PLATTSBURGH — Inside the walls of a 36,000-square-foot facility here, raw wires are transformed into electromechanical harness boxes.
The organized grouping of cables are what transmit electrical signals throughout various modes of transportation, allowing them to operate.
Those harnesses, manufactured at the AQ B3CG Group facility at 18 Northern Ave. in the Town of Plattsburgh, are what powers buses made at local Nova Bus.
Plant Manager Robert Gibeault said it was a decade ago that his group followed the notable transportation manufacturer to northern New York to power its fleets.
But, Gibeault said, the plant helps power more than a dozen other industries, too.
“We try to partner up with the companies that have a complex electrical product,” he said. “Something like airplanes or buses.”
MILLIONS IN SALES
AQ Group is a $520 million Swedish company that operates manufacturing plants on a global scale.
“There are 40 plants on four continents in 16 different countries,” Gibeault said. “We’re almost up to 7,000 employees.”
The plant in the Town of Plattsburgh is just a small piece of that much larger picture.
Once located on Military Turnpike, Gibeault said the group moved into its current Northern Avenue facility in 2017.
Its 120 employees manufacture between $10 and $20 million worth of product annually.
Just last year, Gibeault said the operation had quite a bit of growth.
“It was about 20 to 25 percent,” he said. “The goal is to double in five years.”
And, if the sales are in the cards, the plant manager has the solution at his fingertips.
“We already have a plan to blow this wall out,” he said, pointing to one end of the facility, “and then expand by 10,000 or 15,000 square feet.”
“We’re just waiting.”
But an expansion isn’t something he sees AQ B3CG rushing into.
It’s difficult to take on more than two or three new clients each year, Gibeault said.
“If you try to develop too fast, then you’re not delivering the quality product that the companies deserve,” he said.
“We try to be careful with our growth.”
PRODUCTION BY HAND
If the plant does undergo some changes, either via an expansion or new product development, Gibeault said those would be easy for a company like AQ B3CG to adjust to.
“We always keep a flexible layout,” he said of the facilities lines of tables. “If what we have to do for our client differs next year, we want to be able to adapt.”
And the plant doesn’t have to worry about any large machinery being planted in one spot, because a majority of the electromechanical work is done by hand.
“It’s mostly labor intensive,” Gibeault said.
Production starts with a sale, because that's when the AQ B3CG client requests a specific product outfitted for a specific vehicle.
That product is then transformed into a 2D assembly sheet, or blueprint, showing the product and its various wire components and connectors on a one-to-one scale.
“We invest a lot of time to redesign the diagram to scale,” Gibeault said. “The more detail you have, the better the roadmap is.”
Once the product map has been generated, an assembly kit is made.
“All of the wires that go into the assembly are all cut to exact length,” Gibeault said, adding that they are then placed in a bucket for each specific project along with its other required assembly pieces.
From there, the assembler is given the blueprint and toolkit to put the final product together.
Gibeault said the assembler needs about one day to get the wiring done, but product turnaround is typically 30 days.
That’s because of the roadmap and toolkit set up, he said.
“Thirty-five percent of the employees are associated with that,” he added. “There’s probably 10 to 20 percent who get the design ready, and then 40 to 50 percent are on the assembly.”
The plant manager said staffing was one of the bigger challenges in latest years, but has since slowed.
"There has been good retention," he said. "75 percent of the employees have been here for about two years."
The electromechanical can be a turn-off, so most training is done in-house and lasts about one to three months.
“Most people have never worked in this type of industry before they walk in here," Gibeault said. "It’s all new and foreign.”
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