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Crash-test dummy maker sees sale as smart move for growth

By: Dustin Walsh
CRAIN’S DETROIT BUSINESS

December 9, 2013

Plymouth Township, Mich.-based crash-test dummy maker Humanetics Innovative Solutions Inc. is on a collision course with growth and wants to make the impact count.

Humanetics, its parent company Safety Technology Holdings Inc., and its subsidiaries HITEC Sensor Solutions Inc. and Sensor Developments Inc., were sold last week to San Francisco-based private equity firm Golden Gate Capital.

The companies were sold by Chicago private equity firm Wynnchurch Capital Ltd., which formed Humanetics in 2009 after acquiring First Technology Safety Systems Inc. and merging it with Denton ATD Inc.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, GE Capital and KKR Asset Management LLC provided financing to support the transaction, according to a news release.

Foley & Lardner LLP, with offices in Detroit, served as legal advisers to Wynnchurch and STH.

Chris O'Connor, president and CEO of STH and Humanetics, said Wynnchurch had planned on selling for some time and had been working on a deal for the past six to eight months.

O'Connor, a former member of Wynnchurch, said the company had several suitors but chose Golden Gate Capital as a long-term stakeholder.

"We want the ability to grow for a longer period of time," O'Connor said. "[Golden Gate] doesn't operate in the three- to five-year window like traditional private equity, so we see this as a much longer partnership."

O'Connor said Golden Gate will provide additional funding to Humanetics for future acquisitions and capital equipment.

He expects revenue to triple over the next five years under Golden Gate ownership.

Crain's estimates Humanetics revenue to reach $110 million this year, up from $90 million in 2012. O'Connor declined to provide revenue.

Humanetics manufactures and calibrates crash-test dummies for several industries, mainly automotive, and is developing new technologies to keep people safe during accidents.

The company manufactures the sensor technology and test equipment in Plymouth, Mich. The dummies are manufactured in Huron, Ohio, and the company has operations in Germany, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Australia, Brazil and Mexico.

It's a low-volume industry; Humanetics sells roughly 30 dummies a month, O'Connor said. And the dummies are built to last several decades, he said. Prices are steep, from $20,000 to more than $100,000 each, depending on sensing capabilities.

Much of the crash-test dummy technology in circulation today was developed in the 1980s, O'Connor told Crain's in a previous interview. For those older than 30, these dummy models are recognizable as Vince and Larry, the singing dummies featured in the 1980s U.S. Department of Transportation "Buckle Up" television ads.

As regulators continue to push for stricter automotive crash tests, dummy makers are adapting to the need for advanced testing equipment.