Green means go

Re-establishing and redesigning a lighting manufacturer’s fabricating operations creates a competitive edge in an up-and-coming industry

by Abbe Miller, editor-in-chief

 

 

 

In the eyes of some industry veterans, Jamal and Sauson Rashidi are just a pair of newbies too young to take the reigns of an international fabrication shop. For the owners of Evergreen Lighting – and numerous other business owners that have worked with the two – that couldn’t be further from the truth. The California-based brothers are seasoned players in the world of sheet metal fabricating, getting their start at the ages of 17 and 19.

 

Now 28 and 30, the Rashidi brothers have been working for more than a decade honing their skills, experience and know-how in setting up and managing manufacturing operations. The only stereotype that might be at play with the California duo is their interest in the cannabis industry. But that, too, is just scratching the surface when it comes to these ambitious, hard-working young men.

 

 

 

 

Green ideas

In 2008, the Rashidis landed a job to fabricate a metal drop box for a medical cannabis dispensary out of San Diego. Legally selling marijuana was a novel idea for the brothers at the time, but after being introduced to it, they were intrigued. They quickly realized the potential opportunities of getting into the medical cannabis industry and didn’t waste any time embarking on a new business.

 

“We didn’t completely put manufacturing on the back burner, though,” Jamal says. “For the next couple of years, we built up our cannabis business, but continued to maintain some work in manufacturing. One day, I met a gentleman in one of our manufacturing shops who was interested in producing commercial grow lights but didn’t have the know-how when it came to the equipment, finances and overall process to make it happen. One thing led to another, and we took his idea and our manufacturing experience and turned it into an almost $30 million endeavor.”

 

Always looking ahead, the Rashidis’ interests expanded past the horticulture side of the business and into the LED technology behind the grow bulbs. From there, a new business, HP4S, was conceptualized. Having experience growing cannabis, the two knew the challenges growers faced with standard lighting. The technology lacked the longevity and spectrum quality demanding growers were looking for.

 

“The type of light a plant receives is what dictates how it grows,” Jamal explains. “Light is extremely important in this industry because quality and IP, intellectual property, are important differentiators for growers. If you can create a light that allows the grower to find a new strain or find a new anomaly that's created in the plant, like a new compound, then you really have something.”

 

After doing a bit of research, the Rashidis recognized that it wouldn’t just be cannabis growers looking to buy their high-quality indoor lighting systems. As the world’s population continues to rise, the push for greenhouse farming is also on the rise. The Netherlands, just one example of the greenhouse trend, is growing 35 percent of its crops indoors using less than one percent of its available farmland.

 

So instead of producing the typical bulbs with which most growers were familiar, the Rashidis focused on improving the technology. But that required a technology development partner. Fortunately, finding someone to get on board with HP4S was easier than originally thought.

 

 

 HP4S builds fixtures that are made to last thanks to sophisticated manufacturing equipment, such as the company’s new fiber laser.

 

 

Perfect partner

In the hunt for a technology partner to produce full-spectrum LED lighting or HP4S high-powered, solid-state sun-spectrum lighting, they found Alta LED, which had developed a technology that could fully replicate the outside sunlight.

 

Jamal says Alta LED created full-spectrum lighting better than anybody in the world. The bonus was that Alta had a sister company, Evergreen Lighting, which could potentially provide the manufacturing facility for the lighting fixture production.

 

Before the three companies began collaborating, Evergreen Lighting had 80 employees working in a dedicated fabrication space. Because of the challenges surrounding workers compensation and manufacturing regulations in California, however, they made the tough decision to let the employees go and outsource the work. The space had been empty ever since.

 

When the Rashidi brothers came into the picture, however, the owners of Evergreen Lighting were filled with a new sense of confidence in bringing the fabrication work back in-house. So, they agreed to reopen the fabrication facility as long as Jamal and Sauson would oversee it.

 

From there, the two brothers took the methodologies they’d learned building products in the horticulture industry and applied them in producing the fixtures Evergreen Lighting had produced for the commercial, industrial and hospitality industries.

 

“We could make products in a timely fashion,” Jamal says. “And that was essential for the owners of Evergreen, especially considering the competition they had from Chinese fixture manufacturers. We also needed to make products that didn’t require a lot of expensive tooling. Choosing the right equipment was essential.

 

“Beyond that, we also needed to configure the shop in a way where we could jump into any type of manufacturing and do any type of product wrapped around sheet metal fabrication,” Jamal continues. “You never know what the future may bring, and so the shop needed to be well suited for whatever turn the markets could take.”

 

Investing in new, cutting-edge technology provides companies the flexibility the Rashidis and their new partners needed to stay competitive and relevant. A prime example of that technology is the laser that the Rashidis and their new team decided on. After careful vetting, a 4-kW fiber laser was one of the first pieces of equipment installed on the shop floor.

 

HP4S lighting fixtures have market reach far beyond the cannabis industry. As indoor farming grows, so, too, will the need for high-quality growing conditions.

 

 

Fast, flexible

Compared to a CO2 machine, the fiber laser is more energy efficient, requires less maintenance and is easier to operate. It can also run circles around CO2 when it comes to cutting thin material quickly. On any given day, Evergreen Lighting and HP4S process between 25 and 30 sheets of 22-gauge steel plus a handful of 18-gauge steel sheets and another five or so thin-gauge aluminum sheets.

 

“When the owners of Evergreen and Alta saw how flexible the laser was, how many different types of material it could cut and how fast it could jump between jobs, they were convinced they’d made the right decision,” Jamal explains. “They were also impressed with the minimal setup time that was involved and the lack of worries regarding employees dropping material or hurting their backs.”

 

When Evergreen Lighting had its fabricating operations on-site – before the Rashidis came into the picture – fixture designs were proposed with pen and paper and from there, 4-ft.-by-8-ft. sheets were set up in jigs and sheered with foot-pedaled equipment. Then, cut parts were put into a hole punch assembly line and then went on to further downstream operations, such as welding and powder coating.

 

“Parts would literally have to move through 10 peoples’ hands to become an actual piece in an assembly,” Jamal says. “Evergreen wasn't necessarily a manufacturer; they were more on the sell side. My brother and I were able to bridge that gap, showing them how to really become efficient at manufacturing. If you're not efficient, you're going backward every day, and that’s stressful.”

 

A good example of improving the company’s manufacturing efficiencies is seen in Evergreen Lighting’s birdcage fixture. Previously thin strips of sheet metal were sheered, punched and then spot welded. With the fiber laser, the birdcage could be cut as one piece on the laser, simplifying the entire process and improving the quality.

 

“When the owners of Evergreen were introduced to the new process, it was like being introduced into heaven,” Jamal says. “They had never thought something like that was possible.”

 

They also didn’t realize how easy it could be to get inexperienced employees to run a sophisticated laser cutter.

 

“Everybody thinks they need an operator who's skilled in programming or went to school for it,” Jamal explains. “My brother and I don't look at it that way. We believe everybody has the same capabilities if they want to apply themselves. That's how we went about setting up this shop. We didn't want to be limited to ‘that guy's only a press brake operator’ or ‘that guy's just a welder.’ We can literally take any person in the shop and switch them around on any piece of equipment to make a fixture.”

 

 

Job security

Goal-oriented, the Rashidis constantly stay focused on the task they were given: to set up a manufacturing shop and change the atmosphere to the point where growth and sustainability could get easier and easier.

 

“In manufacturing efficiency, it’s important to understand the other steps in the process,” Jamal says. “If you're a press brake operator and you go to weld and see what happens when the seams don’t close up properly and how it makes the welder's job much harder, you're able to comprehend why it's important to do your job to the best of your ability.”

 

As the Rashidis ramped up manufacturing and as the employees familiarized themselves on the entire shop, the focus shifted to competitiveness through design and engineering. With the use of the fiber laser, the sky was the limit in terms of what could be produced.

 

In short order, the bulk of the fixtures were produced on the fiber laser. About 85 percent of Evergreen Lighting’s and HP4S fixtures are fully cut on the laser, and 100 percent of the companies’ fixtures have at least two parts that come off of it.

 

“The No. 1 thing is security,” Jamal says, “and that's what this laser provides. We could quadruple the amount of work we’re currently doing if we ran two shifts. Again, the reason we bought the laser was for its flexibility – being able to do any type of cut on all types of material and without the need to set up jigs like they’d done in the past.”

 

Being flexible and forward-thinking has brought the Rashidis to where they are today. That and a confidence that their age is not a roadblock but rather a green light to finding new ways of tackling manufacturing in the industries of tomorrow.

 

Alta LED

Evergreen Lighting

HP4S

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