By Eric Peterson | Jul 12, 2020
Motor testers and winding analyzers
Electrom Instruments founder Russ Bergstrom saw an opening for innovation soon after launching the company. "Nothing was digital yet," says Beck. "This type of instrument had been on the market for a few years."
As the transition from analog to digital testers took hold in motor testing, Electrom was a first mover in the early 1990s and initially made testers that connected to the suitcase-sized laptops of the time.
By the time Beck joined the company in 2007, he found it in need of another innovation push. "The company had fallen behind the competition," he says.
To catch up, Electrom developed the iTIG tester and released it in 2008. The second iteration, the "very successful" iTIG II, hit the market in 2012, and the iTIG III was released in early 2020.
The iTIG III automates more than 10 different high- and low-voltage motor and winding tests, measuring surge, leakage, and electrical current, with "improved performance" over its predecessor and more resistance to drops and bumps, says Beck. It's also a more manufacturable product for Electrom to manufacture. "The internal construction of the instrument is easier to build, with higher quality and more robustness," says Beck. "We drop test them from three feet and on vibration tables. That's important for people in the industrial sector."
Beck says the iTIG series' key selling point is "ease of use," noting, "Customers tell us it is head and shoulders above our competitors" in that regard.
Electrom focuses on three key industries: industrial users of motors and generators; motor repair shops; and manufacturers of motors and other components with wound wire. "They need to test the machine as it's being built," says Beck.
Industrial users include companies in food and beverage, mining, and oil and gas as well as utilities; they use it for preventive maintenance and diagnostics. "These days, it's all about reliability programs," says Beck. In the event of equipment failure, "It's nice to be able to find out whether it's the motor or not. That, you can find out with this instrument."
Based in a 10,000-square-foot Longmont facility, Electrom sources circuit boards, metal parts, and other components from suppliers and handles final product assembly, including several proprietary processes, and QA and calibration in-house. "We buy quite a bit from American suppliers that actually make the stuff in the U.S.," says Beck, "but we also get stuff from China and other countries because they are the only ones making the electronic stuff."
The employee head count has roughly doubled since Beck bought Bergstrom out in 2011. Revenue grew by 50 percent in 2018 and continued to increase in 2019. "Then things started slowing down in the fall," says Beck. "We sell capital equipment, and the capital equipment spigot was tightened down a bit."
The tightening continued in 2020 with a "quite significant slowdown" coming with the pandemic. But the tide turned as the stay-at-home order came to a close. "May came back, June is screaming," says Beck. "We're having an exceptionally good June. It looks like July is going to be exceptionally good as well. I think there's some pent-up demand."
Industrial end users "don't stop," he adds. "They can slow down spending for a while, and they will. There's a limit to how long they can do that before they have to do some serious maintenance."
Challenges: The uncertainty caused by COVID-19 is at the top of the list. If capital spending dips, Electrom's sales will follow suit. "Planning becomes very difficult, forecasting becomes very difficult," says Beck. "Anybody's guess is as good as another."
An increased emphasis on digital marketing "is a challenge, but it's doable," he adds.
Opportunities: Beck says the iTIG III has been "a shot in the arm" for Electrom since its release in February 2020. "We have taken some market share and we continue to take market share," he adds. "We have seen growth in all three of our markets."
Exports typically represent nearly half of sales, and Beck says he sees potential to grow internationally as well as in the U.S.
Above all, innovation creates opportunities for Electrom. "Keep fighting and keep developing," he says.
Needs: "The main thing we will need will be people," says Beck, forecasting several new hires in 2020 and 2021. "Finding the right people to help us grow quickly is a challenge, obviously, and our number-one need.