As the premier supplier of control panel solutions for OEMs since 1989, Design Ready Controls (DRC) is constantly growing and innovating. The company has grown more than 25 percent every year since 2003, when President Troy Schmidtke took over. Back then, the company was a small family run operation with just a few employees, according to Schmidtke. But once DRC won its first large OEM customer, it was able to develop and leverage its automation technology and grow the engineering capabilities.
“That was a springboard to where we are today,” Schmidtke says. “We focused diligently on automation, operational excellence and people – with the last being the most important. We’ve done a lot of recruiting, engineering and training and really see that as a key differentiator in the marketplace. We’ve found talent and leveraged it to its fullest to be successful.”
To stay in front of the ever-changing industry, DRC invested in a new headquarters in Brooklyn Park, Minn., that includes a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that will be critical for further growth and recruitment.
“We chose the site very carefully in terms of how it can help with demographics, bringing our group together and how we can use it as a stage for best practices,” Schmidtke explains. “Most of our growth has been organic, so we’ve been investing in sales diversification. Our traditional market strength has been in HVAC, but we’re expanding to other markets, like oil and gas. Control panels are ubiquitous and the HVAC market is huge, but we’re investing in diversification to get into those other industries as well.”
Bringing in a diverse group of millenials has proved successful for DRC. The company regularly visits universities to find the best and brightest potential engineers to help improve its technologies. DRC wants these recruited employees to build a career out of what they’re doing; therefore, it has programs in place to pay for employees’ tuition to enhance their skills further.
Vice President of Technology Mitch DeJong is especially passionate about this program. “We have a plan where recruits can get a master’s in manufacturing leadership or another field,” he says. “We want people to come to the company, be passionate about manufacturing and see really clearly that they have a career that can go on and on, hone the skills they have and be dedicated to that.”
DRC has found a way to blend the new technologies and ways of thinking of its younger-generation employees with more established generations that are used to doing things a certain way. “We’ve found a way to honor people with experience but also bring in new technologies and people that are beneficial and not threatening to either one of them,” DeJong adds.
Because DRC builds control panels for large companies that sell complex machines, its biggest investment is the development of the Automated Panel Expert (APE) system that automates the engineering-to-order (ETO) process. Every ETO process can be different because there are so many options for engineers, which results in weeks of stressful engineering and drafting time. But APE eliminates the length of time to process the order, along with the potential for human error.
APE produces a customer’s entire electrical submittal package, including schematics and drawings, within minutes. The system creates all the manufacturing reports DRC needs to build a client’s control panel and the report is instantly delivered to the factory floor to begin the manufacturing process. Additionally, DRC’s engineers can customize the system rules to fit any specific need, creating a much more seamless engineering process.
Valent Air Management was able to utilize the APE system in the creation of a control panel for its commercial HVAC units. APE accelerated the design for product specifications and order fulfillment by automating and verifying manufacturing reports, interactive schematics and other documents linked to Valent’s systems. APE expedited the process, which saved Valent valuable time and money.
“With APE, you have it configured and you just press a button and everything is done,” DeJong says. “Our system makes the whole process go away. We’re automating the engineering.”
“The APE software highlights the technological advantages we’re pushing,” Schmidtke explains. “We’ve dropped the best software into the manufacturing space. We’re able to design and mass-produce highly variable and customizable control panels that meet our customer’s needs. And this is revolutionary in how we do manufacturing in the future.”
Without the software, DRC wouldn’t be able to leverage the kind of automation and information technology it is utilizing on a daily basis. Every workstation has a computer terminal and all necessary information is at the staff’s fingertips. The DRC internal infrastructure creates a link from the craftsperson on the manufacturing floor to the engineer in the office, making all communication seamless and efficient.
“We’re taking some of those proven processes, like lean manufacturing and 5S, and we’re adding that new technology on top to give us an advantage,” Schmidtke says. “We’ve seen efficiencies and scalability skyrocket.”
DRC is proud of its automation processes, but Schmidtke says there’s no substitute for the strong culture and work ethic of the company’s people. “Just because we’re focused on automation doesn’t mean we’re looking past the basics,” he says. “We have great people and great culture for great manufacturing.”
Schmidtke and DeJong both believe that inviting in the next generation of engineers accounts for much of the company’s success. “We bring people in to be creative and provide the environment to do that,” DeJong says. “It gets more challenging as the company grows. We just have people looking for better ways to do their jobs and people who aren’t afraid to ask questions.”
“I would take that one step further because I think we’ve really learned how to blend the creative element with the pragmatic,” Schmidtke says. “But we stay rooted in making things because I’m very passionate about manufacturing. I’m most proud that we’ve built a company that’s competitive and will continue to be so far into the future.”