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As the state that holds the first primary, New Hampshire is famous as a proving ground for prospective presidential candidates. Dover-headquartered ElectroCraft is famous for proving how its motorized and electronically-controlled motion devices effectively power the applications that underpin modern life—from military vehicles to airplanes, medical and lab equipment to factory and industrial automation, electronics and semiconductor technologies to agricultural and lawn equipment. ElectroCraft makes the motion that make business work.
These application-engineered, precision motor and motion encompass a range of capabilities. These include servo and stepping motors, AC and DC motors, servo drives, stepping drives, as well as completely integrated motor-drive-control systems.
“More than 90 percent of our products are the result of working with a customer to solve a specific problem or address a unique issue,” explains Tom Ouellette, Vice President of sales. “If it’s not completely a custom-build, it’s a custom configuration of components. It’s the exception more than the rule that a customer would call and simply order something off-the-shelf.”
He adds, “Our philosophy is to develop partnerships with customers to work together to design and develop the technologies that best fit their needs, as opposed to imposing technologies on them that they have to force fit to work for them.” As a private company, ElectroCraft also has the advantage of greater flexibility to assess and respond to market needs with less pressure to achieve immediate results. As Ouellette points out, “We don’t have to answer to Wall Street, which sometimes tends to focus on short-term profitability at the expense of long-term customer relationships.”
One example of Electro-Craft’s customer-centric approach is the appointment last June of Mike Karsonovich as President and CEO. A graduate of West Point with a background in the sales and marketing functions of various medical and scientific instrument companies, “Mike understands how our products need to work from the customer’s perspective,” Ouellette notes. “It’s that attitude that distinguishes us from a mere parts manufacturer.”
ElectroCraft has over 400 employees worldwide, with facilities in Ohio, Michigan and Arkansas, as well as operations in the United Kingdom, Germany, Hong Kong and Mainland China, totaling about half a million square feet of production capability. The company relies on a mix of direct sales and manufacturing representatives domestically, and distributors internationally, to market its services. “Our sales force is highly technical, with a focus on creating value with custom applications that help our customers improve their designs, lowering their costs and increasing their revenue. Hands-on, responsive service is what drives each and every customer interaction,” Ouellette emphasizes.
“About 70 percent of our sales are to North American-based OEMs,” Oullette says. “These days even companies based in North America participate in the global marketplace, and ElectroCraft is no different. In particular, we see a lot of opportunity particularly in Asia, which has seen rapid growth in manufacturing and other high technology industrial businesses where our competencies play a vital role.”
Doing More with Less
Ouelette describes ElectroCraft’s manufacturing as primarily, “high mix for low-medium volumes. While we have highly automated processes to machine and test components, because everything we do is built around the customer and is highly customized we depend on skilled associates for precision assembly. While this requires an investment in skilled labor, it is also highly suitable to lean manufacturing practices. We’ve found that rigorous application of lean processes globally allows us to expand our business without increasing overhead. So, we’ve been able to do more for our customers without having to endure the costs and challenges typically associated with expansion. We’ve learned how to free up floor space and achieve higher levels of productivity per employee to support growth.”
As you might expect from any technology company, ElectroCraft values research and development, albeit from a slightly different viewpoint. “Our laboratory is the customer’s workbench. We’re not developing things in a vacuum simply because our engineers think of something. Our engineers look to develop what solves customer problems,” Ouellette says.
He also notes that Dover is about an hour north of Boston, home of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and top intellectual capital. “We’re fortunate to draw upon a nearby pool of world-class technical talent eager to use their problem-solving skills to deliver the high quality systems customers require.”
Ouellette points to a number of emerging trends in the design and use of motion control systems. The first is the increasing proportion of electronic versus mechanical parts that comprise a system. “You are always going to need a motor of some kind to make something work, but what OEMs are really looking for are integrated electronic controls that make the motors more intelligent and to become integral an part of these complex machines.”
Motors that Work Better
Take something as simple as a fan. “When electricity was cheap and there weren’t any other options, the fan could run all day. Obviously not energy-efficient, not to mention undue wear and tear on the motor, thereby reducing its life expectancy. Today, we have control systems that regulate operation in sophisticated ways beyond cycling on and off at certain times. Sensors, for example, detect exactly when a fan needs to run and when it doesn’t. That’s a very basic situation. In more complex applications, it requires very sophisticated engineering to ensure everything runs when it’s supposed to, only when it’s supposed to, and at optimum efficiency. As important as the basic motor is, the emphasis is on the electronic controls that make the motor work at optimum levels.”
Related to that is increased emphasis on distributed control using a single computer control multiple motion controllers, without the need to add infra- structure. This not only lowers operational cost and raises productivity, but enables various otherwise disparate systems to “talk to one another” and better coordinate operations. As computer processing power improves in speed in ever-smaller packages, the benefits are a combination of improved precision and faster execution while greatly simplifying the physical component chain. Oullette explains, “The whole literally is greater than the sum of its parts. You have the ability to implement more complex motion control without the cost of added hardware.”
The manufacturing industry as a whole has been hard hit by worldwide economic downturns, but Ouellette believes the worst is behind. “North America more or less came out of the recession last year. For 2014, we anticipate a lot of growth for our customers and, consequently, for us. We think Asia in particular is going to be a hotbed of continued growth in the manufacturing sector. By working closely with our customers to understand their needs and prepare for their future, ElectroCraft is well-positioned to help achieve greater profitability in the global marketplace.
He adds, “We tell our customers that they are the inventors. When they get inspired to create something, we’re there to partner with them on a motion solution that helps make their invention work.”