The power transmission and motion control industry may be one of the lesser known industries here in the United States, yet its impact is witnessed by companies of all types and sizes every day.
Christopher Bursack, president of the Power Transmission Distributors Association (PTDA), describes his association’s industry along the lines of, “I’ll sit down in the morning with a customer who makes medical devices, and then I’ll go have lunch later on in the day with a customer that makes cement-based products. No two days are ever alike.”
Bursack, who also operates a power transmission distribution company called JSC Companies out of Minneapolis, Minn., has been in the industry for quite some time and, in a conversation with Steve Engelhardt of Industry Today, he talks about where the industry has been, where it is today, and what’s at stake in the future for it.
Power transmission and motion control products have been the catalysts in driving machinery for as long as most can remember. With products ranging from hydraulics and pumps, to motors and brakes, the industry is expansive in both size and impact. According to the Industrial Market Information Inc., in 2009 the U.S. market for PT/MC products was an estimated $67.7 billion.
PTDA, itself, was established back in 1960 and was created to serve distributors and manufacturers of power transmission and motion control products. Bursack marvels at how far technology has come since then in the industry, noting that, “the idea of having something such as electronic motor control back then would’ve been looked at as mere science fiction, while today it’s the standard.” Since then, PTDA has been producing videos, handbooks, surveys, and more for the industry, helping its members stay up to date with the many changes it has experienced since its inception.
Today, Bursack notes that two of the biggest trends he has seen emerging in the power transmission industry are increased pressure on profit margins as well as a rising need for companies to find creative ways to differentiate themselves and their products and services that they’re bringing to the market. “With everything going global in an ever-changing world, you really need to harness innovation and set yourself apart from the rest of the competition,” he says.
Clarifying the Customer
One of the ways PTDA has tried to keep its members ahead of the game is by establishing an unprecedented comprehensive survey of the industry’s markets. “For the first time, there is an accurate way of benchmarking our available markets based on the industry served, as well as the specific products used in those markets,” says Rick Navarro, PTDA’s marketing and communications director. Covering not just the U.S., but Canada and Mexico as well, the data is presented in such a way that the reader can break it down into different geographies, and even by metropolitan area.
However, Bursack and Navarro admit that knowing where these growth opportunities are is only part of the equation. “You have to develop and execute strategies specific to those markets,” Bursack says. “It all begins with understanding existing and potential customers’ needs and how we can help them become more successful.”
Bursack adds, “If you’re a distributor and you’re not taking advantage of newly updated research, then you’re missing out on a lot, especially with how quickly the world is changing.”
Bridging the Gap
While the industry is becoming more clear and defined in terms of markets and customer needs, its future remains unclear with regard to the issue of a skills gap, the same one that is looming in the not-so-distant future for many other manufacturing industries. However, steps are being taken by businesses to ensure that when the baby-boomers begin to retire in greater numbers, a young, educated employee base is ready to take the reins.
Through the PTDA Foundation, PTDA utilizes a program called Industrial Careers Pathway, which reaches out to high school and college students, as well as young adults still searching for employment. “We go into college fairs and career days at schools and talk to these young individuals about industrial distribution,and really show them the upside of our industry,” Bursack says.
In addition to the Industrial Careers Pathway, the PTDA have been issuing out literature in the form of handbooks over the past 40 years, yet perhaps their most important edition is their most recent one, serving as a primer for PT/MC employees while also bridging the gap between the young employees and the retiring workforce.
The PTDA also has been hosting conferences oriented around educating emerging leaders, and their next one in the spring will discuss the importance of executive leadership throughout the industry in facilitating a stable workforce and creating a legacy for the next generation.
While the next generation of workers is certainly an important part of the power transmission and motion control industry’s puzzle, Bursack is also focused on the much more immediate future as well.
He concludes by noting, “I think 2014 is going to be another year of soft growth for the industry, which only underscores the importance of getting back to the basics, keeping your staff trained and up to speed, and making your business as efficient as possible,” adding that, “it’s up to each individual company to recognize this and ensure that they’re prepared going into the future.”
About the Power Transmission Distributors Association
The Power Transmission Distributors Association (PTDA) is the leading association for the industrial power transmission control distribution channel. PTDA exists to advance the industrial power transmission distribution channel and strengthen members to be successful, profitable, and competitive in a changing market environment.