by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine Ed Sawyer, President and CEO, of SBE, Inc in Barre has confirmed to VBM that SBE is winding down operations and has dispersed the SBE assets. He also confirmed that he is ramping up a new company that is using his patents for electronic components vital to the electric vehicle industry. The new company is called Advanced Power Conversion Solutions, Inc. It will occupy the same relatively new plant at the Wilson Industrial Park in Barre, though on a smaller footprint. Sawyer said he was able to retain most of the SBE employees. The story was first reported by the Burlington Free Press.
"There has been some interpretation that we are laying off some people. We are not," Sawyer told VBM in an email exchange. "The people that were laid off occurred over the past few months. Everyone that was here last month is still working and we plan to keep them all and expand in 2020."
"The company, SBE, is only operating in a financial wind-down and information capacity. Advanced Power Conversion Solutions is now functioning as the builder of parts shipping out using equipment, inventory, and space negotiated directly with the secured parties of SBE. So operation is now. We have 15 people employed right now in Vermont."
"SBE is supplying initial designs for Rivian truck (Ford and Amazon) and Rimac (Porsche and other high performance cars) as well as new eMotorbike designs. And we have been supplying the Truck and Bus market for year. The problem is that the volumes are a fraction of what was anticipate by the DoE when they funded the plant. And you had to build it to their specifications to win the grant."
SBE received a $9.1 million federal matching grant in 2010 with the expectation that electronic vehicles and hybrids would take off. While EVs have gained ground in the US automobile market, sales have not yet reached expectations.
But SBE also suffered a financial blow when Tesla discontinued using SBE as a supplier of proprietary capacitor technology and signed a deal with Panasonic, which left SBE and its creditors in a hole.
"VEDA confirmed that SBE does not owe them anything in the [BF] article. This is correct," Sawyer said. "SBE owes no State or Federal agency any money. The town of Barre was granted $1 million from HUD to be part of the funding in 2010. They then loaned the money to SBE. SBE made roughly $500,000 in principle and interest payments against the loan but there is an outstanding balance. Those payments are not paid back to HUD because it was grant to the Town of Barre. I have no idea where those payments actually go within the town budget. What I do know is they don’t go back to the Fed. Also the building that was created from a greenfield back in 2010 has paid well over $500,000 in Real Estate taxes so far. And of course that has been additional income to the town of Barre. So Barre has received about $1 million in funds from this deal and SBE over the past decade and owes nothing back to the Fed. Because the loan is still outstanding, the lawyers will say that SBE defaulted and owes the town. Technically correct. But since the town only received the money to lend because HUD wanted to contribute and this was their only way to do it, that is a gross misrepresentation of the reality."
As for the local suppliers, Sawyer said, "I am not able to comment on Vermont suppliers and what is owed."
Sawyer, President and CEO, and Mark Browning, Vice President, purchased SB Electronics, Inc in 2002 and formed SBE, Inc. The company then raised over $16 million from accredited and qualified private investors, $9.1 million from the ARRA grant program administered by the US Department of Energy during the Obama Administration and over $7 million from a variety of federal, state and local sources.
According to its Website, SBE Inc is a leading developer and manufacturer of film capacitor solutions that "provide a much higher degree of reliability, higher power density, and simpler cooling infrastructure, in demanding applications, particularly for automotive/transportation, alternative energy, military/aerospace, medical equipment and power supplies/laser."
Originally a Sprague Electric Plant, which was based in Massachusetts with plants across the Northeast, SBE has been manufacturing capacitors for over 50 years producing over a billion capacitors, including the renowned Orange Drop. The Free Press story said at its peak, the Barre plant employed nearly 1,000 workers.
With the development of its DC Link Filter Power Ring Film Capacitor, SBE Inc was awarded that $9.1 million grant by the US Department of Energy (as part of a $18 million dollars overall project) to build a world-class facility for the manufacturing of this line of capacitors used in Drivetrain Inverters for Electric Drive Vehicles, Wind and Solar System Inverters, Power Conditioning/UPS Systems and Datacenter Network Infrastructures.
The plant capacity was configured and capable of manufacturing 40,000 Power Ring units a year and had the ability to rapidly increase production to well over 100,000 Power Ring units with additional personnel, tooling and fixturing.
SBE Timeline from SBE Inc
- Launch of an Optimized DC Link Design for the New Infineon HP Drive 6 pack IGBT Module
- SBE signs a second source and licensing agreement with Rogers Corporation
- Super Compact 1MW Power Stack presented at PCIM Europe by Danfoss Silicon Power
- Launch of a AC Filter Product for long life and “event free” operation
- SBE ships its 20,000th DC Link Capacitor for Inverter applications
- Joint Danfoss Silicon Power Paper presented at PCIM, 3rd party validation of low ESL of SBE integrated capacitor/bus structures
- Sale of wrap and fill line to focus on Power Ring and Integrated capacitor/bus structure products
- Introduction of AC filter caps with superior life and benign failure mode
- First ever UL recognition of an integrated capacitor/bus assembly
- Design wins for integrated modules for solar and wind applications.
- SBE initiates production for TM4 traction drives.
- Power Ring film capacitor product line receives UL recognition.
- SBE launches Integrated Module Vertical and Horizontal Test Kits (available on line).
- SBE exhibits joint new technology demonstrator with Danfoss Motors utilizing integrated motor control electronics.
- SBE technology is demonstrated in Aalburg University – Denmark EV program vehicle.
- Annual ISO 9001:2008 audit completed.
- SBE opens European Applications and Sales Office in the Netherlands.
- International patents issued (Canada and South Korea) on Power Ring capacitor for transportation and alternative energy applications: “Thermally Induced Damage Resistive Capacitor and Method.”
- Chinese patent issued: “Annular Capacitor With Power Conversion Components Arranged and Attached in Manners Uniquely Allowed by the Ring Shaped Form Factor.“
- SBE sells its Orange Drop® product line to Cornell Dubilier Electronics, Inc.
- SBE signs Joint Marketing Agreement with Methode Electronics.
- Design win for Dynapower’s wind energy storage application.
- Design win for Dynapower’s chopper module.
- Full production ramp of Candela medical laser’s Power Ring.
- Design win for TM4 electric vehicle inverter.
- Opening Advanced Engineering and Research Center, in Loveland, Colorado.
- SBE introduces the Bank Hardener, hybrid film/aluminum electrolytic capacitor bank, at Intersolar Conference in San Francisco.
- SBE successfully completes the U.S. Department of Energy Manufacturing Grant Stimulus program, thereby establishing capacity to supply advanced capacitors for up to 100,000 electric vehicles per year.
- International patents issued (Japan and Israel) on Power Ring capacitor for transportation and alternative energy applications: “Thermally Induced Damage Resistive Capacitor and Method“.
- Design win for Candela medical laser.
- SBE and Quantum Technologies sign Technology Partnership Agreement.
- Los Alamos National Lab selects SBE capacitor design for demanding pulse application.
- Design win for Mission Motors, Mission R electric motorcycle.
- SBE’s featured in Fulton Innovation eCoupled electric vehicle wireless charger and wirelessly powered Kitchen at CES.
- SBE builds its first Power Ring capacitors in the new state of the art 53,000 square feet facility.
- SBE introduces ‘drop in’ integration modules for IGBT inverters at SAE Hybrid/Electric Vehicle Technologies Conference, Anaheim, CA.
- International patent issued (China) on Power Ring capacitor for transportation and alternative energy applications: “Thermally Induced Damage Resistive Capacitor and Method“.
- SBE is awarded the $9.1 Million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Manufacturing Grant Stimulus program.
- SBE selected as Fulton Innovation eCoupled development partner and technology is displayed at CES.
- US Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, announces ribbon cutting of SBE’s new, state of the art manufacturing plant.
- U.S. Patent #7,655,530 issued, describing method of manufacturing for the Power Ring: “Segmenting End Electrode Capacitor and Method of Segmenting an End Electrode of a Capacitor”.
- Design win for UQM’s PowerPhase®100 electric propulsion systems, to be used by CODA Automotive.
- Design win for Amway’s eCoupled wireless battery charging system.
- SBE starts low rate production for FieldMetrics’s MetPod, an integrated VT, clamp-on CT and meter.
- SBE to be awarded $9.1 Million from the U.S. Department of Energy Manufacturing Grant Stimulus program.
- First production orders for Arens’s utility truck electrification program and Applied Energetics’s power supply unit for their bomb detonation system.
- Second Power Ring patent issued, U.S. Patent #7,453,114:“Segmenting End Electrode Capacitor and Method of Segmenting an End Electrode of a Capacitor”, for transportation and alternative energy applications.
- Future Electronics becomes the worldwide distribution of SBE capacitors, including Power Rings.
- SBE Receives SBIR Phase II Award from the US Department of Energy for Hybrid Automotive Research.
- Opened Sales, Application Engineering and Sourcing Office in Xiamen, China.
- Design win for FieldMetrics’s MetPod, an integrated VT, clamp-on CT and meter.
- SBE extends its exclusive agreement with Taser International for an additional 5 years.
- SBE receives its first SBIR Phase I award from the US Department of Energy for “High Temperature, Low Cost Ripple Current Capacitors”.
- U.S. Patent #7,289,311 issued: “Power Ring Pulse Capacitor”.
- U.S. Patent # 7,008,858 issued: “Configuring a Capacitor with Enhanced Pulse Reliability”.
- SBE Power Ring is featured in a Design News Article.
- SBE presents its first technical paper at the Pulsed Power Conference in Monterey, California, titled “Annular Form Factor Film Capacitors”, outlining development work on the innovative Power Ring product.
- SBE signs a technology partnership agreement with Active Precision, Burlington, MA for the R&D of advanced capacitor winding technology.
- SBE introduces its new Clear View® non-outgassing film capacitors. The Clear View® series is specifically designed and manufactured for use in demanding pulse laser and other optical applications.
- SBE adds new High Voltage Orange Drop to portfolio; Type 718P/719P Corona-Free Polypropylene Film Capacitor series rated at 1500 VAC/5000 VDC.
- SBE delivers first Power Rings to General Motors for fuel cell car prototype.
- SBE attains ISO 9001-2000 Certificate of Registration.
- SBE honored with Vermont Small Business Innovator of the Year Runner-Up Award.
- SBE innovative technology is recognized by Mass High Tech.
- E²P² – Extreme Energy/Pulse Power, Power Ring film capacitor™ technology developed. Patent application submitted.
- SBE is the host to Gov. James Douglas’ Candidacy Announcement.
- SBE files a patent application on pulse technology.
- SBE submits first of many SBIR applications on new technology for the EPA; Navy and Army are added later.
- SBE becomes the exclusive supplier of capacitors to Taser International, the world’s leading supplier of stun guns.
- SBE signs a partnership agreement with FieldMetrics. Patent application filed.
- Capacitor Assemblies added as a product offering.
- SBE develops new Pulse Technology for use on TASER products.
- SB Electronics becomes SBE Inc. when the company is purchased in a management buyout by Ed Sawyer, President/CEO and Mark Browning, V.P. Sales & Marketing. Additional stockholders have since been added.
- SB Electronics purchases many of the Industrial Midwec product lines, designs, and production equipment.
- SB Electronics purchases the 192P Pacer product line from Sprague Electric and returns the manufacturing to Barre, Vermont where it was originally designed.
- SB Electronics is formed by purchasing the Orange Drop® product line from Sprague Electric and the manufacturing facilities in Barre, Vermont.
- Sprague Electric purchases the capacitor operations from Rock of Ages Corp. and assumes direct ownership. The plant is referred to as the Sprague-Barre operation.
- The radial-lead Orange Drop® film capacitor product lines are introduced, as well as the Type 192P Pacer® axial-lead, polyester film line.
- Employment reaches 940 at the Barre plant as new products are introduced. Sprague Barre is one of the larger employers in the state of Vermont.
- The Rock of Ages Capacitor Division moves to its newly renovated location at 131 South Main Street. They continue to support Sprague as the radio industry booms.
- Sprague Electric Co. enters into a sub-contracting agreement with the Rock of Ages Corp., one of the world’s largest granite producers located in Barre, Vermont, to manufacture capacitors for them. Their work is to support the war efforts.
- Robert C. Sprague invents a paper dielectric capacitor at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts and the Sprague Electric Company is formed.