LAKEWOOD RANCH — The place buzzes — or, more like punches — with activity.
An automated, pre-programmed punching press forms holes into 24-inch panels meant to prevent electrical shock. It runs overnight.
Nearby, an employee slips the panels into a vibrating deburring machine to smooth the rough edges.
Before the infrared windows are boxed and shipped to customers across the globe, in a wide-open LEAN manufacturing facility in Lakewood Ranch, special-needs adults insert small covers over studs meant to lock the windows in place.
IRISS, the leader in the industrial infrared window market for electrical safety, opened its new 33,000-square-foot global headquarters April 3, in the Lakewood Ranch Business Park.
IRISS, established in 1997 and formerly based in the United Kingdom, combined its facilities in the U.K., Australia and Bradenton to the new one at 10306 Technology Terrace.
The Starling Group broke ground on the facility July 10.
Operations at IRISS’ existing assembly facility on Lena Road were moved to the new headquarters; the U.K. manufacturing location has already been converted into a distribution center.
The company’s owners, Martin and Deborah Robinson, fashion their new operation as a family-oriented, equal-opportunity place to work fitted with a gym, screened-in outdoor kitchen, a basketball court and a training room to house the SMART Training Academy, on-site labs designed for electricians to learn about safe electrical inspections.
Five of the Robinson’s eight children work for the company, as part of the 26-member team at the new headquarters.
The Robinsons pay five special-needs adults to work part-time to complete the final task in the production process.
“So many jobs in this industry are mundane,” said Martin Robinson, whose 18-year-old son has Down syndrome. “Usually, people who take those jobs only do it for a paycheck, but they (the special-needs adults) love it. They bring heart to your business.”
Two disabled veterans also are on staff.
The Robinsons want the SMART Training Academy to encompass a “tracation.”
Managers, professionals and technical personnel from throughout the country would travel to Lakewood Ranch to train in the academy for a week.
“That way, people can see why we fell in love with this area, experiencing the beaches and the restaurants,” Deborah said. “We could have opened this place anywhere, but we chose Lakewood Ranch.”
An engineer by training, Martin Robinson served in the British Army for 18 years fixing broken tanks.
He was drawn to the electrical safety maintenance market because it solved a problem. Five to 10 electrical shocks occur in the workplace every day in the United States, he says.
Infrared cameras, used to conduct electrical maintenance, can only see what the human eye can see. Martin Robinson holds a patent on a special lens that goes inside an electrical cabinet and protects individuals from electrical shock.
Brett Collins, IRISS engineering manager, says production of the product doesn’t take much schooling. Employees can be trained.
The company sent Collins to Chicago to learn programming for the punch press machine.
De’jon Fagan, a new employee hired to operate a powder-loading machine, used to work with fire truck paint at Pierce Manufacturing in Bradenton.
“I love it here,” Fagan said. “It’s a growing company where everyone is so friendly. The owners make it so you wake up and want to work your butt off.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].