Luan Nguyen is president, owner, floor sweeper, and design engineer of IPanel Systems (IPS) and considers himself to be very lucky. His business has come a long way since the early days working his day job and starting IPS from his Granada Hills garage in 2009.
Luan’s career began in the late 90’s working as a drafter designer before being promoted to design engineer. In 2007 he took a position at a company in Valencia, CA. that designs and manufactures avionics instrumentation. “I was engineering pretty much the same thing then as I am now,” explains Luan. “Here at IPS we design and build avionic display components (panels/bezels/keyboards) for commercial and military aircraft and simulators. I helped my old company develop their own production line and realized if I can do it for them, then I can do it for myself. Slowly I began adding equipment to my garage workspace. I purchased laser marking, dark room equipment and a spectral radiometer to measure the light. It took about a year before I quit my job and worked 100% for myself. Fortunately, my old employer supported my decision and fed me jobs. They are still one of my main customers.”
Once the business outgrew Luan’s garage, IPS added inhouse CNC manufacturing. “The best way at the time to implement CNC machining capabilities was to partner with someone else and share a building,” details Luan. “My partner had a couple older machines that did the trick. We had two units and I was on one side with the design, engineering, laser and painting and he was on the other with all the manufacturing. It lasted about a year before we went our separate ways. He still handled the machine work for me, but it wasn’t working out. So, in 2012 I bought my first Haas CNC machining center. A couple friends helped me get started with programming and work holding.” Eight years later IPS has a shop floor filled with CNC mills and a single CNC lathe.
Recently IPS moved into a new 11,000 Sq.Ft. manufacturing and design center in Valencia, CA. With 10 CNC machining centers (Haas/Mori Seiki) and in-house value-added services such as sandblasting, ultrasonic cleaning, painting and laser marking, IPS has everything needed to deliver flight worthy designs and assemblies. “We have 3, 4, and 5- axis milling and one lathe,” tells Luan. “I’ve always believed technology is a great asset, and every few years I replace a machine with a newer version. Most machine tools are less than 5 years old. It’s one way I can invest back into the company and keep on top of the latest tech.”
IPS delivers anything from individual parts, and finished assemblies to complete kits which could include up to 150 different items from various sources. A typical job might be a complete bezel assembly for a simulator display panel. “Most jobs start from scratch as my own design,” details Luan. “We begin with engineering and progress through manufacturing and support procedures until we deliver a turnkey product to the customer.” Run quantities vary from 10-50 and might include outside processes, but final test and assembly take place at IPS. As an AS9100 certified company IPS works up and down the supply chain with various customers and other manufacturers to design and build for both simulator and flight worthy applications. “One of our customers is based out of Seattle and retrofits winglets,” tells Luan. “We supply complete kits to them. We have FAA approval allowing us to ship kits directly to their jobsite without the need for extra inspections. Our contract requires us to stock complete kits that are ready to go when they place an order. Each kit consists of around 150 different part numbers. We don’t manufacture every part in the kit, but we assemble all the items and package them all together.”
Due to the nature of their products, IPS is considered an essential business and continues operations during this turbulent time, but not without changes. “Most of our work is related to the DOD,” explains Luan. “Because of that we have remained open, but business is slowing down. We have a staff of 16 and are splitting the workload by running half the crew on one day and the other half the next day. We are restricting shop access to anyone who doesn’t need to be here and are focusing efforts on keeping people at a safe distance. Fortunately, the new building allows us to have some separation.”
Diversification was a top priority before the pandemic, but with no outside sales force it has been a slow process for Luan and his team. “I’ve had my sights set on medical for a while,” details Luan. “There is a lot of crossover in the design and manufacturing aspects and I know we can leverage our experience to be a great partner for medical customers. Also, we at IPS would like to offer our manufacturing capabilities during this COVID-19 crisis. Anyone making ventilators and so forth who need assistance manufacturing parts I am willing to help as long as the work is within our capabilities. We will do our best at no charge. Hopefully things will get better for all of us very soon. Please let me know if we can help.”
Article by Sean Buur
Photos Contributed by IPS