Polished Approach Pays Off

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 569 views 

Bright Technology LLC — a 4-year-old company headquartered in south Fayetteville’s industrial park — has built a pretty dazzling resume.

From within a 47,000-SF plant that hums with activity 24 hours a day, Bright Tech satisfies its objective in meeting the polishing needs of the region’s volume producers of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) automotive and other components.

Saul Sosa, the company’s founder and CEO, is committed to meeting that goal not by reinventing the wheel, but by polishing it in a more efficient way, and in turn filling a service gap in this part of the country.

“The benefit of what we do is that it’s safer and the process is more consistent,” he said. “And there was a need in the industry for the services. In the entire Midwest, there was nobody.”

To understand Bright Tech, think shiny. The chrome wheels for a Corvette, a stainless steel grille crown for an 18-wheeler, a luggage rack or rear bumper, running board or a rim, or custom wheels and accessories for a motorcycle — none of these items are sparkling when removed from a casting.

Polished correctly, they shine like mirrors. At Bright Tech, both automated and manual methods complete the polishing process.

In addition to other automotive-driven manufacturers in Kentucky, Tennessee and Nebraska, Bright Tech’s customers include California-based Superior Industries International Inc., which manufactures aluminum wheels for the auto industry and has operations in Fayetteville and Rogers.

Their end-customers include General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Peterbilt.

From 2008 to 2009, Bright Tech increased its sales by 120 percent, and by 154 percent from 2009 to 2010.

In 2011, sales slowed considerably — Sosa attributed the decline to a drop in demand for the Ford F250 wheel — but still climbed at a modest 10 percent clip.

The total number of units processed grew from 35,000 in 2008 to 434,153 in 2011, representing a 1,140 percent increase.

And while tight-lipped about current revenue totals, Sosa projects the company may cross the eight-figure threshold in 2013.

Components are priced based on the extent of the work, with fixed costs ranging from $3 to $55 per part.

“There is a possibility we could meet $10 million in sales by then, based on our current and previous year,” he said. “That would be a modest gain for us.”


Business Plan

Sosa, who will celebrate his 40th birthday May 3, has seen the evolution of the polishing/manufacturing industry for the better part of two decades.

Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, he was raised in West Texas and graduated in 1990 from Permian High School in Odessa, whose football program was made famous by the book — and later major motion picture — “Friday Night Lights.”

“I played [football] in junior high but when I got to high school, those guys were just too big,” he joked.

When he arrived in Northwest Arkansas at the urging of an older brother living in the area, Sosa had just turned 19.

And, hired almost immediately by Danaher Tool Co., Sosa worked on the floor of the same plant he now owns on South Armstrong Avenue.

After a few years, Sosa left Danaher Tool Co. to work for Superior as an entry-level robotic programmer.

He remained with the company for 13 years. There he worked with Fredi Valle, now Bright Tech’s vice president and part of the leadership group that also includes Sosa’s brother, Luis, the company’s director of facilities.

“Before I went out on my own, I knew I needed some help,” Sosa said. “I approached the two guys who could make it happen and that was Fredi and Luis.”

The three men were part of a production group of seven people when the company began, working in a 6,000-SF building in Lincoln.

The space was soon too small and in January 2011, Sosa paid $900,000 for his current building and 65 acres of surrounding land.

The biggest benefit, Sosa said, was the closer proximity to Superior.

“There is no other wheel manufacturer in the area, and it’s almost a zero cost for freight costs,” he said.

Bright Tech is processing nearly 10,000 wheels per week, Valle said, with more than 100 employees working in two shifts.

Sosa believes he has an advantage over his competitors in two areas — producing in larger volume and using robotics. The use of polishing automation provides consistent results, which supplies customers with the best available price.


Kentucky Kudos

Kentucky Chrome Works, a barely year-old company roughly two hours southeast of Lexington in Horse Cave, manufactures chrome-plated wheels for General Motors and is a Bright Tech customer.

KCW produces 50,000 wheels per year, a figure that should more than double by the start of 2013, according to owner and president Raymond Carcione.

Bright Tech takes the raw wheels and polishes them so KCW can start the plating process. Every wheel produced by KCW is prepped for plating by Bright Tech.

“We had another source doing it and the quality was fair,” Carcione said. “Bright Tech was excellent. And the pricing is more than competitive.”

And the quality of Bright Tech’s work is no small consideration to KCW. If there are three, one-millimeter imperfections on the face of an 18-, 19- or 20-inch wheel, it is considered scrap. A one-millimeter dot is the size of a pencil point.

“If you can satisfy Corvette, you can satisfy anybody,” Carcione joked. He said becoming a Bright Tech customer has cut KCW’s scrap rate by 15 percent. That is important, he said, considering KCW’s automated line was installed and designed to ultimately manufacture 300,000 wheels per year.

“Saul gives us super service,” he said. “He explained what he could do and what he could do it for, and he does it.”


Profitable Partnership

Sosa’s customer service goes beyond the outward appearance.

He is as comfortable on the plant floor as he is behind a desk because that’s where he’s spent the biggest part of his adult life. He has done the work.

Sosa’s hands-on experience translates several ways, particularly to stronger business development skills and a low turnover rate under his own roof. Many current employees have been with Bright Tech since it began.

Others, like engineer Jonathan Martin, are just getting started. Martin earned his mechanical engineering degree from the University of Arkansas in May 2011 and has been part of the research and development team at Bright Tech for almost three months.

He handles any number of assignments, from developing a machine to polishing aluminum light fixtures to ordering materials to making on-the-spot decisions to keeping the day-to-day operations running.

“It makes me feel important that they trust me with their money,” said Martin, 24, whose father is Terry Martin, soon-to-be the interim dean of the College of Engineering at the UA. “I’ve never been in that position with any other job. It’s always been, ‘Here’s the stuff you need, now go do the work.’

“It’s a pretty large-scale operation that’s going on here and Saul is a good businessman. He is always opening new doors for the company.”

Assisting in that endeavor is the Arkansas World Trade Center in Rogers. The AWTC offers a fresh perspective to understanding a company’s business, and aims to open doors to additional industries.

“Sometimes if someone else takes a look at your company, you see a slightly different picture,” said Denise Roberts, the AWTC’s director of external relations.

The three top goals for the AWTC, Roberts said, are to help Sosa source cheaper materials and increase profitability — Bright Tech is annually spending about $1 million on materials — identify potential manufacturing opportunities for innovative products and introduce Bright Tech to new clients.

The aerospace (airplane door latches, for example) and gaming (chromed slot machines) industries are two examples of a niche Bright Tech could help satisfy.

“There are a lot of companies in Arkansas that could use the technology that we have but nobody knows it’s there,” Sosa said. “A lot of people are shipping their stuff out to California. The World Trade Center has directed us on a path that they think will be beneficial to us to get us exposed to the right people. It’s a good partnership.”