Today, Cleaveland/Price is one of the leading suppliers of high voltage and automation products in the U.S.. However, it took them time and effort to break into their primary market, the utility industry. “When we first started out, most of the utility companies we encountered desired a supplier with an already established name and brand, so for a while we had to look for business where we could get it,” says Ed Wallace, marketing manager for Cleaveland/Price.
“We did a fair amount of work in the industrial arena, but once we solidified our name through the effectiveness and reliability of our switches, we were able to carve out a portion of the utility market,” he adds.
Now, they’re one of the most trusted suppliers in the utility market and have used the momentum to spur continuous growth over the last 35 years.
Homemade and Self-Sustained
One of the distinguishing aspects of Cleaveland/Price is their deviation from the traditional method of manufacturing switch parts using castings. “A lot of switch manufacturers have cast parts in their design and use outside suppliers to make their parts,” Wallace says.
Utilizing stock and extruded metals rather than castings is advantageous because it allows for a higher degree of integrity in their products. The use of homogenous materials produces a stronger product that is much less prone to issues such as cold shunting that can occur in the casting process. Wallace also notes that when using copper as the conducting metal, you’ll have a product that is “not only more reliable in terms of durability, but there will also be a higher level of conductivity.”
Choosing form metal rather than cast metal normally tends to be more expensive, but in Cleaveland/Price’s case, it is the result of yet another advantage they have over the rest of their competition. “We’re the most vertically integrated switch manufacturer out there,” Wallace says, as the company does almost all of its metal bending, milling, laser-cutting, and other production processes in-house at its facility in Trafford, Pa.
The facility spans 126,000 square feet and has roughly 200 employees hard at work under its roof each day. “At the Trafford facility we operate through a lean manufacturing program and are recognized by the Department of Commerce as a green supplier,” Wallace says. “Here at the facility it’s all about vertical integration and doing things the right way. We’re a made in the USA kind of company.”
Automation, Switches And Customization
Cleaveland/Price began with switches as their main source of business, but have also been thriving in the switch automation and motorized controller market since 1992. In what was a very competitive market and still is, Wallace says his company has made its mark in finding solutions for “customers who aren’t necessarily looking for a cookie cutter-type solution like some of our competitors offer, but rather require a product that is customized to meet their needs, and that’s where we come in.”
Wallace says that their automation equipment sets itself apart from other companies’ models through its common-control package that is utilized in each particular application. “Each application has the same common control board that is interchangeable between any of our products,” Wallace says, adding that, “the learning curve for users is lowered because they can look at a variety of different systems and understand how they operate.”
Cleaveland/Price manufactures controllers for overhead, padmount, and underground switches. Their controllers can be retrofitted to switches from various manufactures due to their adaptability. Cleaveland/Price also supplies their controllers to switchgear manufactures on an Original Equipment Manafacturer (OEM) basis.
In overhead distribution applications, the company can supply controllers that operate switches without the use of vertical operating pipes. Wallace says that “customers like this because as wooden poles tend to twist as they age and this twisting causes the switch to lose its alignment over time,” adding that, “by having the motor at the switch level, they don’t have to deal with any of this twisting that would affect the switch’s adjustment.”
Wallace says that his company simply “tries to make [their] products as user-friendly as we can.” The company’s products and reputation were truly put to the test when they were contacted by a major energy company in the northeast who was in need of an adaptable controller for their extensive underground system.
“We had done business with them before in providing controllers for their switches, but this time around they needed a controller for a new type of submersible switch. The switch and controller were required to operate in what was a very harsh environment,” he says, adding with a laugh, “and by harsh environment I mean it was a place where people were pouring cooking oil down grates and there was nasty runoff water in the vaults as well.”
Wallace says his company had to provide cables that were corrosive-resistant and waterproof. After extensive testing, Cleaveland/Price was able to come up with a reliable system that ensured everything was submersible and would hold up against the surrounding conditions. “Everything went well, and overall, I think they were very happy with us as a supplier,” he says.
Engineered For Success
Demonstration of the effectiveness of their products was taken a step further in October when their 230 kV vertical break switch underwent a controlled seismic test to determine its performance capabilities at Clark Laboratories in Large, Pa. With the goal of exceeding a 1G acceleration, they actually performed two and a half times that level, multiple times.
So where does all the brains and innovation come from that make Cleaveland/Price’s products so useful and effective?
“We’re very engineered oriented,” Wallace says, noting that, “Chuck Cleaveland himself is an engineer, as is our vice president, Pete Kowalik, and many of our staff members have a high engineering aptitude. It’s funny, some people consider us almost like an engineering firm that just happens to manufacture as well.”
Wallace continues, “All of our products have a lot of thought that goes into their design and production.”
It’s that kind of dedication that leads to a happy customer base, and paves the way for many more partnerships in the future.