In 1920, Charlie Ross developed what many consider to be the first pneumatic control valve. Built in response to the needs of a steel tube fabricator where he worked, the valve became sought after by other companies – and ROSS Controls® was founded.
With plants located in the United States (Michigan and Georgia), Germany and Japan — and facilities in Brazil, India and the United Kingdom — ROSS Controls® is now a $50 million company that provides not only components but total solutions to the fluid power industry.
Customers have regarded this company as a leader in the development of pneumatic systems since its founding in 1921. At that time, Ross was working for Detroit Seamless Steel Tube Company, but a fire destroyed its building. Needing to get the business back on its feet and products developed, Ross made valves from tappets, springs and retainers taken from 1919 Chevy engines.
“But we’re more than valves now,” says Steve Phillips, distributor relations manager. “What we develop are custom pneumatic systems, where most of our competitors are just selling the valves and components. We sell total, custom-made solutions.” ROSS Controls® has maintained its independent position by seeking out its niche. The “big guys,” says Phillips, “are into mass production. What we do is tackle small and specific markets.” ROSS Controls® also has incorporated sensors into pneumatic systems, adds Phillips, “to make them smarter and more energy-efficient.” Industries served by the company now include forest products, glass, beverage processing, rubber, steel and metal stamping.
To keep ahead of the game, ROSS Controls® has incorporated lean manufacturing techniques to streamline production. Another of its initiatives is Activity-Based Costing (ABC) — a program in which the company analyzes how much time it takes to do the service and make the product for a true cost vs. the old way of taking the percentage of the floor space and machine time. “This gives us a more accurate picture of how much the activity is costing us. We can also apply it to managing people,” Phillips says.
The company’s overall philosophy has involved following customers as they have taken their manufacturing operations into other countries, developing unique solutions that solve tough applications in those industries. “By doing that, we then earn the right to take a look at more standard commodity-type components,” Phillips says, “which is different from the competition, which goes in quoting price. “My challenge,’’ he adds, “is to teach our distributors not to go after the commodity business based on price, but to truly understand the application and the process.”
“ROSS,” says Phillips, is “very good at making large valves and very adept at understanding pneumatic safety circuits.” Featuring highly dirt-tolerant poppets, ROSS Controls® has created the most durable line-mounted valves available. Building L-O-X valves and double valves before they were required by OSHA, the company has established a history of anticipating the future in safety-related products. Using state-of-the-art engineering technology, Ross/Flex® service provides customers with customized pneumatic solutions. The enterprise has even crossed the threshold into the development of electropneumatic systems such as industrial control networks.
The company’s products include line-mounted valves that can be placed close to the action. Their rugged construction allows these valves to be effective in harsh environments — which is good for industries that tend to be hot, heavy or dirty, because the valves are very durable. Its base-mounted valves, meanwhile, are ideal for highly automated processes and can be replaced quickly without losing significant manufacturing time. When a repair is necessary, the valve can be removed from the base without disassembling the piping.
L-O-X valves, which ROSS Controls® has manufactured for more than 30 years, are the most specified valve of their kind throughout the world. These valves provide the immediate shutoff of system air supply, an ability that is in line with OSHA regulations regarding the control of energy sources in manufacturing.
ROSS Controls® is most widely know for its double-valve product lines. Double valves are redundant, self-checking control valves. Phillips explains, “Our customers apply ROSS double valves with confidence in critical applications where expensive tooling could be damaged or serious injury could result if a conventional valve were used.” ROSS double valves are designed to fail to a known safe mode, and will stop additional machine operations whenever a fault is detected.
ROSS considers it essential to continue to providing its OEMs and end users with competent engineering solutions. “We want to understand and provide solutions for our customers, and we need to understand the problems they face,” says Phillips. “Our customers have become more lean, with fewer engineers, and they are relying on a few suppliers like ROSS Controls® to be their experts.”
ROSS Controls® knows that not every problem in industry has a simple answer. For that reason, the company studies the pneumatic needs of all industries closely and individually.
“The fluid power industry has been more hit by a recession across the board than any other, which has challenged us to find new ways to create business,” says Phillips. “We think we have the right formula to grow out of this recession, and we’re optimistic about our future.”