By Eric Peterson | Jul 25, 2022
Micro-welding and engraving solutions
"We were founded by a Ph.D in aerospace engineering," says Young. "He needed a micro-welder for a project he was working on. He couldn't find anything affordable, so he decided to make his own."
The founder -- Dr. Aaron Astle -- has since moved on, but Sunstone Welders continues to solve that same problem for numerous businesses. Young joined the company shortly after its launch in 2006.
At the time, the micro-welding market was dominated by Miyachi Unitek, and there was plenty of room for competition. "We were founded on principles of affordability and high-tech solutions that work," says Young.
Launching with an emphasis on rebuilding battery packs, Sunstone products are now used for the manufacturing in aerospace, automotive, jewelry, dentistry, batteries, medical devices, and other markets -- "anything that has micro-joining applications," says Young. "Any Fortune 100 company that uses technology is a customer of ours: Apple, Lockheed Martin, Tesla, SpaceX, Blue Origin."
He adds, "We're in a lot of different industries that are very big, but we're a small niche in a lot of those industries."
The technology is also a good fit for small businesses: The Orion mPulse -- starting at $2,300 -- has become a go-to micro-welder for the permanent jewelry market. "That's a very simple product, but people are able to start their own businesses for relatively cheap, and you get ROI on that pretty quickly," says Young.
The Sunstone catalog also includes a number of more powerful pulse-arc welders, product lines for welding resistance seams and batteries, and a number of accessories and attachments.
Sunstone manufactures and tests products at its roughly 10,000-square-foot facility in Payson, using a California-based partner for printed circuit boards (PCBs). "We design and engineer and manufacture all of our welders here," says Young. "We do resell a couple of laser technologies, and those come from Italy, but we're a contributor to U.S. manufacturing."
Sunstone works with primarily local and domestic partners on certain components, but manufactures numerous parts in-house, he adds. "We have a machine shop, so there are parts that we machine, but if there's large-quantity machining, we do send that out, depending on the volume and the price point."
About half of the company's employees work in production, and there's a need for more manufacturing talent. "We'll continue to invest in our own team," says Young. "We've looked at contract manufacturing, but we've found we can do it better and cheaper. We've not found a contract manufacturer -- all we are doing is giving up margin."
The strategy also allows for more rapid turnaround: "We have a two-week lead time. That's pretty incredible. Most companies are several months."
Growth has been dynamic since 2020, driven in large part by the jewelry industry. "We grew by 40 percent last year, and we're on track to do about 77 percent this year," says Young. "When some industries are pulling back, we tend to do better in others."
He adds, "I still feel like we're a young company, but we're not. We've been through it, we're very profitable, and we're just excited to help people with their micro-welding needs."
Challenges: "Supply chain is number one," says Young. "Trying to grow while having a global supply chain crisis is difficult. We've had to redesign some of our boards because of the chip supply. Our current chip was running out, so we've had to redesign our boards with newer chips that are more readily available."
Opportunities: Young is bullish on new products slated for release in early 2023. "As things get smaller, the need for micro-welding is increased," he notes. "Some of the new technologies we're developing will allow us to be more relevant in a lot of the industries we're already in."
He adds, "In the meantime, we're going to take advantage of the trend, do a good job on the supply chain, and try to keep our prices affordable. We've had to do a few minor price increases, but for the most part, we've been able to hold our prices, because as a manufacturer, we're not as reliant on others."
Needs: In the short term, Sunstone needs about five new employees to work in production. "We do feel our number-one resource is our people, so we continue to invest in them. We have very little turnover," says Young. "We found there used to be a little bit greater supply of individuals in that area, and it's a little bit harder to find quality candidates. We're not the only ones who struggle with that."
In the longer run, the company needs more space; Young is targeting 30,000 to 40,000 square feet. "That's about a year and a half or two years out," he says. "Southern Utah County is where we would stay. We're open."