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Pelican: A 'case' study in American manufacturing

The 36-year-old American firm still makes its travel cases in America, and the totes are living up to their lifetime guarantee.
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The Los Angeles Times on Sunday published an interesting profile on Pelican Products, maker of eponymous boxes, brief cases and other various containers that are built for all manner of abuse during transit.

David and Arline Parker started the company, a mail-order business, in 1975, hoping to improve on the cases and flashlights used in scuba diving, reports the Times. New York private equity investment firm Behrman Capital acquired the company in 2004 for $200 million, but it has remained in its manufacturing facility in Torrance, south of LA, despite offers from other states. That's good news to California, which the story notes lost "nearly one-third of its manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010."

Pelican cases are more than just tough boxes, though. They've become an artifact of modern society, often used as props in tough-guy movies. They're loved by international photographers shipping camera gear, the U.S. military -- which uses them for everything from transporting groups of laptops to mobile air conditioning units -- and by oil and gas companies that need to protect valuable equipment in the field. Some models come equipped with pressure equalization valves.

They're loved for good reason: they never seem to fail. Pelican cases have been put through helicopter crashes, improvised explosive devices and tumbles down rocky screes. A biologist working to save nesting guillemot birds from marauding polar bears on Cooper Island, Alaska, converted Pelican cases into safe-nests. They worked. The bears could not get at the chicks. (Climate change has disrupted the bears' natural food sources, forcing them to feed on the birds more than usual.)

Just how the cases survive all this abuse remains a bit of a mystery. "In Pelican's Torrance factory, the process starts with plastic beads that are measured and mixed with what Faulkner describes as 'the secret sauce' that makes Pelican cases so durable that they are backed by a lifetime warranty," writes the Times' Ronald D. White.

The company has made some impressive efficiency gains in its manufacturing system, too, reducing the amount of time needed to transition between the various case molds from 18 hours to less than 10 minutes.

Pelican has broken into the consumer market, though it's sticking to its rugged exterior. Many of the 45 new products it will roll out this year are made for personal electronic, reports the newspaper. It already manufactures "nearly 1,000 different sizes of crushproof, watertight and dustproof protective cases," says the Times, as well as LED flashlights.

Things are looking up for the company, too, with sales "expected to reach $400 million this year, up from $80 million in 2006," though the growth was stoked largely by its purchase of a major competitor.

Via: The Los Angeles Times

Photo: Pelican

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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