Avenues for growth sometimes travel in myriad directions; at Carling Technologies such growth was fueled, nearly 50 years ago, when the company opted to redirect itself from a tooling operation to a manufacturer of innovative switch technologies. Lorie Greenspan discovers the controls in place at Carling that help it to keep on a steady course of prosperity.
Carling Technologies, with more than 2,000 employees, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of electrical switches, circuit protection devices and control products for the appliance, computer, marine, medical, office automation, industrial controls, power supply, telecommunication, transportation, and HVAC industries. For more than eight decades, Carling has set the pace in new product design.
Having built its reputation on a complete line of electrical switches and circuit protection products, Carling Technologies offers many advantages over industry competitors. With a product portfolio consisting of miniature, subminiature, full size sealed and unsealed rocker, toggle, pushbutton and slide switches, Carling continues to set the bar in aesthetics and functional design. Carling’s multiple switch lines can be modified by color, custom legends, lenses, markings and other customer specific demands. The company prides itself on its ability to design and manufacture customer specific items such as mounting brackets, wire leads, harnesses, connectors, and other value-added special designs. Carling focuses on customer specific solutions, which gives the company an edge over competitors within the industry.
As related by COO Mike Bhojwani, a chance occurrence, rather than a business plan, resulted in Carling becoming an electrical component manufacturer. Arthur Carling, a Swedish immigrant, had trained as a tool-and-die maker and founded Carling Tool and Machine Company in 1920. Initially, the company contracted to make tools and belt driven machinery. In the early 1920’s, Fuller Brush Company contracted for tooling to manufacture brushes. However, upon tool completion Fuller Brush chose not to take delivery, resulting in Arthur Carling’s decision that the company would manufacture brushes. Thus the first catalog flier sheet from Carling Tool and Machine proclaimed the virtues of “The Brush that Sweeps.” Over the next few years a similar situation occurred with tooling contracted to a Connecticut electrical switch manufacturer, resulting in Carling Tool and Machine’s discontinuance of brush manufacturing in favor of manufacturing porcelain wall switches and light fixtures. This began Carling’s long history as an electrical component manufacturer.
Through the past 83 years, Carling has maintained itself as a private, family owned corporation, passing to members of Arthur Carling’s family, Wesley and Hildegarde Sorenson, with their son, Rick Sorenson as current President and CEO. One of Rick’s two sons and his daughter are the fourth family generation active in the company. As the company’s products and sophistication has evolved, the company name has changed to reflect its activities, becoming Carling Electric, Inc., in the 1940’s, then Carlingswitch, Inc., in 1970, and in 2000, with the introduction of electronic and multiplex control systems, Carling Technologies, Inc. As a family company, Carling has developed a premier position in the marketplace, recognized for quality and service, and has always aggressively pursued product development and innovation along with global expansion to become a truly global competitor. “The ability to reinvent itself has made the company a true innovator,” notes Bhojwani. For example, the company pioneered the Curvette switch, a small rocker switch that is unique because of the two colors on the actuator indicating the on/off status. This was an innovation receiving many accolades and was supplied to myriad appliance manufacturers for use on products such as Mr. Coffee.
Additionally, Carling invented the Contura V-Series switch in the 1990s, which also led the market. This invention was comprised of a detachable actuator enabling a change to the look of a switch merely by changing the actuator; this was seen as a plus for applications such as boating and automotive, in which interiors are upgraded frequently. “Our Contura Series of illuminated and non-illuminated rocker switches have set a new industry standard for sealed switches,” he adds. These switches offer complete protection against dust and prolonged effects of spray and immersion under pressure (IP66 and IP68), and are recognized to UL1500 ignition protection for marine applications. The Contura offers 13 categories of options including, ratings, terminations, removable actuators and lenses, actuator styles (including locking actuators), textures, colors, symbols, illuminations and circuits (including multi-circuits). “We are a large supplier of this switch to the recreational and commercial marine markets,” Bhojwani explains, adding that Carling’s market share is over 50 percent. “Along with a proven reputation of durability and high performance, the switch actuators are removable to change the look of the dashboard. We now have nine different actuators on the market, and we introduce a new actuator style every 12 to 18 months.”
Leveraging on its expertise in the delivery of innovative switch solutions, Carling introduced a unique line of circuit breakers in the early 1980s. At that time, Bhojwani notes, it was a $100 million market that since has grown to be a $250 million market. “In the early stages there were only two other manufacturers of this product and now there are 10.” He adds, “Now Carling retains a number two spot in this market, despite the downturn in telecommunications.”
Taking pride in its customer relationships, Carling is fortunate to serve a diverse and expanding customer market base. As Bhojwani says, “Every Mack truck on the road incorporates Carling Technologies’ switches because of a proven reputation of performance, durability and quality.” Bhojwani goes on to explain that components must be reliable on tractor trailers designed to travel over a million miles or more. “A trucker lives in his truck, so the switches need to work under all conditions and harsh environment and manual abuse conditions,” he says.
Carling also serves the heavy equipment and agriculture equipment industries with harsh weather environment switches for customers such as Caterpillar, John Deere and Case New Holland. The company delivers unique customer focused switching solutions to other industry leading customers such as vacuum manufacturers Electrolux and Eureka, white goods manufacturers Whirlpool, Maytag and GE, and a hugely diversified market base.
The privately owned company is headquartered in a 113,000-square-foot ISO-registered facility in Plainville, Conn. Carling also manufactures product in its Texas and Mexico ISO-registered facilities. Carling will open a new manufacturing facility in China next year. In addition, Carling maintains three sales and distribution centers, one in North America, another in Hong Kong and a third in England. “We’re really in a globally competitive environment and that was one of our biggest transitions, from a regional to a global player,” Bhojwani says. This transition necessitated the expansion of manufacturing and assembly to countries such as Mexico and China (Carling has maintained facilities in Mexico for the last 20 years).
Taking a look at its market and customers in the automotive and trucking industries, Carling recently decided to add higher technology switch controls to its product portfolio, such as an electronic dimmer, a wiper/washer control and an adjustable/ rotating mirror control. “Prior to these products, we didn’t have those in our portfolio but we leveraged our experience in the marketplace and expanded the business,” Bhojwani says.
He notes that “the LM1-Series wiper/washer control is the latest in the company’s L-Series family of control products. Combined with the dimmer control and the versatile L-Series of products, this latest innovation enables Carling Technologies to provide a solution for virtually all interior/dashboard switching and control needs within the transportation market.”
For the transportation industry, Carling is rapidly expanding upon its digital multiplex switching system line. The Electronic Control System (ECS), is initially being marketed and sold within the marine market but is also targeted to the truck/bus, heavy equipment/agriculture and other transportation applications. Incorporating electronics into the switching functions allows the customer to set and control myriad number of switching features and functions that effectively creates a safer and more user-friendly operating environment. “The ECS platform defines a revolution in switching technology,” Bhojwani explains. “Contr-olling multiple switching circuits with one communication wire eliminates complex wiring costs, while providing customer specific programming, a new higher technology aesthetic look, and an easier and more enjoyable operating environment.
Carling Technologies also is known for its power distribution center (PDC) technology, which plays an integral role in a product’s electrical system. Carling’s engineering team works with customers up front, to ensure that the PDC design will complement and support the overall intent of the product design specifications. And, on many occasions, Carling Technologies has helped its customers reduce the size of their existing equipment and load centers without adversely affecting performance. As a result of this partnership in design, Carling Technologies’ PDC business has flourished, Bhojwani notes.
Members of the Carling Technologies Development Team work closely with a customer’s engineering team to advance a project from initial product concepts to final design and manufacturing. In addition, customers receive the benefit of industry leading CAD/CAM software and state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment that includes the latest technology in molding, stamping, forming, welding, and testing equipment. The Carling Technologies Development Team can evaluate multiple design alternatives as well as develop products, tooling and manufacturing processes concurrently. The result is functionally superior, aesthetically pleasing products made faster and at a lower cost than competitors.
The Carling Technologies Development Team has a proven record of designing successful solutions for customers with custom circuit protection needs. For example, a major theater lighting customer requested that a Carling Technologies’ circuit breaker incorporate a neutral switch feature for the European market because Europe requires circuit breakers to break on both sides of the line. In response to this request, the development team developed a switch/sub base module that can be attached to the back of the breaker.
In another case, Carling Tech-nologies is supplying an assembly to a major telecommunications supplier that consists of a single pole circuit breaker with resistor and special terminals in a molded housing attached to the back of the breaker. As a cost-reduction initiative, the development team designed a common housing that captures the circuit breaker mechanism, resistor and terminals in one complete package, reducing the number of parts and assembly operations, as well as resulting in increased product reliability.
In yet another scenario, for an industry-leading manufacturer in the Class 7 heavy truck market, Carling Technologies developed a technologically industry-leading electronic switch using a Hall Effect sensor that offers one million plus cycles. The previous mechanical switch traditionally used only lasted 200,000 cycles. It is applications such as this that allow Carling to perform as a supplier of truly custom solutions.
What also sets Carling Technologies apart from its competitors is the ability to offer customers expertise in all three areas: engineering, tooling, and manufacturing. In addition, says Bhojwani, the company has earned a distinctive reputation for not only supplying highly valued technologies, but also following through on all aspects of design and development. Carling’s capabilities lie in its commitment to quality products and begins with its investment in research and development. In order to meet product design needs in a quick and efficient way, Carling maintains its own in-house tool design and tool-and-die making division, which also offers tools manufacturing to customers. While Carling produces more then half of its own materials that go into its products, the company does rely greatly on the growing partnerships with its suppliers to produce high quality products. Carling Technologies has the worldwide capacity to meet order and delivery requirements, while also minimizing the costs.
“We are a financially stable and profitable company,” he adds. “Here, integrity and teamwork are most important and we are always focused on satisfying our customers’ needs.”