Deseret News (Salt Lake City), Mar 11, 2005 by Dave Anderton Deseret Morning News
Longer days and warmer temperatures have homeowners looking at their yards and gardens.
As temperatures rise, the irrigation industry prospers.
One North Salt Lake company has carved its own niche, making everything from drip kits and timers to automatic valves and rain sensors.
In fact, Orbit Irrigation Products manufactures and distributes more than 1,500 lawn and garden irrigation and misting products to customers in 56 countries as far away as the Middle East, Australia, Mexico, South Africa and Japan.
The company manufactures and sells tens of millions of sprinkler heads each year in stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target, as well as local hardware stores, proving it can compete against larger competitors like Toro and Rain Bird Corp.
For states and regions where rainfall is scarce, Orbit's emphasis on water conservation products has paid off.
"We're really strong on conservation, so a lot of our products we design to save water," said Mike Ericksen, Orbit's vice president of sales. "Drip and micro-watering is right down that alley."
Since the early 1980s when the company first started with 20 employees, revenues have grown steadily, mostly in double-digit figures each year.
Today, Orbit employs 500 people in the United States and operates an injection molding facility and manufacturing plant in North Salt Lake.
Yet with international sales growing, the company has followed other U.S. manufacturers into China.
Orbit has a manufacturing facility in Shenzhen, a city of 7 million people across the border from Hong Kong. A second plant in NingBo, south of Shanghai, specializes in water-hose accessories that are shipped all over the world.
While the United States remains Orbit's top revenue-producing country, the company is well positioned to capture China's market.
"The Western style is kind of emerging," said KC Ericksen, Orbit's president, referring to Chinese households embracing sprinkling systems. "Mostly hose-end products right now, but a lot of in-ground stuff is starting to emerge."
In the United States, Orbit is developing closed-loop irrigation systems, where sensors monitor ground moisture and automatically turn on water when needed.
"The soil tells you when it needs it, not some timer that you set," Mike Ericksen said. "Also, if it's rained, it won't come on."
In addition, Orbit is manufacturing rain sensors that are solar operated. Using remote control technology, the rain sensors turn on and shut off sprinkling systems according to weather conditions.
Last year, Orbit rolled out 42 new products and filed for 14 patents. It also was awarded nine prior patents. Next year, the company will file for 10 more patents.
"The most unconservation thing you can think of is putting your hose out on the lawn and letting it run," KC Ericksen said. "A sprinkling system will save quite a bit of water over a hose. Micro water saves up to 70 percent of sprinkler systems and hoses."
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