential for any business looking to grow [in 2022],” says John Kennedy, CEO of NJMEP. “As supply chain disruptions, cyberthreats, workforce shortages,
and financial pressures remain, only the strategic, productive and efficient will thrive.”

Supply Chain

One of the newest and most significant challenges that manufacturers face today is the disruption to the supply chain.

Kennedy says that manufacturers will likely need to prepare for a year where supply chain disruptions remain
constant until at least the latter half of 2022, with US Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo being quoted in November saying that US supply chains will take “some number of months” to normalize.

“We are no different than anyone else,” says Gerard Lynch, CEO of Middlesex-based Sigma Design Company.
“We have seen delays, specifically on electronics and automated components that are almost exclusively made in Asia. They have gone from two-to-four week delivery cycles to 24-plus week delivery cycles.”

Lynch adds that last year, Sigma even lost two separate million dollar specialty food equipment development projects solely due to lead times out of its control.

“Those were body blow punches,” he says. “We are now spending a lot more time on expediting purchase orders and anticipating project needs. We are even taking the risk of building increased inventory levels on some of the long lead items such as programmable logic controllers and touch screens, for example, in order to have a buffer stock.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, some manufacturers decided to take matters into their own hands when
items such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer were in high demand.

Chris Gallo, general manager of Linden-based Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery,says that the company’s on-site refinery lab began producing its own sanitizer solution to help keep employees safe until
external supplies were made available.

“More recently, we had difficulties getting a chemical component needed for the making of polypropylene, an in-demand polymer resin we produce at Bayway that is actually used in COVID-19 PPE. Again, our workforce was resourceful, and an alternate supplier was found, allowing for production to continue uninterrupted,”
Gallo says. “We have [continued to] work to find alternative supply sources for supply-constrained products that are needed for our refinery operations.”

Workforce Development

Kennedy explains that a lack of industry engagement over the years and a culture that steered students away from exploring industrial careers created a skills gap in manufacturing, one that could result in 2.1 million unfilled US manufacturing jobs by 2030, according to a 2021 study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.

He says that manufacturers must begin getting creative about how they invest in training, recruiting and retention.

“We want to grow, and [to do so] we need to find talent,” Lynch adds.

He says that Sigma Design works with NJMEP and vo-tech training to find and train machinists and welders who go to school while also receiving on the job training via “learn while you earn.” The company has also worked with Stevens Institute of Technology for more than 15 years via co-ops with its engineering program.

“At Bayway, we regularly recruit from major universities for our professional positions such as, for example, chemical, civil, mechanical and electrical engineers. Additionally, we hire maintenance and operations personnel for jobs that do not require 4-year degrees,” Gallo adds. “We work in cooperation with various trade schools, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and Middlesex County College’s Process Technology program to look for the best candidates.”

Conclusion

“The biggest challenge for us as a Northeast refiner is staying competitive relative to other US and
international refineries,” Gallo says. “Refineries in this region face higher labor costs, and ever-increasing legislative constraints in an already highly regulated industry.”

He adds that New Jersey has historically been supportive of manufacturing operations, with regulators helpful to companies with permit requirements and compliance.

“It’s no secret New Jersey has high taxes and environmental regulations that are more stringent than most other states,” Gallo continues. “We support policies that balance economic, environmental and energy security needs, [but] we would also like to see the state focus on regulatory solutions that fit our specific New Jersey manufacturing situations.”

Nationally, the America COMPETES Act of 2022, which at press time has passed in the House, could be a critical boost to manufacturing across the country, and help bolster the international competitiveness of US companies.

The bill aims to increase US competitiveness across the globe, specifically with China, and to address the country’s shortage of semiconductors by strengthening the country’s supply chain.

Lynch calls the bill a “hot ticket for manufacturing.”

Overall, manufacturers will continue to need to be proactive in how they handle tackling the various issues they face today.

Evolution is key.

“Supply chain disruptions, inflation and a turbulent workforce are all going to be critical factors that will determine if a business can succeed,” Kennedy says. “Without evolving, a manufacturing operation will not be able to continue growing.”

Sigma Design Recognized for Hiring Veterans

Sigma Design was recently awarded the Gold Hire Vets Medallion award from the United States Department of Labor. It is the only veteran employment award at the federal level that is presented to companies that hire and retain veterans as a certain percentage of their workforce.

A national commitment to recruiting and employing veterans is an initiative that the whole country can get behind. Manufacturing roles offer opportunities for veterans who learned skilled trades while serving in the armed forces is a win-win for both veterans as well as American manufacturing.

Our focus on hiring veterans starts at the top with our founder, Jerry Lynch, who served in the US Navy onboard a destroyer in the Pacific. This has led to our company valuing the experience brought to our team by veterans. Sigma believes that the training and experience obtained by veterans make them desirable candidates for the civilian workplace. They are typically well disciplined and have a clear understanding of the importance of accountability and honesty, as well as an approach to the workplace with the sense of a mission.

Sigma Design is proud of our commitment to hiring veterans. We will stay committed to this important program into the future, as our growth will require the addition of highly skilled and highly motivated talent. We are deeply honored to receive this recognition!

Sigma Design Builds Lubricant Testing Machine for a Global Petroleum Corporation

Testing and validating product is of paramount importance no matter what industry you are in, and this often requires specialized equipment and processes. When it comes to industrial lubricants, it is critical to ensure that these products will provide the advertised level of protection for the equipment to which they will be applied.
Viscosity is a key metric specifically for lubricants, which is defined as a measure of a fluid’s resistance to deformation at a given rate. In simple terms, viscosity is a fluid’s “thickness”.
This can get complicated when it comes to lubricants in high friction applications such as an automotive engine or a turbine spindle. As heat rises due to friction, a lubricant’s viscosity, and thus its wear protection, will decrease. Knowing how effective your grease will be at room temperature and in operation is critical for manufacturers and consumers alike.
Sigma Design recently developed a lubricant test machine for a global petroleum company, one of our valued customers, to measure changes in viscosity of grease over a several hour-long trial. This rotating equipment is loaded with large, greased bearings and spun at several hundred RPM. The equipment is designed to measure the resistance of the grease between a driven top-half and idler bottom-half of the bearing chamber. The resulting force is displayed on a simple and reliable analog gauge that can be viewed and logged throughout the test. Our equipment provides a simple solution to a crucial need.
Sigma Design has developed and built analytical, testing and validation equipment for dozens of our customers across a wide variety of industries. From consumer product testing to cellular research, Sigma Design has been a valued and trusted manufacturing partner of equipment for over 20 years.

Sigma Design Attends Design-2-Part Show in Oaks, PA

Trade shows are a great avenue for networking and getting in front of potential customers, and Sigma Design was pleased to attend the Mid-Atlantic Design-2-Part show in Oaks, PA on October 20-21. This is a great event connecting manufacturers and suppliers for the Mid-Atlantic region of the US. Design-2-Part does a great job facilitating these events and has trade shows throughout the year in various locations.

We were able to get in front of potential customers and present everything Sigma has to offer at our booth. It was a great success and led to some connections for future work. In addition to meeting prospective clients looking for help with their design and manufacturing, we were able to speak with potential vendors about the unique needs that we often run into.

These regional shows are an outstanding support mechanism for American manufacturing and small businesses. A special thanks goes out to the whole crew at Design-2-Part Shows and Part Gurus!

Visit Mid-Atlantic Design-2-Part Show, Booth 319.

Build to Print. Build on Time. Build on Budget.

Your job, your life has probably never been as stressful as it is today. For over 20 years, Sigma Design Company has relieved our customers’ stress by delivering products on-time and on-budget without sacrificing quality. A one-stop engineering and manufacturing specialist that knows the hidden hazards that stall projects and bust budgets.

Visit Sigma Design at Booth 319
Mid-Atlantic Design-2-Part Show
October 20 & 21, 2021
Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, PA

Manufacturing Services is one of the core components of our company. Our Professional Services Team includes design engineers and Licensed Professional Engineers, certified welding technicians, electro-mechanical technicians and customer quality care specialists. Our team works collaboratively with you to bring reliable, well-engineered products to market faster and at higher margins. Learn More.

Our Manufacturing Services Include:

• Electrical control: panel building services in accordance UL 508A
• Welding services: ASME Section IX and AWS D1.1 structural steel, stainless steel, and aluminum certified welders
• Assembly, start-up and operational testing services for complex machines
• Build to print

Learn More About Manufacturing3

Our 3-step process identifies potential roadblocks upfront so actual manufacturing is easier to manage, measure, more reliable and on time. Our multi-designer review puts more experienced eyes on a project to ensure better results. We handle every step, from bench tests to pilot testing or full-scale production, to ensure the highest quality product. Our customers tell us we typically reduce their time-cycles by 30% over our competitors.

Take 5 minutes to visit our booth (319). See how Manufacturing3 could apply to you. Can we help identify any hidden potential pitfalls? Shortcuts to speed time-to-market? Give us an opportunity to prove our value. Looking forward to meeting you next week.

Download our Manufacturing Flyer

Vertical Farming Industry Projected to Explode Globally

Recent agricultural advancements have become as innovative as they are necessary. Steady population growth in addition to climate factors have forced the farming industry to start to evolve. These two factors have led to conventional farming often becoming more unpredictable and expensive. Moreover, economic changes in the developed world will make providing an ever-growing food demand more challenging for the less developed world.

Vertical farming as it is known today was introduced as a concept in 1999 at Columbia University when a professor and his class proposed a design of a skyscraper that could feed tens of thousands of people. That exact design has yet to be built. However, it was a proof-of-concept exercise that started the mainstream conversation on vertical farming.

Since then, vertical farming around the world has gained traction and has generated commercial support along with technological advances. Now, this industry shift from conventional to vertical has become viewed as a necessity in our evolving world. Because of this, vertical farming has become an area of fast-growing interest and investment. A recent study projects a market size in the industry growing sixfold from 2018 through 2026.

The process of establishing a successful vertical farm operation takes a groundswell of effort from many parties – from property developers to architects, botanists, and mechanical system designers for nutrient distribution, automated harvesting, and packaging.

Sigma Design has expertise with the automated support systems that keep vertical farms producing crops, having worked with several companies on system development. Sigma has helped solve numerous challenges such as nutrient dosing system footprint and design. We have the ability to design and develop systems for vertical farming, along with the in-house manufacturing capabilities to build, test and deliver the systems we design. This makes Sigma an ideal choice to partner with in the accelerated pace that the vertical farming industry demands.

The Large Project Dilemma: Outsource vs. Onboard

Successful companies often find themselves at a crossroads when undertaking a large, new project. Whether increasing capacity, developing a new product or system, or modernizing existing equipment, an organization can find itself in a bind when trying to find bandwidth with internal engineering and manufacturing capabilities. A choice must be made that can alter the course of the project significantly before it even begins, find an outside manufacturing partner, or bring on additional resources. The right answer is rarely obvious.
Adding design engineering resources can be a double-edged sword. Generally, a younger engineer will be cheaper but could take weeks or months to get fully up to speed and may require supervision to start that could disrupt other employees. A more experienced engineer should get up to speed considerably quicker, however will be more expensive to employ and is not as readily available in the job market as a younger engineer would typically be. In either case, the cost of employment obviously goes far beyond salary once benefits, hardware and office costs, and payroll taxes are added. The total cost of employment to a company is often 2-3 times the actual salary paid to the employee.
Finding a design, development and manufacturing partner alleviates many of the issues of bringing on new staff for a project. For one, as soon as a project is kicked off, a proven firm such as Sigma Design can get immediately to work. The only costs paid are hours spent on the project, whether it be design and drafting, engineering analysis, or review by senior engineers. One of the biggest advantages however is the ability for an established design firm to work autonomously. All that is required from the customer is attendance and communication at periodic design reviews and update meetings to make sure the development is meeting expectations. When a program is designed with specific phases and deliverables you can simply “turn on” or turn off” the team expenses depending on your needs.
What happens when the design phase is done, or it is time to transition into the manufacturing phase? If the engineering was kept in house, is there enough incoming work to support the additional resources that were hired? Typically, where design programs require under 1000 workhours it is more cost effective to partner with an outsourced firm rather than hiring. Also, today when you cannot find the experienced candidates what choice do we have? Wait or postpone the program or move forward knowing the earlier you launch the more beneficial it is to your firm.
Additionally, are there adequate manufacturing resources in house to support the next phase of the design / build project. Or are there additional hires needed to be made to support this phase? With a design/build partner like Sigma Design, the same engineers that develop the design will be the same engineers overseeing its manufacture. The logistical efficiency of an engineer selecting vendors for commercial part of an assembly during design, ordering the parts for the build, and then overseeing the entire production process cannot be easily quantified for this comparison. However, the advantages of keeping a project in the same building, from design kickoff all the way through factory acceptance testing and shipping are massive. This typically makes the entire process much more economical than trying to tackle a large project on your own.
Is your company considering a large design build, and unsure if you have the resources in house to complete the project? Give Sigma Design a call today! Over 1000 completed projects to date. On time – On budget!

Sigma Design Invests in the Expansion of Its Welding Team and New Welding Technology

At Sigma Design, our weld shop is one of the lifelines of our manufacturing capabilities. Our ability to fabricate elaborate frames and weldments serves as the literal backbone to the state of the art products and equipment we manufacture. As our company has grown, we have also invested heavily in our welding team as well as the welding technology we can use to find solutions for our customers. Our welders are AWS and ASME certified for GTAW, SMAW, GMAW welding of aluminum, stainless steel and carbon steel. Sigma uses their OTC welders to provide optimum welding performance on stainless steel, and aluminum delivering high-quality pulse welding by performing optimized waveform control according to the material being welded. Our weld shop offers a full compliment of Lincoln, Miller and OTC equipment, each offering their own application for a variety of needs.

Contact Sigma Design Company today, we are a one stop shop for all of your design, analysis and manufacturing needs!

Sigma Design Reflects on 22 Years of Evolution

Sigma Design is celebrating their 22nd anniversary under current ownership. However, the company’s origins go back much further, originally founded in 1962 as a machine design firm by brothers Murph and John Abraham. Machine design became a tougher and tougher gig as the manufacturing sector in New Jersey, and nationwide for that matter, started to contract through the 80’s and 90’s. The Abraham brothers had started seriously considering closing shop. Sigma’s current owner, Jerry Lynch, knew the brothers for some time. As fate would have it over a friendly lunch, they mentioned that if the right buyer came along, they would probably sell the company. Entrepreneurship had been a lifelong dream for Jerry, an engineer by trade with decades of experience in manufacturing. The idea of taking a company that was established but struggling and in need of a new vision appealed to Jerry and the acquisition was complete in early 1999.

Sigma Design began under new ownership as it had ended under the former ownership, strictly a design firm with no manufacturing capabilities. Jerry could see the trends, as well as the desire by current customers to have a design firm that was also engaged in the manufacturing and production process. Customers wanted a one stop shop that could produce their designs, rather than just deliver the detailed design and manufacturing package. The ability for a single company to fully design and draft, then pilot, test, debug and refine a piece of equipment became strongly in demand. Many large manufacturers do not have the internal resources dedicated to refining and perfecting engineered systems. This ultimately led to the foundation of the Sigma Design of today, when in 2011 they purchased a 20,000 sq-ft facility to afford means to manufacture their designs.

Sigma continued their evolution once they had room to work. Since acquiring the new facility they have gained capabilities in all facets of manufacturing. Sigma has a full weld shop offering qualified welders in TIG, MIG and SMAW process as well as a CNC machining area. They have a fully tooled assembly area which can accommodate electrical control panel fabrication and large electro-mechanical assemblies. Drawing on an area of expertise of their owner, Sigma formed a partnership with Spiral Water Technologies. This necessitated a 200 GPM water filtration system test loop that is now a fixture in the Sigma Shop.

One area where Sigma Design excels is with advanced engineering and analysis. Sigma caught on early to the 3D modeling FEA trend and has engineering expertise to use these tools. Performing stress analysis, heat loading, fluid flow etc. in a digital environment helps their customers visualize their designs and adapt to design conditions before manufacture, and more importantly, service in the field. These tools also aid with material selection and manufacturing process layouts. Sigma has become an expert ally for their customers in using these tools on both Sigma Designs, as well as finding non-obvious challenges with customer supplied designs. Jerry along with his smart, creative staff has transformed the business into a single-source provider of design, analysis and manufacturing services of new products, equipment, and machinery.

As Sigma heads towards the future, they are gaining momentum and stronger than ever. They have started to establish themselves as a reliable design and manufacturing partner for large, international companies. This has led to an aggressively growing work history, especially with repeat manufacturing work of large devices and pieces of equipment. Sigma will continue to evolve, learn, and enhance their business model as their company grows into 2021 and beyond.

Posted in Advanced Engineering Analysis, Company News, Made in New Jersey, Made in USA, New Product Development, People, Press, SIGMA Capabilities

Lessons From 2020 Have American Manufacturing Ready for a Strong 2021

In what wound up being one of the most challenging years in anyone’s memory, the American economy faced a gauntlet of obstacles in 2020. A global pandemic, record unemployment numbers and a contentious election cycle led to a disastrous first half of the year by many metrics. However, as it always has, the American economy and manufacturing sector improvised and adapted. Remote working, meeting, and selling surged as the US had to respond to the pandemic, which also placed an even higher focus on employee safety. Efforts to reshore American manufacturing were already well underway heading into 2020, however the pandemic and seemingly instant surge in consumer demand for goods like PPE, medical goods and cleaning equipment led to rethinking many industry supply chains. Countries where labor is cheap often lack the infrastructure to quickly respond to large demand swings. The cost of commercial transportation continues to and will most likely always continue to rise. Reshoring became even more of an economical issue, as well as a necessity for increased response to demand.

From a recent Forbes.com article:
“Despite 60% of manufacturers feeling the impact of COVID on operations, a recent survey of senior leaders of manufacturing and distribution companies noted significant or modest growth in company revenue during the pandemic. Demand for products is surging, requiring new and innovative production methods, and many manufacturers have stepped up to the plate. As we close out the year, we will better understand just how much manufacturing changed in 2020. But economic uncertainty aside, the unprecedented supply chain disruptions of the year are a blessing in disguise for manufacturers, as they encouraged the often-stagnant industry to move faster and become more resilient than ever before. If there were a year to push the industry forward towards progress, this was it.” 1

American manufacturing looks to be heading into 2021 largely recovered from the hit it took in early 2020, and ready to soar. It is easy, and somewhat lazy to point to the DOW as any sort of indicator for the economy, specifically in manufacturing. However, the American Manufacturing Index (US ISM Manufacturing PMI) is a reliable indicator of the state of the manufacturing sector, and signs are looking great heading into 2021. The index is up roughly 45 percent from its low in May 2020, and almost back to its highs we experienced through 2017-2018. With the COVID vaccine already being distributed, albeit in limited numbers, America is on the cusp of turning the corner on the pandemic and getting back to some state of normalcy during 2021.

It is no secret that the domestic network of small design, engineering, and fabrication businesses are the backbone of large American manufacturers. At Sigma design, we pride ourselves on being part of that network serving large American companies across many industries. Whether it be Medical and Life Sciences, or Clean Energy and Wastewater Treatment, Production Machinery and Fixturing, or a startup getting its product design refined and to market, we have the capability to serve any customer at any level. Sigma Design also looks poised to be heading into 2021 with great momentum and an ever-growing portfolio of projects for our customers. We have invested heavily in our capabilities in recent years to be a one stop shop for our customers. From advanced design analysis and engineering, welding and fabricating, machining and assembling, to panel building and programming, Sigma Design can take a project from idea to reality. We have a library of satisfied, repeat customers to prove it.

1. Amar Hanspal, “Five Predictions For The Manufacturing Industry In 2021” Forbes, December 7th, 2020, accessed January 15th, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/amarhanspal/2020/12/07/five-predictions-for-the-manufacturing-industry-in-2021/?sh=79586f0428ca