With large corporations taking the lion share of media coverage it can be easy to overlook the major impact that family businesses have on our daily lives and how enormously beneficial they are for our economy. Family enterprises generate almost 60% of the nation’s GDP and employ about 63% of the U.S. workforce. Additionally, they currently account for roughly 75% of new jobs being created. A little over an hour outside of Chicago in Southwest Michigan, nestled between popular summer beaches and thriving wine and farm country, three generations work together under the same roof at a state-of-the-art robotics company called Apollo Seiko. Together the Schiffer family has built the North American headquarters for one of the leading providers of automated soldering technology.
The story begins with Ken Schiffer. A natural businessman with a knack for engineerin. Ken grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Reflecting back on his childhood, Ken has always been an entrepreneur at heart. At the age where most children are perfecting riding their bicycle without training wheels, Ken was working early hours for a bakery delivering goods to local grocery stores at 4am to beat the morning breakfast rush. In his teenage years, Ken found employment at a neighborhood appliance store. The store offered a discount on new appliances if a used machine was traded in. Most of these traded appliances sat unused and cluttering up storage space in the back of the building until Ken had the idea to clean them up to be sold alongside the new equipment at a discount. At a time when people were accustomed to doing more with less, being able to buy a used appliance was appealing to many families that could not afford new. Having developed a strong work ethic during these formative years, Ken went on to study Electrical Engineering at IIT in Chicago. Ken went on to work for Pyle National in their military division building umbilical cables for the missile programs After that, he worked for Raychem Corporation in Southern California in their self-limiting heating element group. Ken also served 8 years in the Marine Corp Reserve. After gaining valuable experience he was sought after to represent Autosplice technology. Autosplice provides a unique wire harnessing solution. Almost 48 years later, the Autosplice crimping system still provides one of the lowest cost wire connection options on the market. The full system is comprised of a semi-automatic machine and reel of continuous spliceband material. The machine’s ability to cut, form and crimp was revolutionary in eliminating the need for expensive pre-formed crimps. Ken’s original company, Schiffer Corporation, still operates as a service and splice machine specialist for the Autosplice SAS machine. While at an event representing Autopslice, Ken met Apollo Seiko founder, George Kawaguchi. Kawaguchi had recognized a need to automate the labor-intensive process of hand soldering. He created the first automated soldering system that increased output and quality by providing a precise, repeatable robotic process. George and Ken partnered to bring Apollo Seiko’s soldering technology to North America.
The original Apollo Seiko North American Headquarters was located in Chicago. It was a small, lean office that employed a handful of people. With Ken’s thoughtful guidance and a growing need among companies to quickly automate the soldering process Apollo Seiko rapidly outgrew this humble space. It was around this time that Ken’s son, Rick joined the team. Rick’s Computer Science Degree from DeVry Institute of Technology and the many years he worked at Xerox Corporation gave him a strong business acumen and the necessary leadership skills needed to expand the business further into Canada and Mexico.
As the demand for automation grew so did Apollo Seiko. Rick has since taken over the leadership as President of Apollo Seiko U.S. In 2008, the Schiffer’s relocated their offices to Bridgman, Michigan and broke ground on a brand-new facility that included a larger assembly space and demo room. They increased their engineering staff due to the customers need for regional support and installation. As the company grew so did their array of automated soldering technology. The original soldering robot had consisted of simple XY programmable movement with a temperature controller.
Today Apollo Seiko offers a full range of technology to meet most automated soldering needs. They have continued to patent many advances in selective soldering technology including versatile iron tip design, innovative soldering techniques and nitrogen integration to provide a low-cost, lead-free laser soldering solution add solder feeding technology patent. Apollo Seiko has grown into a global worldwide organization.
Shortly after the establishment of the Michigan facility, Bill Schiffer joined his uncle and grandfather’s growing operation. Bill shares many of the same values that Rick and Ken instilled in the business. This includes a keen attention to detail, desire to continually progress the capabilities of the technology, and most importantly, ensure customer success. When he first joined the team, he immediately recognized the importance of Apollo Seiko’s unique “Application Evaluation Program.” With so much technology available, it can be difficult for engineers to know which machines are best suited for their product or production line. The Application Evaluation Program allows engineers to send a sample of their board or application so that the Apollo Seiko engineers can determine the optimal solution at no cost. Bill Schiffer continues to head this popular program. This process is handled from their headquarters in Michigan.
One of the core values that drives the Schiffer family success is the need to ensure customers will receive an exceptional level of service and support. Two years ago, the North American team added a new office, demo room, and team of engineering staff in Guadalajara, Mexico.
In the past few years soldering technology has seen some major improvements. One of the newest devices to join the Apollo Seiko product line is a versatile AF Series Fountain Soldering machine. These selective flow machines feature vastly improved functionality at a reduced cost compared to previous models. They include options for barcode reading and MES data storage. Also, unknown terms like surface mount, flexible edge connectors, thru hole components after reflow soldering became an everyday language.
The automotive industry has added more and more functions in miniaturization.
Next, medical electronics started looking for soldering solutions for their tiny in-body implanted devices.
If you would like to learn more about Apollo Seiko soldering solutions or Schiffer Corporation. You may visit their websites. roboticsoldering.com and schiffercorporation.com.