Astrophysics Inc. looks to increase U.S. business

By Kevin Smith, SGVN

Posted:   08/16/2012 04:38:21 PM PDT

U.S. Congresswoman Grace Napolitano tours Astrophysics, Inc. with CEO/president Francois Zayek at their City of Industry facility Aug. 15, 2012. (Leo Jarzomb/Staff Photographer)

INDUSTRY - Astrophysics Inc., a maker of X-ray screening and metal detection systems used at airports and a variety of other venues, has gained a lot of traction since the business was established in 2002.

But company President and CEO Francois Zayek is looking to increase the Industry-based company's U.S. market share.

"We're trying to penetrate the U.S. markets," Zayek said. "Right now international sales account for 80 percent of our business and the other 20 percent is domestic."

Zayek isn't the only one who'd like to see Astrophyics doing more business domestically.

On Wednesday, Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs, toured the company's 60,000-square-foot production facility on Ferrero Parkway in Industry.

Napolitano was impressed by what she saw, but also surprised that Astrophyics is exporting most of its products.

"I've been saying `Buy American' since the 1980s," she said. "America has lost a lot of jobs over our borders to Canada and Mexico. I'm always thinking about how we can bring back manufacturing."

Napolitano said she plans to look into possible solutions that might increase U.S. business for Astrophysics.

The company produces a variety of security screening machines that are used by Air France, Aeropuerto Mexico, DMS Logistics, the India Postal Commission, the Japanese Postal Service, Saudi Airlines and the U.S. military, among others.

"We ship about 1,600 units a year," said Thomas R. Schorling, Astrophysics' vice president of sales and marketing. "There are about 5,000 to 6,000 of our units in use out there."

The screening systems range from a mobile device that can be used at borders, customs sites and entertainment and sporting venues, to other machines that can scan luggage and cargo.

On Wednesday, scores of wooden crates awaited shipment in the company's warehouse area. In an adjacent room, technicians were evaluating one of the company's security screeners at a test carousel like the kind that might be found at an airport.

"We're checking to make sure the hardware and software both work," Systems Engineer Curt McDonald said, as various parcels made their away around a metal conveyor belt. "We have to verify it meets specs."

And speaking of specs, Zayek said 18 of the 24 machines his company manufactures have passed qualification standards to be used for air cargo purposes in the U.S. and abroad.

"Aviation is different," he said. "It's harder to get into. But we also have units in use at post offices, prisons, jails, embassies and at police departments."

The nation's recent recession and its aftermath have wreaked havoc with many U.S. companies and caused some to go under. But Schorling said Astrophysics has managed to thrive.

"When times are bad security goes up," he said. "So in a sense we're recession-proof."

Zayek agreed.

"Our business has grown 30 percent year over year for the past three years, and we're expecting it to grow by 33 percent this year," he said. "We're very aggressive in pricing. It's very controlled, so we're eroding some of the competition."

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