Tri-Power Design co-founder and managing director Anthony La Rosa was thrilled to demonstrate three machines his engineers are creating: one automatically fills medication vials for clinical trials, another modernizes the production of staple guns, and a third is a robot that can identify product defects.
All three are products Tri-Power is making for New Jersey manufacturers.
That's right, manufacturing products made in Jersey for Jersey.
The Denville company helps Garden State businesses launch new products, automate their production lines and reduce their costs — so they can remain price-competitive enough to continue making things in state.
"The only way you can compete against cheap labor is with automation," La Rosa said.
La Rosa calls it "reshoring" — and he feels the idea is gaining traction.
"(U.S. producers) can't match the labor rates they see in Asia, but the automation is the equalizer: It reshores manufacturing, it brings it back here," he said.
La Rosa said he is fighting a notion that automation takes away jobs. He said it's just the opposite. By reducing the amount of U.S. labor a product requires, automation "keeps jobs here," he said.
Tri-Power was founded in 1996 by three NJIT graduates who launched the company in the new-venture incubator on the school's campus in Newark.
La Rosa is joined by Edward Laganis, director of engineering, and partner Robert Mastice, who runs the Tri-Power division that provides staffing services to the utility industry. The company employs more than 20 people and has annual revenues of about $3 million.
Tri-Power has worked for about 100 New Jersey manufacturers, including aerospace and electronics firms and medical device makers such as Stryker Orthopedics, Becton-Dickinson and Johnson & Johnson. And Tri-Power and its engineers are named on several of their clients' patents.
Its success, however, has not come easily.
Tri-Power learned early on it needed to be a nimble company, one that could quickly re-invent itself and adapt to economic change.
"We started out doing new product development for the plastics industry — and within five years most of my customers were out of business," La Rosa said.
So the company decided to concentrate on two areas that were most likely to keep jobs in the country: the biomedical industry, which tends to keep its innovation work in the U.S. to avoid the theft of intellectual property, and defense aerospace work, where critical projects need to be done on U.S. soil.
The company also diversified in 2003 from making new-product prototypes to helping manufacturers automate their factories.
Tri-Power's clients include some of the nation's largest corporations — a typical job bills at around $200,000.
But La Rosa said the company's strength is being able — and willing — to handle a job of any size.
The company helped Surgical Concept Designs of Hackensack create PositionOR, a medical device that keeps the incision open while a surgeon is operating. La Rosa said he and his engineers are named on the patents associated with that product.
Tri-Power, in fact, will help inventors learn the ropes of new-product development, and it will serve small start-up ventures, taking jobs for as little as $15,000.
"There are not a lot of companies that do that," La Rosa said.
Laganis said clients turn to Tri-Power when they need extra engineering work or a quicker turnaround. Tri-Power tries to keep them with service.
"(The challenge) is exceeding their expectations," he said. "We are a small business, so one of the biggest challenges for us is to always be on their mind, to be remembered as the people who not only provide the service but provided a better service than what they asked for."
The idea has served Tri-Power well as it has traditionally grown its business from existing customers or referrals.
"All it takes is one person leaving a company and moving to another company, and then introducing his (new) team of engineers to us — that has been the core of our growth," Laganis said.
Growth, however, has not always been steady.
La Rosa said the company suffered during the financial crisis.
"A lot of corporations just stopped spending," he said. "They were not spending the money on innovation that they needed to."
Tri-Power responded by hiring a marketing professional who is out actively developing new business.
Laganis said at any one time the company could be working on a dozen to 20 projects — and the goal of its new marketing push is to smooth out the ebbs and flows of the business.
La Rosa and Laganis are confident in Tri-Power's ability to respond. They feel as companies rebuild their innovation pipelines, they will need unique, custom-designed machinery.
"(Machinery) you can't go out and buy on the Web," Laganis said.
Machinery Tri-Power makes right here in Jersey. To stay in Jersey.
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