By Eric Peterson | Mar 15, 2021
Triple-insulated wire, litz wire, and custom cables
The late Edwin Rubadue started the company that bears his name today in the late 1970s in City of Industry, California.
His first order? "Our first major product was the Pong cables, for the game," says Toland.
After a decade of manufacturing cables and other custom products, Edwin came up with an innovation that continues to drive the business today: triple insulated wire.
It solved numerous problems for power supplies and transformers."That allowed companies to put our wire right next to a bare magnet wire, shrinking transformer sizes, making them more efficient and smaller," says Toland. "Now we are diversified, but that was the primary focus for a good 20-plus years."
The company will make about 700 million feet -- or more than 130,000 miles -- of wire in 2021.
"Our primary focus is extrusion," says Toland, who started working in production for the company in 2003 and took over as president in 2019 when Sue Welsh retired. "We're currently installing our 10th extrusion line. By the end of the year, we hope to have 12 installed."
Toland touts Rubadue's extrusion technology, a trade secret, as versatile. "We have a design that allows us a high level of flexibility in manufacturing and allows us to go from one product line to the next," he says.
The company's biggest differentiator? End-to-end product development and manufacturing for custom cables, answers Toland. "Our business model is to work in the design phase with the end user," he says. "We target quality-centric manufacturers, market leaders, whether that's EVs or consumer electronics -- we sell to some of the significant players in that industry, and we'll work directly with them on the design. We focus on them because they want to control their power supplies and maintain quality."
That's often electronic brands based in the U.S. and manufacturing in Asia. Rubadue Wire ships its products to manufacturers overseas, then its wire often returns to North America in the form of power supplies, which represent about 85 percent of the company's business.
Rubadue Wire relocated to Greeley, Colorado, in 1994, then moved it to its current 48,000-square-foot facility in Loveland in 2018, where about 50 employees currently work in production. "We only manufacture in the United States," notes Toland. "We do have a warehouse in Hong Kong."
The extrusion process is increasingly automated, and he says that the company plans to continue to invest heavily in automation for quality control and other processes. Toland says the primary driver is "to allow our operators to run more than one production line at a time."
Rubadue Wire leverages a global supply chain for copper and other materials. "Our copper is sourced from U.S. manufacturers and German manufacturers," says Toland. "A lot of that's coming out of Turkey, but some U.S. mines. The ore's coming from Asia, with value-added transformation happening in the U.S. and Germany. The resins with which we insulate the products are sourced from Japan and Europe, primarily."
Beyond consumer electronics, electric vehicles (EVs) -- "both on- vehicle and infrastructure," says Toland -- and medical devices are top markets. Annual growth of about 15 percent since 2018 was "driven largely by EVs," says Toland. "Every fuel station has an EV charger in Europe, and that is really where the future will head in the United States."
Litz wire is an especially hot product in the EV industry. "We bunch and twist and take one wire and combine it with others," says Toland. "It utilizes more of the copper than a traditional wire design."
He adds, "As grids become more tapped -- for lack of a better term -- the end users require a more efficient transformer. With the litz product line, we can help them take those historically catalog transformers from 60 percent efficient to over 90 percent efficient."
Rubadue Wire has been employee-owned since 2014, when Naples, Florida-based Pelican Holdings Group acquired the company and rebranded the umbrella company of Rubadue Wire and Pelican Wire as Wire Experts Group. Combined, the two businesses have about 150 employees.
"It's a nice mix," says Toland. "Wire Experts Group focuses on niche markets within wire and cable, so while Pelican is more on the resistance side, Rubadue's on the power side."
Challenges: "Ensuring our systems and processes are robust enough to handle the rapid growth," says Toland. "We will have doubled in size over the last four years by the end of this year. . . . The magnitude of your systems has to grow with that, and we're learning a lot."
Foreign competition is an external threat. Rubadue "has lost a lot of share with catalog power supplies for lower-end consumer electronics," notes Toland. The drop has been more than countered by the growth in higher-margin products for medical devices and EVs.
Opportunities: "Expanding our capabilities so we can be a power-supply one-stop house," says Toland.
Charging infrastructure and on-vehicle components for EVs will continue to drive growth, and forecasts annual growth of 25-plus percent in the near term, he adds. Litz wire "is a major driver of growth for us, and that litz wire can be uninsulated . . . or with our core triple-insulated wire."
"They can create more energy in less space, the byproduct being heat, so [there's] a general shift for smaller power supplies with the same amount of energy usage in order to accomplish that."
Needs: An annex at the Loveland facility to accommodate growth by the end of 2021; Toland estimates 15,000 to 20,000 square feet will be necessary to meet demand through 2023. "Past that, we'll be looking at another expansion or another relocation," he says. "We're at capacity right now."
The company also needs to shrewdly manage its working capital "to self-fund that expansion as much as possible," adds Toland.