American manufacturing is experiencing a bit of a renaissance these days, with many American companies actually bringing production back on shore. But, that’s not the case with Light & Motion—because it’s manufacturing never left. Since the company’s founding in 1989, Light & Motion has hand-built their industry-leading bicycle and scuba dive lights one at a time while ensuring that its employees and the world they inhabit are both treated with respect.
Originally located at 300 Cannery Row in Monterey, California, Light & Motion has outgrown their old digs and has set up shop just 12 miles from their former location in a renovated Apache helicopter repair facility in nearby Marina, part of the decommissioned Fort Ord army base.
Upon entry into the new building, the abundant sunlight bathing the interior space immediately imparts a feeling of warmth and belonging. Natural building materials such as unprocessed aspen branches and raw lumber complement the relaxed office vibe. A cadre of about 20 engineers, salespeople, and executives work together here. Constant collaboration is encouraged with an open floor plan and copious whiteboards enable impromptu, explanatory graffiti scrawls.
The adjacent manufacturing area is expansive and remarkably clean. Workers operating large injection molding machines convert rubber and plastic pellets into light housings, switch covers, and side-marker lenses. Heating elements melt down the pellets before injecting the slurry into a metal mold that’s been machined in-house. The finished parts are removed from the molds by hand and delivered over to the production line.
Light & Motion’s production manager explained that the company takes a Japanese approach to manufacturing called Kanban. The aim of Kanban is to ensure that all of the smaller processes used during manufacturing are in balance and working in concert. For example, a bottleneck in circuit board installation can hold up light case assembly, and an overproduction of switch assemblies may influence the next worker in the line to cut corners on their assembly to process the overabundance of incoming switches. Kanban prevents these issues by tweaking the number of parts that make up an assembly step, or by shuffling workers to different jobs on the line to enable each one to build their assigned assembly in roughly the same amount of time.
In the case of Light & Motion’s completely redesigned Urban lights, that time is about 90 seconds; which means that this line cranks out a new Urban light every minute and a half. Worker pay is tied to quality goals thereby ensuring that quality is never sacrificed for speed. Product failures are carefully tracked and tied into the production team’s weekly bonus so that everyone in the process is held accountable and works to produce a light they can be proud of.
After assembly is complete, lights are tested for waterproofness (all of Light & Motion’s Taz and Urban lights are fully waterproof to one meter for 30 minutes) lights are also tested for output and burn time. Light & Motion takes truth in output claims very seriously. The company has invested in a large, incredibly expensive integrating sphere—which is the only way that lumen output can be accurately measured—and not only tests the light output over the entire burn time of its own lights, it also tests its competitor’s output claims.
CEO Daniel Emerson feels especially strong about the need for truthful light output claims, which are currently unregulated. “Most business owners think that regulation is bad, but it really is good for business.”
Emerson went on to explain that when a company claims that their light does something that it doesn’t, a customer buys that light, uses it, and then becomes disappointed and disillusioned with the sport because a positive experience is dependent upon equipment working properly. When one company offers a product that delivers on it’s claims, “…it lifts every boat in the water by growing the sport.” That is why Light & Motion builds all of its lights to meet or exceed the ANSI FL1 lumen output standard and the International Protection IP67 waterproofing standard.
Light & Motion has used this simple, positive approach to business to make a product that they proudly stand behind. If any defects present themselves within two years of purchase, the original light owner can either contact an authorized dealer or Light & Motion directly.
North American Sales Manager Kevin Mitchell explained, “We want customers to be taken care of and to get them back out onto the trail. If that means sending them a new light, then we’ll do it.”
For a company that is so committed to quality, the atmosphere throughout the facility is surprisingly mellow. Even after witnessing the operation firsthand, we left wondering how they were able to achieve this balance and be so successful. Japanese quality with a California attitude? Perhaps Light & Motion should expand into the sushi business?