Graham Jefferies, Executive Vice President and COO of Emrise Corp. (parent company of Pascall Electronics), tells Richard Mumford, Microwave Journal’s International Editor, about the company’s island location, recent reorganisation and product development strategy. He also expands on Pascall’s strict environmental policy and offers a perspective on operating in the current market conditions.
Graham Jefferies earned his BS degree in Engineering from Leicester University in 1978 and after graduation held a variety of project management positions at GEC Marconi until 1987. He then became a Director of Jasmin Electronics PLC, a major UK software and systems provider.
Jefferies has served as Director of XCEL Corp. Ltd. since March 1992 as a Director of XCEL Power Systems Ltd. since September 1996 and director of CXR, S.A. since March 1997. He took up his current post in 2001.
MWJ: Can you give a brief history of Pascall, particularly how it became to be established on a small island off the south coast of England?
Jefferies: Pascall was formed in 1977 as an importer of high technology electronic components. Recognising a gap in the market, in 1980 the company set up a small design and manufacturing facility at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, focussing on key radar components. The founding engineers resided and worked on the Island and from a small design office above the home of one engineer the company now employs over 120 members of staff in a purpose-built 35,000 square foot facility.
MWJ: Has its location on the Isle of Wight been an advantage or disadvantage?
Jefferies: The Isle of Wight is a very good location. It has a rich history in radar and communications going back to 1897 when Guglielmo Marconi chose Alum Bay on the Island as one of the sites for his experiments and made transmissions to Poole in Dorset nearly 20 miles away. Ever since then, radar and Electronic Warfare (EW) systems work has been undertaken here at various companies, and as such the Island has an excellent pool of talent in these fields, enabling companies such as Pascall to flourish.
Importantly too, the Island’s active nautical community, eight golf courses within the 147 squares miles and the New Forest National Park on the door step (just across the water on the UK mainland) means that retaining staff or attracting new personnel to the area isn’t difficult.
MWJ: What is the basic philosophy of the company and has it changed over the years?
Jefferies: The company has changed from an importer/reseller of components to an established electronics and RF engineering business with an extensive range of products. The company’s philosophy remains to offer our customers reliable, high end, cost-effective solutions.
MWJ: Pascall consists of two divisions – Power Supplies and RF/Microwave. What are the RF/Microwave division’s main products and has the focus changed in recent years?
Jefferies: The RF/Microwave division has a enviable reputation for providing high performance devices and subsystems for IF signal processing for radar and EW applications and for civil aircraft communication systems. These products are used by Armies, Navies, Air forces and airlines all over the globe.
Recently Pascall has also developed a key capability in high performance oscillators (PLDROs, OCXOs, STALOs and crystal based subsystems), with the Ovenised Crystal Oscillators providing industry leading phase noise performance.
MWJ: Geographically what are the company’s key markets?
Jefferies: Pascall has established a reputation for both innovation and reliability globally with over 77 per cent of its products presently being exported. The USA remains the largest destination, though the company has seen growing sales into Europe and the Far East. Pascall is always actively marketing in its main market areas e.g. aerospace, air traffic control, communications, ELINT, SIGINT and radar.
MWJ: Pascall has a history of activity in the military/defence markets. How has the end of the Cold War and the emphasis on Home Security affected that market from your perspective?
Jefferies: Although, the end of the Cold War has seen the investment and focus move away from nuclear arsenals, fleets aircraft and ships. Events globally have seen re-establishment of new battle theatres as well as a focus on Home Security. For Pascall secure communications, on and off the battlefield, UAVs, multi-role aircraft and surveillance receivers all require our core oscillator technology and we have seen a growth in sales in respect of the more demanding technical requirements.
MWJ: How has the introduction of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) in the USA affected your military/defence activity?
Jefferies: ITAR is proving to be a double edged sword. Although Pascall can be affected by the reluctance of US companies to complete the paperwork enabling them to disclose technical specifications, we are seeing an increase in opportunities in Europe and Asia as customers look to source ITAR free solutions.
MWJ: The OCXOF series is your latest introduction. What prompted this development and explain what it adds to the company’s portfolio?
Jefferies: The OCXOF series at VHF frequencies has been developed due to the customer’s ever increasing demand for lower noise floor OCXOs. This is particularly relevant to applications such as phase noise measurement systems, high-performance radars and frequency synthesisers, as they need especially low phase noise floors. The Pascall OCXOF series now offers unmatched performance for such applications.
MWJ: How much emphasis does the company put on research and development?
Jefferies: The company puts great emphasis in this area; being a SME it is key that we are proactive and ahead of the game. There is an extensive R&D program for development of future products and technology.
MWJ: What sectors are you currently investing in with regards to new products?
Jefferies: Investment in our R&D program is mainly focused on development of the oscillators, timing products and the extension of capabilities to build integrated multifunction RF assemblies and our standard range of VME power supplies.
MWJ: Pascall became part of the Emrise Corporation in 2005. How has this affected the company’s operation in terms of investment, product development etc?
Jefferies: As a Corporation we recognise that investment is one element which is fundamental to the development of our subsidiaries. In the last four years there has been substantial investment and capital expenditure with new test analysers to support ongoing development of the oscillators, clean room facilities, ATE, AOI and additional SMT pick and place and ovens to improve the production throughput.
MWJ: Early in 2008 Pascall underwent major reorganisation. Why was this deemed necessary and has it resulted in the expected improvements in service and product offerings?
Jefferies: The restructure focussed on production and engineering. The changes in engineering streamlined the engineering approach, creating multi-disciplined teams better able to focus on the customers’ requirements. Manufacturing has been restructured into flexible production Cells, with Cell leaders responsible for the work in each area. Following a lean exercise the shop floor was relayed and we are continuing to perform lean exercises to ensure we are continually improving and adopting world class best practises.
MWJ: Pascall has a very extensive Environmental Policy. Please explain why the company has taken such a ‘green’ stance and the extent of this policy?
Jefferies: The company recognises the importance of implementing sustainable business practices and creating a safe stable environment, and actively encourages all employees to be involved in our policies.
We routinely provide awareness training to all members of staff and experience has taught me that the individuals involved often have the most appropriate knowledge and ideas on what improvements are required. They just need a little encouragement! Our corporate philosophy actively promotes accreditation to ISO 14001, with several operations including Pascall already achieving accreditation.
MWJ: How is the current economic turndown affecting the markets in which you primarily operate?
Jefferies: Pascall operates primarily in three diverse markets, civil aerospace, military and commercial maritime, and whilst we have seen an element of rescheduling in our civil aerospace backlog, to date we have worked with our customers to minimise the effects of the downturn.
MWJ: Is the economic situation significantly influencing your approach to development and diminishing your short term objectives?
Jefferies: No, we expect to meet our objective of 10 per cent growth in 2009 and beyond. We are a small player in a large market and believe this gives us the flexibility to be able to move quickly and take advantage of niche market opportunities often overlooked by our larger competitors.
MWJ: What ambitions does Pascall have as a company and what are its aims for the next five years?
Jefferies: Working with our customers, Pascall will continue to move up the ‘food chain’ incorporating our core technologies and expertise into integrated sub-systems and systems. Sister companies within the EMRISE group provide complementary technologies and products which when combined provide the capability for the company to address larger and more diverse projects and do so effectively in the major business locations globally.