Fayetteville Company Keeps Engineers in Arkansas

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 12:00 am  

APEI has little in the way of stateside competition. Baldor Electric Co. of Fort Smith creates motor drives, which also involves power electronics. Even so, there's not much overlap.

"Baldor manufactures premium efficient motors," said Shawn Traylor, marketing communications manager at Baldor. "We also manufacture many other mechanical products like gearboxes, bearings and a whole host of products used in the industry. I don't know that we have anything that makes these two alike."

"They're in that field, but that's really the only, in general, the only other in Arkansas in this type of area," Lostetter said.

APEI now operates in 20,000 SF of laboratory and manufacturing space. The company's most recent expansion was a 10,000-SF manufacturing facility at the Arkansas Research & Technology Park on the UA campus. This, Lostetter said, was a milestone for APEI, a client firm of Innovate Arkansas and the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority.

"Our original goal was to develop technology and license it out," he said. "We were pushing the limits on some of the things we were doing, particularly for extreme environments. So far, there weren't any manufacturers or manufacturing processes that could do it. What we learned over the years was that it was simpler for us to actually do it ourselves than try to teach our manufacturing partners how to do it."

Lostetter said he saw a chance to compete in a low-volume, high-dollar niche market, and even turn a profit. The facility was built in 2010 and optimized in 2011. The building itself features a class 1000 "cleanroom" environment.

"It's a way to detect the amount of dust in the environment," Lostetter said. "In a cubic meter, there would be less than 1,000 particles in the air. It's a very clean type of environment, very high-tech."

Lostetter said with current resources, the facility produces about 5,000 units per year, with each unit selling for $500-$1,000 each. Only about five of APEI's 36 employees work in the facility.

"These are very highly skilled workers," Lostetter said. "These are guys and gals with 20 to 25 years of experience at the bottom level of training. The high side is up to Ph.D. level of engineers."

Melanie Ritchie, financial accountant for APEI, said the average salary for the company's full-time employees was $86,345 in 2011, while the engineers averaged $94,950.

Jared Hornberger, director of APEI manufacturing, works in the facility. The work there is extremely technical, he said.

"For example, we have a wire bonder," he said. "It connects a very small wire from the chips to the package. So you're working with a lot of microscopes and microscopic detail."



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