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There was a time when an upturned milk carton would serve as a seat on a commercial or military transport vehicle. Thankfully, especially for those who have to ride on them, that time has long since passed. As has the notion that a seat is just something to, well, sit on.
“There are a lot of companies that make transportation seats, but the USSC Group is one of only a small handful of businesses that engineers and manufactures these seats as part of a safety and survivability solution,” notes Joseph Mirabile, president and CEO. “We aim not only to incorporate technologies that reduce occupant fatigue and stress for basic transit uses, but also provide safe and survivable transport for first responders and military vehicles operating under hazardous conditions.” As a global leader in the seating industry, the USSC Group develops the most durable and ergonomically designed seats that employ the latest technologies to ensure not only rider comfort, but complete protection under the most challenging circumstances.
Headquartered in Exton, Penn., the USSC Group is comprised of four brands:
- United States Seating Company—passenger and operator seating for transit buses, subways and light-rail systems;
- Valor Seating—safety and survivability seating for fire truck and ambulance first responders;
- Global Seating Systems—bench, individual and command and weapons position seating systems that improve operational effectiveness and survivability for our military;
- Fogmaker North America—patented engine water mist fire suppression technology.
Fogmaker North America points to why the USSC Group is no ordinary vehicle seat maker, but rather a bespoke safety and survivability solutions provider. As the name implies, when the Fogmaker system detects a thermal event it sprays a pressurized mist of water and foam suppressants to quash the three factors that cause combustion: oxygen, heat and fuel.
Fogmaker Fire Suppression
“Today’s gas and diesel engine run a lot hotter than they used to,” Mirabile explains. “Which increases the possibility of an engine fire, partic ularly when the vehicle is in continuous or highstress use, operating in harsh environments. In designing fire suppression systems that provide reliable protection against engine and equipment compartment fires, we thought the best step would be to bring to North America cutting edge high pressure water mist fire suppression technology. We looked at a technology developed by Fogmaker International, successfully used in Europe and Australia, in particular by Volvo and Mercedes Benz, that is the market leader for bus fire suppression systems.” We adapted and patented the technology to meet North American environmental and safety standards and set up a network of dealers and distributors for what is widely regarded as the engine fire suppressant system of choice.”
Mirabile emphasizes that the USSC Group is continually on the lookout for new technologies that extend its core competencies. “In 2015, the USSC Group was acquired by Dubin Clark, which has a national reputation to help successful middle-market companies attain higher sales and earnings,” he notes. “Since then we’ve acquired three companies that expand our capabilities. We continue to consider further opportunities with potential to help us better serve our customers.”
A Better Ride
Case in point is the recent purchase of manufacturing assets for Bose Ride, originally developed by Bose Corporation and acquired by Boston-based ClearMotion in 2017, a seat suspension system that achieves up to a 94 percent reduction in vibration and road noise, resulting in dramatically improved occupant safety and health. As part of the deal that obtained the Bose Ride assets, the USSC Group received exclusive licensing rights to ClearMotion’s Active ride system technologies in the markets which they serve.
New business acquisitions and increasing demand (USSC Group currently produces 20,000 to 25,000 seats per month; the vast majority of these are sold to OEMS, though a small percentage are retrofits for end-users) have called for the expansion of the company’s 136,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Exton. “We’re actually moving across the street,” Mirabile explains. “It will take place in stages. With phase one we expect to expand to 325,000 square feet, and by the end of the second phase to 550,000 square feet.” It is also possible the company may retain its existing location after the move is completed.
USSC Group is investing about $13.2 million towards the expansion project; it currently employs 300 and expects to add some 240 jobs initially, with potentially an additional 133 jobs over the next three years. The company also has a manufacturing partner in Chicago.
Making More in America
Mirabile points to the support of state and local government in assisting in a transformation that will about triple the USSC Group’s physical footprint. The company is receiving a series of state grants totaling nearly $460,000 combined with $486,000 in Job Creation Tax Credits. “All the agencies we’ve worked with have been very active in providing assistance,” Mirabile point out. “I think we’re seeing a definite trend back to the benefits of made in America manufacturing, and government is certainly helping promote and sustain that growth.”
Because seats are custom designed, the manufacturing process is more manual labor-intensive. “We look to automate where practical, but we do rely on highly trained and skilled workers,” Mirabile points out. With low unemployment rates, most manufacturers are struggling with filling even low-skilled assembly positions. However, the USSC Group’s extremely low turnover helps address that issue in part. “We pay above market wages and offer parallel and upward career paths,” Mirabile notes. “We also reward employees for continuing their education as long as they maintain a certain grade point average. And one of our best recruiting tools is employee referral. The people who work here are our best recommendation for the advantages of working here, and they are the first line to tap into people with the skills we need.”
He adds, “As an industry, we have to do more to inform people that manufacturing today isn’t like it was for your father or grandfather. We offer challenging jobs with good salaries and good working conditions.”
From where Mirabile sits, business looks to keep moving forward. “The economy is healthy, technology is always advancing. As one of the few companies who do what we do, the USSC Group is continuing to expand our capabilities to provide the very best in safety and survivability products for our commercial and military customers.”