W.Cola’s Flextronics a key player in electronics industry

West Columbia firm aids 200 customers with design, manufacture, d distribution

rburris@thestate.comJanuary 18, 2013 

— The Kodak photo kiosk is a popular electronic marvel average South Carolina consumers can easily associate with their local CVS, Walgreens or other corner pharmacy.

In the bustling business community, Avaya Telecom’s sleek telephone communication systems probably are equally familiar, relied upon daily in offices across the state.

What may be less known is that those internationally marketed, technologically advanced products are precisely engineered, assembled and shipped from a plant here in the Midlands.

Flextronics Special Business Solutions is a $30 billion company located near the airport in West Columbia that specializes in helping more than 200 customers design, manufacture, distribute and service electronic products worldwide.

Opened at the West Columbia site 12 years ago, the plant occupies a 450,000-square-foot facility across from the FedEx cargo terminal. It employs about 240 people.

Globally, Flextronics commands a network of facilities in 30 countries, employing 200,000 people and delivering services in the aerospace, automotive, computing, medical, mobile and industrial sectors.

“A lot of people haven’t heard of Flextronics, but we build a lot of the products in Flextronics that you encounter every day,” said Marty Wilson, plant general manager.

“Things like cell phones, things like consumer electronics, larger equipment that we would build here, large computers, kiosks, all kinds of complex electronics.”

But, it is not the company’s role to brand electronics, Wilson said. Instead, they build products for their customers, which makes Flextronics the “end-to-end supply chain” for numerous companies instead, he said.

“We do the assembly, we do the systems integrations work and we let them focus on the things they need to focus on – their customers, their markets, their technology, their product development,” Wilson explained.

Flextronics becomes responsible for everything that’s needed to get a product built and out the door to its destination, Wilson said.

For a leading U.S. computer company such as Teradata Corp., Flextronics’ biggest customer, which is a provider of powerful analytic database software for data warehouses, the West Columbia company manages the procurement of all of the components that go into the system, assembles and tests it, performs quality checks, packages it, and in most cases, delivers the finished product to the end user, Wilson said.

Flextronics conducted a manufacturing forum at the plant on Thursday – its first – in which the company invited a cross-section of representatives from economic development, academia, suppliers, customers, and prospective customers for all-day discussions, lunch, and a plant tour.

“These are people we would want to better understand what we do here, how we do it, and how it adds value for our customers,” Wilson explained.

Because the company employs a staff of engineers who work with customers and their products, Flextronics is able to assist product development from early stage or sooner, such as the conceptual stage, Wilson said, to production and final phase out.

One of the local companies Flextronics is working with is Trulite, Inc., a company focused on developing clean, renewable power technologies utilizing fuel cells and hydrogen as a replacement for batteries and gas generators.

“Fuel cells may be the only technology that is available today, or in the future, that will mimic the lifestyles of the average consumer,” said Ron Seftick, Trulite CEO, who spoke at the forum.

Consumers want instant power, he said, and want to avoid long charge up times needed to ready some batteries for use.

Batteries are not cost effective for many applications today, Seftick said, and they are not immediately available in some cases.

“This is a huge opportunity for fuel cells and for a company like Trulite, and it’s one of the reasons we are here today,” Seftick said.

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