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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

KDL Fast Track

JEFF SCHNAUFER Contributing reporter When the Cold War ended, one of the big casualties in the San Fernando Valley was the aerospace industry, which gave up thousands of jobs as the military scaled back contracts. David R. Wyckoff and Lee Brown, president and chief financial officer, respectively, of KDL Precision Molding Corp., knew they had two choices for their firm, which molds synthetic rubber products: evolve or die. “Our sales had dropped by 20 to 30 percent over a several year period,” said Brown. “That’s without losing any customers. Mostly the volume dropped.” “The falloff on military products was phenomenal,” Wyckoff agreed. In 1995, the duo launched a plan to save the Pacoima-based company by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on facility upgrades and diversifying their operation to serve a broader customer base. Now sales are projected to be $3.5 million this year, a 71 percent increase over 1995. “In the past three years, we’ve grown 15 to 20 percent annual growth rate, minimum,” Brown said. “We’re anticipating 25 percent growth this year.” Brown and Wyckoff are no strangers to adversity. They formed KDL in 1989 with a third partner (who later left) after being let go during a hostile takeover of their former employer, Advanced Rubber Technology, which went out of business five years later. For the first few years, the two men’s reputation was enough to bring aerospace customers to KDL. But faced with declining sales to the aerospace industry, the pair began considering a move into medical device manufacturing. “We knew that the population was aging and would require more medical care,” said Wyckoff. “Think of how many shots are given daily in doctor’s offices and hospitals. And 90 percent of patients in hospitals use IVs.” To make the medical industry aware of KDL, the pair began attending out-of-state trade shows. It was a whole new experience. Said Brown, “Our marketing budget went from $5,000 one year to $80,000.” KDL does a large volume of business in the medical device industry, making parts for everything from IV equipment to medical lasers. When asked for specifics about some of the devices, Wyckoff smiled and shrugged. “The medical device industry is very competitive,” he said. “It’s a multimillion-dollar business that is very concerned about industrial espionage. Sometimes they don’t want you to know what you’re making.” Wycoff and Brown knew it wasn’t enough just to have name recognition. KDL needed to be recognized for something more. One of those areas, the owners decided, was high tech. In 1995, Wyckoff said, the company invested $200,000 to construct a 1,000-square-foot clean room, which allows KDL to make sensitive computer, medical and aerospace parts that require an ultra-clean manufacturing environment. The company invested even more $350,000 in liquid injection technology to expand its offerings of both gum and liquid-silicone products. As a result, Wyckoff said, “We take on a lot of the more complex jobs that no one else will.” During a tour of the facility, Wyckoff held up a black, oval synthetic rubber seal to a facemask that will soon be put on the market for firefighters. “It’s a unique product,” he said. “The lens itself is optically correct. The firefighter won’t have to turn his head to see clearly, which saves time. And for firefighters, time is all you have.” According to Wyckoff, KDL is also the sole source in the world for special seals used to prevent blowouts as offshore oilrigs drill into high-pressure pockets, which in some cases have 15,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. Several years ago, one such pocket caused a blowout that caused an oilrig to sink. “Seventy-five percent of deep offshore wells have our product on them,” he said. KDL sales have grown from $2 million in 1995, to $2.8 million in 1997. Sales are projected to reach $3.5 million this year. More than two-thirds of the company’s sales are out-of-state. Terry Harrison, plant manager for North Safety Products in Brea, said he has been doing business with KDL since 1993. In particular, KDL custom manufactures two silicon rubber components that are used in its noise-protection gear worn by gun enthusiasts. About a year and a half ago, Harrison said, North Safety began rejecting some KDL parts for the Sonic II Ear Valve because they weren’t meeting specifications. So KDL asked North Safety Products to invest $20,000 so KDL could improve its manufacturing process on the product. “The price came down and we got a better product,” he said. Bill Bopp, who buys pump and seal components for aircraft avionics from KDL for HR Textron in Valencia, calls KDL “an excellent company” with “a very good reputation.” With praise like this, KDL can expect more customers in the future. And Wyckoff and Brown are counting on it. “We’re probably at 40 percent capacity by design,” Wyckoff said. “We’re very anxious for more business.”

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