Group that spun out of Hitachi plant sees bright future

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The team that spun off from Hitachi’s product development team to form the Systems Products Division includes (from left) Kyoko Roberts, marketing director; Keith Brown, senior director; Larry Weidman; and L. Thomas Heiser, general manager.

Most people don’t know it, but Hitachi, the Japanese conglomerate, still designs and makes electronic products in Greenville — a decade after shuttering its former television tube plant on Mauldin Road.

What’s left of the former plant’s product development team has continued designing — and manufacturing — in a building along Fairforest Way, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The group, now known as the Systems Products Division of Hitachi High-Technologies America Inc., employs about 18 people, most of them engineers, said L. Thomas Heiser, its Atlanta-based general manager.

Even before the television tube plant wrapped up operations, the group was producing a computerized liquid crystal display (LCD) screen for use in gambling machines such as slot machines. The display enables the machines to keep track of different players and offer rewards for repeat business.

The Systems Products Division also produced LCD screens for embedding into the back of airplane seats. Passengers of Continental Airlines used the screens to watch in-flight movies.

These days, Heiser sees big potential in a new offering that involves the so-called internet of things technology.

It’s a system that helps restaurants monitor the temperature of kitchen equipment such as ovens, allowing them to better comply with federal laws governing food safety.

The system stores temperature data collected by sensors, analyzes it, and sends a warning if temperatures move outside of desired parameters.

The Systems Products Division is focused on marketing the system to restaurants, but Heiser said the trucking and hospital industries would also find it useful.

“It’s a small business, but it’s got a huge future,” he said.

The Systems Products Division is also planning to market a new product related to nanotechnology, but Heiser said he wasn’t at liberty to share details about that.

He’s aiming for the group to quadruple its revenue in four years.

“The future looks bright once again for a company that many thought was long gone and in the rear-view mirror,” Heiser said. “We are still here alive and kicking and waiting for our next days in the sun.”

Hitachi opened the former television tube plant in 1991. A decade later it employed more than 1,300 people.

The operation wound down after Hitachi announced in 2006 that it would no longer make television tubes in Greenville.

Since then, a portion of the former factory building has been occupied by Confluence Outdoor, a maker of kayaks and canoes.

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