SVP Neon Equipment  

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    The existence of SVP Neon Equipment is the result of the efforts of many people. The contributions of various employees and associates over the years are without question significant. Most notable of these is the company founder, Mark Snyder. The long history of the company has naturally always been closely associated with Mark. It is for this reason that it is appropriate, and unavoidable, to interlink the history of the company with him personally.

    The beginning
    The quest for knowledge
    Looking for greener grass
    Doing something worthwhile
    The first O-ring stopcock neon manifold
    Commercial availability
    Proof positive
    The birth of an Industry leader
    Doing the right thing
    Moving on…

    Mark has been involved in the sign business to one extent or another since grade school when he worked for his father’s sign company, Snyder Signs, Inc. in Jamestown, NY. At first it was part time work after school and on weekends and often full time during the summer months. Eventually it became a full time job year-round.

    In 1977, Mark took an interest in the craft of neon glassblowing. With the encouragement of his uncle, Bernard Snyder, Mark attended and graduated from one of the few Neon Schools of the time: Paige’s Neon School in Buffalo, NY. With the help of his uncle and sister Maggie, following his training Mark started a small wholesale neon business in nearby Lakewood, NY called Southern Tier Neon (STN).

    At the time there was little fact-based technical information available on the craft of neon that would serve to enhance the quality of the company’s products. Nor was there much information on neon equipment, particularly processing equipment. “Factory made” equipment such as Pyrex manifolds, diffusion pumps and such that are taken for granted by today’s neon industry were non-existent.

    The lack of adequate equipment and information was frustrating and potentially detrimental to the advancement of the company. Determined to find out everything he could about the craft, Mark began gathering information wherever small bits of knowledge could be found on every aspect of the craft and why things were done the way they were. More importantly, why things were not done a certain way. Many times the quest for knowledge led to dead ends. The answer “That’s just how it’s done” in response to questions was all too common – and unsatisfactory. Perseverance was essential until questions were answered satisfactorily with factual information and a scientific basis to support the information obtained.

    In 1979, desiring a warmer climate in which to practice his craft, expand his knowledge of it and expand the company, Mark relocated the company to Columbia, SC. After the move, Mark continued his quest for more information and knowledge with the desire to do more with his skills.

    During the first year of the new business venture, Mark’s interest in scientific glassblowing and the desire to learn more about the discipline led him to the scientific glassblower at the University of South Carolina, William E. Caldwell. As it happened Bill had an interest in neon. The two began exchanging information and ideas and became good friends.

    The friendship and resulting exposure to the Physical Sciences Compound at USC gave Mark access to a lot of new information, products, ideas, techniques and resources that were previously beyond his reach. Much of this would become the basis for his journey into the neon equipment business.

    During this time period the company as a whole also drew on the extensive knowledge of Mark’s brother, Dr. B. Stewart Snyder III, who was formerly the head mechanical engineer and designer in charge of the Research & Development Department at AVM, a company in Florence, SC that designed and manufactured vacuum motors, actuators and other products for the automotive industry.

    At the time, the exchange of information between the scientific glassblowing community, physical sciences and the neon industry, which would seem to be a natural relationship, was almost unheard of. Realizing that this was not the case during the birth of neon, as scientists were the ones who first created the industry, Mark and Bill made a concerted effort to once again meld the disciplines for the betterment of the two industries. They both encouraged others in their respective industries to have an open exchange of dialog and information with their counterparts. To a large degree this has been a successful effort as each respective industry has benefited from the exchange of information and ideas, the neon industry more so than the scientific glassblowing industry.


    By 1980 several things had become very clear: Virtually all self-made manifolds were relatively small diameter tubing, which restricts pumping speed. Neon shops spent a lot of time re-greasing the ground-joint greased stopcocks on their manifold systems, which resulted in lost production time. The greased stopcocks were prone to leaking creating more downtime and lost production. Cleaning the manifold system required it to be cut apart before cleaning and welded back together afterward, which meant more down-time. Due to the hassle involved in cleaning a self-made greased stopcock manifold system it was seldom done, which directly related to the quality of the finished product.

    In 1980, tired of the maintenance required for his own greased stopcock manifold system, Mark decided to put his eclectic knowledge to use and began a profound project that would change the neon industry. Combining his interest in scientific glassblowing, creative nature and desire to improve the neon industry on a large scale, Mark designed the first modular component, Pyrex glass and O-ring stopcock manifold for neon use.

    In 1981 Mark sold three of these systems and installed them at one of the leading POP neon sign manufacturers in the U.S. The Trademark name Ultra-Vac® Vacuum System was assigned to these as well as subsequent systems manufactured by STN. In contrast to the usual self-made lead glass manifolds, these systems were much larger diameter and included a significantly improved glass diffusion pump, which greatly improved pumping speed and ultimate vacuum compared to the old-style “aspirator”. The Ultra-Vac® Vacuum System also included a much improved high accuracy thermopile vacuum gauge, which was a world apart from the old battery operated Pirani vacuum gauges of the 1950’s and 60’s.

    Over the years improvements were made to the Ultra-Vac® Vacuum System, including upgraded components and design refinements. During this time period, in particular the late 1980’s, Mark was hired as an independent consultant through a joint venture between Masonlite and Transco to be their advisor and liaison to neon shops throughout North America.

    In 1986 following the installation and successful demonstration of two Ultra-Vac® Vacuum Systems at Transco’s then parent company, Colite Industries, Mark approached Transco with the idea of Transco offering the Ultra-Vac® Vacuum System to the neon industry through their distribution network. Transco agreed to the proposal and purchased their first Ultra-Vac® Vacuum System from STN in 1987. It became quite advantageous for Transco to be the first and only tubing and electrode supplier in North America to offer a ready-made Pyrex manifold system. Insofar that in 1990 Transco began producing copies of manifold systems previously purchased from STN.

    The late 1980’s saw an increasing demand for neon people due to the revival of the craft. As a result there was also a rebirth of neon schools. Along with the resurgence of neon and the influx of new neon fabricators into the sign community came the need for new shop equipment. Mark realized the need for a company strictly devoted to supplying quality, state-of-the-art neon equipment to the market. In 1989 Mark formed a company dedicated to this end and one which is now synonymous with Pyrex manifolds, diffusion pumps and related equipment: Precision Neon Laboratories, often referred to as just “Precision” or “PNL”.

    PNL offered a complete line of neon processing equipment including an entirely new manifold design – a design that many competitors’ products closely resemble even today. Many PNL items were specifically designed for the intended purpose. Most notable of these were the Pyrex glass manifolds, diffusion pumps and related components. Processing instruments such as temperature and vacuum gauges were proprietary as well. These items were not strictly an adaptation of parts and pieces intended for other industries, as is often the case, but designed with the high voltage internal bombarding method in mind.

    Soon the staff at PNL was working long hours to keep up with the demand for their products. The time Mark had to devote to glasswork was increasingly hard to find, so a full time scientific glassblower was hired for the growing company and additional shop equipment was purchased to better facilitate in-house glass fabrication. By doing so, PNL became the only neon equipment manufacturer able to truthfully make the claim that their manifolds, diffusion pumps and all related glassware was manufactured in-house, a claim that still holds true today at SVP Neon Equipment.

    In 1994, feeling that the neon industry was back on the right track overall, and with the advent of several companies following his lead and offering similar equipment, Mark decided to direct his efforts more toward the fabrication of scientific glassware and specialty vacuum and ionization tubes. However, not to abandon his roots and to keep his hand in neon work, a fully functional neon plant was maintained and used on a semi-regular basis to do overflow work for other neon shops in the area.

    In September of that year Precision Neon Laboratories was sold to Daco Neon Equipment. The sale included all of Mark’s equipment designs, which Daco continues to use today with the moniker “Precision” to distinguish their products.

    After the sale of PNL, the company name was changed to Silica Vacuum Products (SVP) to better suite the intended market. SVP continued to manufacturer all of Daco’s Pyrex manifolds, diffusion pumps and related glassware, and Mark continued to handle most of the technical aspects, consultation duties and troubleshoot customer problems relative to Daco’s equipment line. This continued until mid 1997. At that time SVP decided it was not in their best interest to continue the relationship.

    Over the next few years it became apparent that the quality reputation that PNL had worked hard to achieve for the Precision name was slowly deteriorating in the market place. Having fulfilled any contractual obligations from the sale of PNL, Mark decided it was time to present the neon industry with quality equipment at an affordable price once again – the vision that had originally been the cornerstone of Precision Neon Laboratories. To this end SVP Neon Equipment was formed.

    Today at SVP Neon Equipment the traditions that PNL was founded on continue: quality and affordability are number one; customer service is second to none; all glassware is still manufactured in-house to maintain a higher level of quality control than our competitors can offer; new innovative ideas and concepts are always considered and are implemented when it is believed to be beneficial to the neon industry to do so. And because Mark still bends neon at times and still processes the units he makes, the method of thinking is always with the real-world neon shop and the people who work in them in mind.




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    Copyright 2006
    Silica Vacuum Products