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Orion Solar Racking

by Eric Peterson on April 14, 2019, 11:15 am MDT

www.orionsolarracking.com

Commerce, California

Founded: 2008 (sister company Orion Carports: 2016)

Privately owned

Employees: 36 (Orion Carports: 10)

Industry: Energy & Enviro

Products: Solar panel racking and carports

CEO Bob Sinai looks to a bright future for his solar power infrastructure manufacturer.

A spinoff from Deco Lighting, Orion got started with a concept for solar racking to sell to installers. "We want to be a one-stop shop for a solar installer," says Sinai. "Most of our competitors are very focused. They only do residential or they only do commercial or they only do utilities."

There were some early successes, but the concept stalled. "The problem is they wanted a turnkey solution and someone to do construction of the carports," he says.

That led to the launch of sister company Orion Carports in 2016. Both Orions now share manufacturing facilities with Deco in Commerce and Tijuana, Mexico. "We do all of the design, engineering, machining, bending, assembly, and packaging," says Sinai. "It's all done in-house."

The racking is made primarily from stainless steel and 5052 aluminum alloy. "This is an aluminum structural material that lasts 25 to 30 years," says Sinai of the latter. "Our product is durable."

As for QA, Sinai cites wind tunnel testing and 3D modeling. "That takes the guessing from a structural engineer," he says. "That's one of our big advantages. We can go to any state or any rooftop with any of our products."

Orion's patented bracket is a key component; the design changes the game for roof designs. "Obviously, you don't want to put a lot of weight on a roof," says Sinai. "In the state of California, most commercial buildings use a ballast block to hold the racking to the roof."

In the event of a fire, the roof can burn and the block can catalyze a collapse. "Our racking is a hybrid that you could add attachments or do blocks," he notes.

It's also a good logistical fit. "Our product is like a Lego. It has five components and it ships very compact," says Sinai. "With other manufacturers, every array is individual. Ours is interconnected."

Orion's concept is getting traction in the marketplace. "Every year, we have had pretty steady growth of 10 to 15 percent," says Sinai. "This year, 2019, I think is going to be our best year."

He points to recently inked deals with a chain of malls, office buildings, and developers, and adds, "We can make about 150 megawatts annually. Our volume now is close to 90 megawatts."

Sinai expects to fill out that capacity soon, due to new requirements from the California Building Standards Commission set to go into effect in 2020. "Solar is becoming a standard for new residential in California," he says. "You have to have it."

Challenges: Marketing is at the top of the list. "I think the biggest challenge is how we can reach out and tell installers and building owners how great our product is," says Sinai.

"We save [customers] $100,000 on roofing, but nobody knows. My biggest challenge, to be honest with you, is marketing," he adds. "We're good at designing and manufacturing, but we are not a marketing company."

Opportunities: Coast-to-coast expansion. "California, Florida, New Jersey -- all the states that have big commercial footprints with TPO roofs," says Sinai.

After one project, most customers come back. "It's word of mouth," he says. "Once we get a customer, they stay with us."

Needs: "We need good salespeople and a good sales engineer to keep up with our business," says Sinai, highlighting Orion's corporate culture. "Our company is more like a Silicon Valley company, more of a Google-style company than a typical manufacturer. We have a lot of perks."

He expects to hire about 10 new employees in 2019. "We make employees a part of our success. We don't like employees turning, turning, turning."

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