COMPANIES TO WATCH
|UV III President Elliot Knight with the Benchtop Buddy curing oven, a new option for small instrument workshops.
UV III SYSTEMS
UV Curing specialist brings versatile finishing technology to small and mid-sized businesses.
THERE ARE THINGS you can do on a big factory floor that you can’t do in a small workshop, and then there are those things you only thought you couldn’t do. At UV III Systems, part of the mission statement is helping instrument makers find out which is which. Established in 1984, UV III is a specialist in ultraviolet (or UV) curing, an effective finishing process for guitars and other wooden instruments—not to mention furniture, flooring, and even equipment for the medical and aerospace industries. Its critical upside is that it sets and dries the finish rapidly, expediting each batch so it can ship out quickly while ensuring that newly finished surfaces don’t sit around wet, collecting dust and other residue. At one time, it was the kind of system you might have pictured only on major production lines. For UV III, however, a key achievement of the past few decades has been bringing the technology into small and medium-sized businesses. Already offering a range of products from handheld units to large-scale solutions for the factory floor, the company recently added a new compact option in its line of “Benchtop Buddy” curing ovens. Small enough to rest on a table but large enough to accommodate a neck-off guitar, they’re also fully enclosed—meaning the builder can safely turn to some other task while waiting for the finish to cure.
“This machine is a result of our years of experience serving luthiers both big and small,” says Elliot Knight, president of UV III systems and the second generation of his family to lead the company. “We want to make UV simple and approachable for any user to get into.”
It was Elliot’s father, Gordon Knight, who founded UV III Systems 35 years ago. Born in England at the end of World War II, he would make his way to Canada and later the U.S., raising his family in New England. UV III Systems is still based in Alburgh, Vermont, where he spent his later years. Though UV curing was already prevalent in “flat-line” and printing applications when Gordon got into the business, he would help pioneer its use in three-dimensional production. Under his leadership, UV III built a broad client base of U.S.-based manufacturers, some of which the company continued to serve when they moved production offshore. “As many larger manufacturers left the U.S.,” says Elliot, “we learned to do business in a more global economy as well as how to service smaller domestic manufacturers.” Over the years, UV III Systems built up a worldwide customer base and now has equipment on every continent except Antarctica. Representing industries from cabinetry to defense, its customers range from sole proprietorships to Fortune 500 companies.
Elliot, who grew up in the business and built his first handheld curing machine when he was ten, came on as president of UV III following Gordon’s death in April 2019. With a master’s degree in business administration and years of experience in the business, he’s looked to carry on what’s become a longstanding reputation for over-and-above service. When a customer needs parts or service, for instance, UV III has been known to stretch warranty terms, ship inexpensive components for free, or even drive a parts shipment to the nearest UPS depot to make sure it gets on the next flight for a customer in a tight spot. “It builds a lot of goodwill with customers to help solve their problems, not simply take as much money from them as we can,” Elliot says. “Our most important competitive edge is being a family-owned business. Every time a customer interacts with UV III Systems, they receive top-notch service from a friendly, knowledgeable employee who cares deeply about our company and the satisfaction of our customers.”
Building and shipping most products from its home base in Vermont, UV III offers solutions in three overall categories. For light production, compact, handheld machines deliver professional finishing results in a package small luthiers can afford. They’re also a popular option for manufacturers who want to stay nimble and versatile, building improvised production lines from multiple small units instead of investing in a larger system. As Elliot adds, every handheld machine comes with a five-year warranty as an added measure to minimize risk for smaller operations. “This makes the purchase less intimidating for small users who struggle to come up with the capital to invest in new equipment,” he says, “knowing that if their equipment fails in the first five years, they will not be on the hook for costly repairs.” The new Benchtop Buddy line delivered an additional option for small operations, providing what Elliot describes as “the same great technology available to mass production facilities in a smaller, less capital intensive package that startups and smaller production companies can afford.”
At the intermediate level, meanwhile, UV III offers cabinet-style machines the size of a large wardrobe or refrigerator, which open from the front so guitars or other pieces can be hung inside to cure. The cycle starts with the push of a button and ends with a beep “much like a microwave oven,” says Elliot. Bridging the gap between medium-sized operations and heavy mass production, these machines are practical and safe for small shops—no added safety gear required—but also make a popular option for larger companies, which often purchase them in multiples, adding more as they scale up. And for the largest operations, says Elliot, UV III can build out virtually any kind of custom production line: “Any industry, any part: If you need to cure it, we can help!”
Across the board, business at UV III has been transformed by a new online store that launched this past spring, minimizing the time it takes to process orders while allowing the company to focus on product development, branding, and customer service. Around the same time, the company debuted a revamped Facebook page, which it’s used to bring customers closer to the daily goings-on at UV III. “It really allows the customer to feel more connected with our brand if they can see a little news blurb on our Facebook from time to time, with new products, events, etc.,” says Elliot. Part of the impetus for changing how the company works technologically, he adds, has been learning to stay ahead in a changing business environment. Elements of economic uncertainty, notably the evolving picture on import tariffs, have swayed some customers toward a more conservative strategy on capital investments. Others are increasingly looking for turnkey solutions, which UV III has been working to provide. By expanding partnerships with coatings manufacturers, while beefing up tutorials and technical support, “we’re striving to simplify the UV experience for our customers by providing more approachable guidance on coatings, application techniques, and product pairings,” says Elliot. “Eventually, our customers usually realize that regardless of the headlines, our technology makes sense and is a strong business move for any sized manufacturer in any country trying to keep a competitive edge. The message really is that UV curing should not be scary, and customers need not feel intimidated or confused by it.”