Design Ready expands in Brooklyn Park

Design Ready Controls, a growing manufacturer of electronic-control panels for equipment manufacturers, is also an employee-hungry business in search of workers.

The company this year consolidated its several headquarters-and-manufacturing plants into one new Brooklyn Park facility that cost more than $10 million, including equipment.

Mitch DeJong, Design Ready’s vice president of technology, said the state-of-the art facility, landscaped by Prairie Restorations, another growing local business, was designed with the idea that the Target-store-sized facility would leave room for the company to grow another 20 percent. Design Ready, which employs about 200 locally, already is using all of the new space.

Business has grown about 25 percent annually since 2008 to $60 million in sales last year.

And the big worry is where it will get ready-to-train workers for further expansion and to replace retirees. The Brooklyn Center-Brooklyn Park area has a higher unemployment rate than the Twin Cities area as a whole.

And Design Ready tells high school graduates or those coming from other employers who pay less that they can plan on staying.

“We’re partnering with area high schools and Hennepin [Technical College] and Rasmussen College to get people we can train,” DeJong said. “And this location helps.

“We have a pipeline set up, including some state funding for training. We bring them into starting factory jobs, at $13 to $15 an hour with some benefits. We encourage new people to think of this as the beginning of a career, not just a job. We run two shifts, starting in the morning and afternoon. And the two-year schools have their class schedules set up that way, so people can work and go to school. We also do internal training, too.

“If they really want to move to another level of pay, to $20 or more an hour, we want people to earn their two-year technical degrees. And we will pay for the tuition, through a company and state program.

“We have one kid … from Vietnam and St. Paul, and we got him on a [high school] internship, and now he has a four-year degree in electrical engineering and he’s going for a master’s degree. We pay $65,000 or so for college graduates.”

The company had a grand opening for the new facility last month.

It’s already realizing efficiencies and reduced costs from the centralized campus and technology upgrades as it designs and sells equipment for the North American and international markets.


Alternative energy

St. Thomas will research ‘microgrids’ for solar and wind-generating energy systems

The University of St. Thomas School of Engineering, with funding from a $2.1 million Xcel Energy grant, will start work this summer on a facility that will explore alternative-energy “microgrids.”

The University of St. Thomas Renewable Energy Facility will engage students and support companies that develop renewable and alternative sources of electric power.

Prof. Greg Mowry, a St. Thomas engineering faculty member who has related experience, will oversee the center’s operation.

The components, to be located in three buildings on the university’s St. Paul campus, will include about 200 solar panels as well as generators powered by biodiesel.

On sunny days, the solar panels will generate 50 kilowatts, or enough to power 10 to 15 suburban homes.

Mowry expects that it will take about three years for the center to be fully operational and connected to the region’s power grid.

The center also will have energy-storage systems.

And instead of installing a large wind turbine on campus, the center will have a state-of-the-art wind-turbine “emulator” — a device that, for testing purposes, mimics the power output of a real wind turbine.

“Some microgrids operate independently from the main power grid, like a cruise ship that generates its own electricity,” Mowry explained. “Other microgrids, such as a collection of solar panels or wind turbines, operate in conjunction with a region’s main power grid. Companies that develop various devices used in microgrids need to test components to ensure they are fully compatible with the main grid. Our new testing center will help facilitate that.”

The new center will conduct research and test energy resources such as fuel cell, solar, wind, biodiesel and battery applications.

“The center will offer tremendous flexibility and will be among the most comprehensive microgrid testing facilities in the central region of the country,” Mowry said.

The facility also represents a significant step in St. Thomas’ universitywide commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral campus by 2035.

Over the past decade, Mowry’s research has centered on alternative energy power systems and the associated power electronics, especially for the hybrid power systems used in industry and developing countries.

Mowry has led student-faculty teams to help deploy hybrid systems in Moldova, Tanzania and Uganda.