Volume 14 | Issue 2 | Year 2011

But the company can also hit for average, field its position and run the bases. Dan Harvey describes this hall-of fame organization.

In 1961, Tony Oliva was signed by the Minnesota Twins baseball team as an amateur free agent. A year later, he began his 15-year Major League career (spent entirely with the Twins). He became a superstar.

Also in 1961, Power/Mation was founded in St. Paul, Minn., as a distributor of power transmission products for the automation industry. The company, too, became a versatile superstar. Through the years, it evolved into a high-tech automation distributor. Components offered to customers now include sensors, motion control, robotics, linear actuators, AC and DC variable speed drives, and power transmission and torque devices.

The list of its offerings continue (and boggles the mind): programmable logic controllers, SCADA solutions, operator interface panels, safety products, network and communications solutions, wireless solutions, connectivity, tension control, temperature control, panel components, machine vision, energy saving devices, and value-add services.

Just as Oliva became a multifaceted player – equally adept at hitting, fielding and running – Power/Mation proved it could cover all bases in its industry. Now, Oliva’s and Power/Mation’s paths have intertwined. This year marks the company’s 50th anniversary, and Oliva is helping it celebrate.

To mark the milestone, Power/Mation held two customer appreciation events at Major League Baseball stadiums that reside in its coverage area. The first, June 16, was held at Miller Park in Wisconsin, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. The second, June 22, was held at Target Field in Minneapolis, home of the Twins.

“The first was for our Wisconsin and northern Illinois customers, while the second was for customers in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota,” says Jim Gottschalk, Power/Mation’s new president and chief executive officer, who just defined the company’s broad coverage area.

“This is a way to show appreciation for customer loyalty, which has helped us endure for a half century,” he adds. “Both events included seminars, vendor trade booths, and training sessions for our technical products.”

Also at the Target Field event, attendees met Oliva, as well as Jack Morris, a former Twins pitcher. At both events, attendees were taken on tours of these state-of-the-art stadiums. But tours weren’t just a means to show them the inside of a ballpark. Power/Mation wanted to provide a compelling demonstration of how its products come into play.

“A lot of automation is used inside modern sports stadiums, and that’s just one of the many ways our products are applied,” Gottschalk points out. “Some new stadiums – those in certain areas of the country – have retractable roofs, so that teams can play in any kind of weather. One of our Minneapolis customers builds retractable roofs and integrates Power/Mation products into their design.”

Further, Power/Mation products go into the technology that enables huge scoreboards to be raised and lowered from a stadium roof, he adds.

Gottschalk’s examples help clarify what Power/Mation is and what it does. It’s not the builder, it’s a supplier. “More specifically, we’re an automation distributor,” he describes.

And its products are industrial strength. “Competitors service clients that ran the gamut – from industrial to commercial and residential,” he describes. “Much of what they provide is commercial grade. We provide something that’s a notch above, as we’ve established ourselves as an exclusively industrial automation product distributor.”

But lest anyone get the impression that Power/Mation focuses only on sports venues, look at its client list. Customers include large end users located in its coverage region (which includes seven Midwestern states and office locations – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota). We’re talking about major corporations such as 3M, Kimberly-Clark, General Mills, Cargill, Georgia-Pacific, Kraft Foods and other of the world’s largest, multinational companies that have established locations in America’s Midwest. Further, Power/Mation does business with machine builders that supply equipment to those large end users.

Indeed, Power/Mation is the leading distributor of high-tech industrial automation solutions, helping businesses improve return on investment by providing the most advanced technologic solutions related to the most demanding industrial manufacturing applications. It has garnered its leadership position by establishing ongoing relationships with the most innovative vendors.

“For instance, during the period when we were growing tremendously as a sensor company, we established a relationship with the Minneapolis-based Banner,” says Gottschalk, indicating that his company has attached itself to one of North America’s top sensor manufacturing enterprises.

That’s not all: Power/Mation also works with other leading manufacturers such as ABB, Ametek, Baldor, Contrex, IDEC, and many others. By cultivating relationships with these innovators, Power/Mation pushed forward to the vanguard of automation technology.

The company founders were Jim and Don Craighead. “They focused on power transmission products – items such as motors, gears and drives – essentially anything that provided movement,” says Gottschalk. “The early customer base included clients that wrestled with machines and applications that required something that needed to be moved.”

The Craighead family, father and son, provided solutions that made their company become well known and highly respected.

But it didn’t stop there. A major milestone occurred in 1990, when the company was purchased by four of its sales representatives. Through the years, the new owners expanded the product line from basic transmission components to include photoelectric, proximity and “smart” sensors as well as advanced electronic controls, electronic variable speed drives, electronic counters and controls, programmer controllers (PLC and PC), stepmotor and servo systems, computer software for supervisory and data acquisition, network I/O, enclosures and motion control.

But throughout all of the changes, stability ruled. “Don Craighead served as president for about 30 years, and the next two presidents served about 10 years each,” reports Gottschalk. “I came on board in October 2010 and I am only the company’s fourth president. So that underscores Power/Mation’s solidness.”

Company constancy provides a perfect metaphor for the stability that Power/Mation provides customers. Take 3M, for instance. “The company boasts a tremendous variety of products, but they have material that requires a stable production process,” says Gottschalk. “It works with material, such as thin-grade paper, that’s fed through a machine. The feed needs to be controlled to keep it at a constant rate. You don’t want the material bunching up or pulling too quickly. Our Web tension componentry governs at both ends; the unrolling at one end complements the rolling up at the other end. Rate needs to be controlled so that the product goes through as it is supposed to. We make that possible for our clients with the products we distribute. In turn, our clients make it possible for their own clients.”

It’s the same thing with Kimberly-Clark, says Gottschalk, of another Major League client: “They need sensor and motion control technology that keeps production processes constant. As they make a lot of products that require process control, they purchase what we offer,” says Gottschalk.

But while Power/Mation provides stasis in companies’ production processes, it is by no means a static organization. It’s dynamic, always looking for new opportunities. “For instance, we’re establishing a growing presence in the water and waste water industry,” reveals Gottschalk. “It’s a relatively new area for us, and we perceive a great deal of opportunity. Already, we deal with many end-user municipalities. We also deal with customers that complete projects for municipalities, so we sell equipment to customers that provide the integration necessary for municipalities.”

The water aspect applies to the aforementioned stadium construction. “But water in stadiums is more than just about drinking fountains. True, that’s one aspect, but the more important portion involves wastewater, and the kind of equipment required to manage the overall water system considerations,” says Gottschalk.

This involves pumps and diverters and other elements that go into the kind of complex systems required for large, public facilities. “And it’s not just for places like Target Field and Miller Park, but for facilities located anywhere in the world.”

All the while, Power/Mation provides enhanced productivity, quality and safety – all of the attributes that a client could ask for.

“Safety remains a big issue, and our full range of products are designed to address their specific concerns,” says Gottschalk. “But we also boast the capability of helping customers properly safeguard their equipment.”

But the company’s value extends beyond that issue. “A safe product is one thing, but customers need to know how to successfully deploy the product. As such, as a value-add service, we can look at customers’ applications – and not only make a safety assessment but make recommendations about what products they need and how to best apply them,” says Gottschalk.

All things considered, don’t dare underestimate this company. It’s like a versatile centerfielder: one with the shoulders, biceps and batting power of a Mickey Mantle, the thoroughbred legs and glove prowess of a Willie Mays, the insight and intelligence of a Richie Ashburn, and the sweet batting stroke of a Kirby Puckett.

This company deserves its own baseball card.

And by the way, Tony Oliva should be enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame – just in case anyone wanted to know.

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