Most companies have a mission statement; Scientific Technologies, Inc. (STI), has a mission. “Making people safe and productive” is both the motto and the objective of this Silicon Valley, California-based enterprise.In 1971, STI introduced its first product, an infrared solid-state proximity photoelectric control to detect web or sheet breaks on paper-handling machinery. The product line has since evolved; today it comprises safety light curtains, mats, interlock switches and relays, two-hand controls, process-safeguarding products that respond to conditions and/or intrusions in protected environments, and products that sense motion and size.
STI now ranks as a leading supplier of machine- and automation-safeguarding products in the United States, and is known internationally as a provider of safety products and services. Annual revenues last year totaled nearly $60 million, up significantly from the $49 million in the prior year. The family-operated business also has the distinction of being named one of the world’s best small companies – twice by Forbes and three times by Business Week.
STI had its beginnings 30 years ago in a hangar at San Carlos Airport, on the San Francisco peninsula. Founder Anthony Lazzara and a technical advisor were looking for ways to use the newly developed infrared light-emitting diode (LED). The result was the initial Model 3030 photoelectric sensor, a variation of which is still offered by STI. Today’s list of industries using the company’s products includes automotive, machine tools, computers, electronics, semiconductors, foods, beverages and pharmaceuticals.
Anthony Lazzara is now chairman of STI, whose stock is now publicly traded on the NASDAQ under the symbol STIZ. The top management includes two sons – Joe Lazzara, president and chief executive officer; and Jim Lazzara, executive vice president – and son-in-law Jim Ashford, executive vice president. The corporation employs about 370 people and markets its products through a network of 300 distributors in 27 countries as well as the United States. An office in Freiburg, Germany, coordinates service to the European market.
STI’s ISO 9001-certified manufacturing operations are located at three sites. A 100,000-square-foot facility in Fremont, Calif., houses corporate headquarters, research and development, and 65,000 square feet of manufacturing space. PSI-Tronix Inc. (a company purchased by STI in March 2000) in Tulare, Calif., manufactures pressure sensors, transducers and gauges in a 27,000 square-foot building. A third facility in Logan, Utah, produces ultrasonic sensors, level and flow-control products.
In practice, when STI safety equipment senses an intrusion into a protected space, it sends a message to the machinery to stop before somebody gets hurt. Always refining its products, the company recently introduced the MicroSafe MC 4700 Series Safety Light Curtains. Joe Lazzara discusses the significance of this technology: “A light curtain uses an LED transmitter to a solid-state detector. This curtain can detect an intrusion into the sensing area and will send a ‘stop’ signal to the attached machinery. The optics and spacing of the transmitters and detectors determine the minimum size of the object it can detect.
Our new MicroSafe 4700 Series can detect an intrusion of just 12 millimeters, about the size of a small finger. This safety light curtain has the most sensitive detection capabilities on the market. And the new curtain has a fast reaction time, which helps to rapidly transmit a signal so the machinery stops quickly if there is an intrusion. STI has other models that detect objects from 20 to 50 millimeters in size, at distances up to 60 meters.”
In a manufacturing or processing environment, this combination of sensors and “stop” messages provides a degree of safety that can protect workers from potential life-threatening accidents. For that reason, the equipment undergoes rigorous testing by an independent laboratory. In addition to meeting the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), STI products are globally approved to meet standards such as UL, CSA, CE, DIN, IEC and EN.
Discussing another product application, Joe Lazzara explains the use of STI equipment with robotics, a growing industrial trend: “Our products safeguard the work envelope of the robotic – its area of motion – and protect against someone walking into that area. One method is to use a light curtain with mirrors to bend the beams around the area, so it forms a ‘box.’ Another is to use safety mats that are wired with controls that send ‘stop’ signals to the robot if someone steps on the mat.”
In the consumer area, STI makes a product that is becoming critical to traffic flow – the sensors in automated toll systems. Lazzara explains, “This is an adaptation of our technology. The sensors in those systems detect the vehicle entering the space, confirm its classification (size and use) and can make determinations about the separation between two vehicles, even if they are very close together.”
Guards for the Future
Commenting on long-range planning, Lazzara expects continued growth for STI in the global marketplace. He also notes that the trend toward ergonomics in manufacturing spaces will affect safety considerations: “The requirements of ergonomics coupled with an increase in automation makes improved safety a necessity. Automation means motion, and with motion you must have safeguards for the employees in the particular environment.”
STI operations are designed to meet the growing need for monitoring and safety devices. An amalgam of just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing processes, strategic alliances or partnerships with suppliers, and the use of highly trained teams of employees makes the system run efficiently and cost-effectively. Further, many assembly tasks are fully automated and equipped with STI’s own monitoring and safety devices.
STI prides itself on offering complete safety systems solutions from one source. Customers get value in products and service through a distribution network of automation safety partners. These organizations meet stringent requirements, including factory training of sales engineers and ongoing STI training, to ensure that customer safety analysis, product selection and support through installation are optimal. In response to the sometimes critical nature of safety issues, the company also has the capability to ship certain orders the same day they are placed. It seems safe to say that STI knows the current and future needs of its customers and the global market, and is prepared to make the working environment a safer place.