Company Profile: LEDA Corporation
There’s nothing better than a trip to Southern California this time of year. That’s where we find LEDA Corporation, a well-established supplier of harnesses, electrical assemblies and specialty PCBs. Wiring Harness News spoke with David Tung, Vice President, of LEDA Corporation about his family’s story in the industry. David’s father, Joseph, started the business in 1985. But his path to that point is fascinating, so we’ll start further back.
Joseph graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from SMU (Southern Methodist University) in 1959 and was quickly snapped up by Boeing in Seattle. He was then assigned to the Saturn V program and moved with his wife, Dorothy to Huntsville, Alabama. That’s where his two children Leslie and David (LEDA) were born. Following his work on that program, the family moved back to California where Joseph took a job with Lockheed.
Feeling the pull towards electronics sales entrepreneurship, Joseph uprooted his young family and moved back to his home country of Hong Kong. He operated that business quite successfully, but as the kids reached college age, he wanted them to attend American universities. “So, we moved back in 1982. My father was semi-retired, but he got bored and started LEDA in 1985,” David recalled.
The business began making audio/visual products for education. “We used to make record players, overhead projectors and other basic electronics,” David detailed. But the breakthrough product was a video projector that sold for under $1,000. “Back then, if you remember, video projectors were in the tens of thousands of dollars. My father created a design and manufactured a video projector that was the first LCD model on the market, and we sold them for 800 bucks!” The design was portable, durable, and allowed customers like schools and church missionaries to quickly set up a theater with nothing more than the projector and a bed sheet.
Things were going quite well until their main supplier took notice. “Our LCD supplier thought it was such a great business that they raised our prices and kept the technology to themselves,” David lamented.
As one door closes, another opens, and LEDA was then presented with an opportunity with a DoD contractor. “We got our first taste of military wiring harnesses with a company called Brunswick Defense. It was for a missile system and it was just a rinky-dink $100 PCB, but they were building thousands of these vehicles.” That opened the door with Rockwell, and Joseph was back in the mil/aero game.
The 80’s were good, and LEDA was increasing their defense program footprint. Through the years, their growth closely followed the trajectory of overall defense spending. The company saw a downturn in the early to mid 90s and an increase in the late 90s through the mid 2000s. “We were busy and growing until 2008-2013 when sequestration really kicked our butts, but from 2018 to today we have been very busy and prosperous.”
LEDA started out in a 6,000 sq. ft. rented facility where they remained for 20 years. They purchased the current 19,000 sq. ft. Huntington Beach facility in 2004 and then purchased the adjacent 9,000 sq. ft. building the following year. The entire space including labs and production areas are temperature controlled.
With just under 30 employees, LEDA is a low-volume, high-mix manufacturer. The company makes highly specialized cable assemblies, electromechanical devices and PCB assemblies for aerospace and defense. More recently, they are working on commercial space programs like Blue Origin. “So basically, our work has gone from commercial to weapons, and all the way up to manned space flight.”
LEDA has a very low turnover and David attributes that to their philosophy of developing highly skilled, highly trained employees in a cohesive atmosphere. “We do all the training in-house,” he mentioned, “and it’s not just book training. We focus on high-reliability assemblies, so there is plenty of hands-on learning with our highly skilled trainers.” That training capability is essential for LEDA to maintain their AS9100, NASA-8739, and Boeing BQMS certifications. It is also key to their adherence to several Mil-Standards, J-Standards and countless electrical test and measurement thresholds.
When LEDA brings on a new team member in engineering or production, David urges them to take the customer’s print with healthy skepticism. “I tell people we are classified as a ‘build to print’ manufacturer, but that it’s actually ‘build to kind-of print.’ We build to a drawing, but when we find problems, we are going to stop and let them know, and our customers just love that.” LEDA will take the initiative to recommend design changes so the customer receives a product that will perform as desired, no matter whose mistake it was. “Our customers have a high level of confidence in us. Sometimes they will actually have the drawings half-way done and they’ll send it to us and say, ‘just go ahead and finish it,’” David revealed. LEDA will also help with design for manufacturability as well as research and recommendations on alternative materials.
The marketing is a pretty straightforward function at LEDA. “All of our new business comes from internal programs,” David advised. “We have three main customers who keep us very busy, and as an engineer in these companies finishes one program and moves to another, they bring us with them.” In addition to Boeing, LEDA enjoys status as a valued supplier to Rocketdyne, McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney, DRS Technologies, JPL and Blue Origin.
LEDA’s vertical integration also works in their favor when bringing in new programs. “We are vertical and we do everything in-house and that’s why people like us. They don’t have to send the harness to supplier A, and then go to supplier B for the machine work. We do all the program management, and we do everything on site here in Huntington Beach.”
Supply issues are on everyone’s mind these days, and LEDA has not escaped the effects of shortages. But they have been able to maintain a steady flow of goods to their customers, with relatively few expedited shipments. “Our manufacturing is very efficient, and I would say if we’ve had any issues with delivery it’s because of recent abnormalities in the supply chain. But because of our efficiency, coupled with our persistence and ingenuity, we have been able to make things work for our customers.” David added that a certain amount of begging and pleading with suppliers helped.
WHN asked if there were any specific challenges being a California based manufacturer. “Politics aside, it’s a great location because many of our customers are here in Southern California, and there is a good base of skilled folks in engineering and electrical manufacturing.” Their customers on the East Coast really enjoy visiting them, especially in the winter. “When the snow starts flying and the temperatures plunge, they say, yep, it’s time to go visit LEDA.’” The only other challenge David mentioned was traffic. “We only live a half hour away, but in California, that’s only a couple blocks.”
David had these concluding remarks when reflecting on the family business:
Our customers promote us and it’s because of the quality and ingenuity that we have. It’s kept our business very busy for the last 36 years, and I’m definitely very proud of that. We’re still a family company but we are always growing. So, it’s my father my mother and myself. My father is 90 and my mother is 88. And they’re still working every single day. I joke with my dad he needs to work…he can’t just sit at home. We‘ve got things to do here! It’s definitely been a blessing to be able to work with my father.