NEWTON FALLS – In a lightning bolt flash, the engineers at Quality Switch can measure the voltage they’ve charged into a product the company has designed and manufactured to make sure it’s ready to be put on the market.
If they need to refine it, they can now carry the product from the company’s new Horace H. Sewell High Voltage Test & Research Center to the main building across the parking lot, tweak the design, bring the modified product back to the research center and retest it.
“This really is a lot better for us,” said CEO Russ Sewell. “It’s more practical to be able to have our own testing center on site.”
Previously, company leaders had to travel to a test center to try out the products they make at their manufacturing site on Arlington Boulevard in Newton Falls.
Quality Switch President Larry Dix said numerous trips to laboratories – such as one they frequented in Philadelphia – to conduct necessary high-voltage experiments were not only inconvenient, but also expensive.
Lease agreements to use outside test facilities can cost upward of $5,000 to $15,000 a day, he said.
“And if we had a problem or something wasn’t quite right, we had to bring it back, work out the issues and again take it to an outside facility to test it again,” said Jeremy Sewell, vice president. “It was time consuming. And we had to schedule our testing around the lab’s schedule.”
About five years ago, the family-owned and -operated company, which designs and manufactures electrical switches for the transformer industry, started giving serious consideration to building its own test center.
“We started approaching other companies in the area to see if this was something they might be interested in, that they also had a need for,” Dix said.
However, when attempts to form a partnership were unsuccessful, company leaders decided to build their own lab.
The company broke ground in August for the new $1 million, 50-feet high research and development center named for company founder Horace H. Sewell. The final piece of equipment was installed in March.
Last week, Quality Switch Inc. tested a product inside the new lab for the first time.
From outside, passers-by and neighbors see a towering cube-shaped warehouse-type building near the company’s main building. But inside the new structure, more than a million volts of electricity can be zapped into new designs being tested for electrical switches used in the transformer industry.
Inside the lab are two testing units. One for lightning, or impulse testing, allows the engineer to apply up to 1.2 million volts in “short-term, small microseconds, simulating a lightning strike,” Dix explained. The impulse voltage test is used to make sure the product can withstand an overvoltage caused by a lightning strike.
The other, for applied potential testing, determines the voltage the equipment or part can handle on a continuous basis.
Each piece of testing equipment has two components standing across from each other. One part charges, or produces the test voltage, and the other measures it. Each of the four towers stands more than 25 feet.
“The two pieces of each part work together,” Dix said. “One is basically like a lightning strike to see how the product can handle a lightning strike. The other is a more continuous test that allows you to test the product over a longer time and in stages or steps with gradual increases in voltage. A lab like this really is progress.”
Jeremy Sewell said the center is geared for Quality Switch’s products, but the companyis also exploring the possibility of opening the lab up to others needing similar testing services.
“We’re just getting started, but there’s a lot of potential here,” he said.
Last year, the growing company, which employs about 40 workers, was among 45 businesses presented with the 2015 President’s “E” Awards during a ceremony at the U.S. Commerce Department in Washington, D.C.
“Basically, you design a product, test it and once it’s validated you can take it to market. Having this center on site allows us to improve the product much faster. It helps us get a new product to market sooner,” Jeremy Sewell said.
Russ Sewell said there aren’t many labs that can do what Quality Switch’s new one can. The company was spun from one his father started some 60 years ago.
“My father would have loved to see this,” Russ Sewell said. “He would have been amazed.”