BY JANE MCLAUGHLIN ANDERSON
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY PURDUE RESEARCH FOUNDATION
The timing couldn’t be better. Just as Purdue University and Greater Lafayette were envisioning a new generation of high-tech companies for the Discovery Park District, Purdue alumnus Edmund Schweitzer III came back to campus. His original intent was to honor his alma mater with a $1.5 million endowed professorship in electrical and computer engineering, and to donate an additional $1.5 million to support Purdue’s power and energy research area, now named Schweitzer Power and Energy Systems.
“Last fall Purdue Research Foundation and others honored Ed and his wife, Beatriz, for their contributions,” says factory manager Jake Church. “As that story unfolded, it inspired Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) to build a facility near campus, and the project took off.”
The 100,000-square-foot plant across from Rolls Royce is indeed taking off and will be up and running in early 2020.
Edmund O. Schweitzer III is truly a renaissance man. Having received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1968 and 1971, he worked out West for the government for five years before deciding to pursue a doctorate degree. He received his Ph.D. from Washington State University in 1977 in Pullman. While teaching at WSU and raising a family, he founded Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in his basement in 1982 to build digital relay devices for power systems to replace the cumbersome and unreliable current mechanical devices. It was revolutionary engineering for electrical protection at the time; he received a patent for the first microprocessor-based digital relay, one of his 200 patents in the field. Because of it, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2019. Academic. Inventor. Entrepreneur. Philanthropist. He is a man of vision with the ability to make it happen.
“The mission for the company is to make electric power safer, more reliable, and more economical,” Church says. “With that goal, it opens the door to customers who need safe and reliable high-speed control of their power systems like electric utility companies, hospitals, universities, and virtually any entity that needs reliable power.” The West Lafayette plant will make recloser controls. These devices control reclosures that act as high-voltage electric switches that shut off the flow of electricity on a power line when trouble occurs due to wind, lightning, falling trees, animals, among other things.
“We are excited to manufacture SEL technology so close to some of our Midwestern customers (Duke, Indianapolis Power & Light and Tipmont), but it’s also an opportunity to be close to Purdue University and collaborate with them,” says Church. “You can’t put a price on the synergy created by partnerships between the community and the university.” SEL’s manufacturing plants are located in Pullman, Washington; Lake Zurich, Illinois; Lewiston, Idaho; and now West Lafayette. SEL products are used by virtually every U.S. electric utility and are protected power systems in 164 countries around the world. Moving to West Lafayette is a game-changer for the growing Discovery Park District with win-win benefits for the company, community and university.
Church is among the first of 30 employees of the 100 percent employee-owned company to make the move to Indiana. “All volunteered and applied for the transition. They’re eager to come and are so excited to make Greater Lafayette their home,” he says. SEL will ramp up hiring from there with a projection of eventually 300 employees, with manufacturing jobs coming first and research and development and engineering to follow.
“We’re thrilled to work with Greater Lafayette Commerce and others here to get the word out as needed. Purdue Research Foundation and GLC offered to help incorporate our people into the community, including our spouses,” Church adds. “It’s a testament to the community, with so many different parties involved at different points, whether it was PRF and staff, GLC helping with logistics, both mayors’ offices very supportive and eager to help us get a safe, good building constructed, and county commissioners to help with the workforce. Everyone has been topnotch — very welcoming, professional and supportive. We’re thrilled to be building this business here.”