Preparing for the Automation Boom!

Cascade Controls

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Cascade Controls Inc. (CCI) delivers value-added automation, manufacturing, and engineering services. “Our goal is to partner with equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who require the development, innovation, and the manufacturing of products/systems that deliver results,” summarizes Adam Keser, Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
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Cascade Controls Inc. (CCI), a service-oriented automation equipment and machinery manufacturer focusing on electromechanical solutions, offers comprehensive, turnkey assembly packages, so clients can focus on their core competencies. “We are able to step in, assist, and participate at any point in the product lifecycle. This includes initial design and conceptualization, through production to product sunset.”

This full-service solution has become increasingly important to clients. “Businesses have become increasingly cost focused and very lean [in their] approach to their business; further, many companies are simply not structured the way they were five to ten years ago,” Adam says. “So CCI provides the operational bandwidth that many companies today are looking for. This philosophy allows for complete operational flexibility and ultimately a better bottom line approach to business. While our systems and services are part of our deliverable to our clients, the real value of CCI is significant and includes enhanced collaboration efforts (all areas of the business relationship), quicker time to market, the leveraging of materials in the supply chain, improved cash flow, minimizing potential HR related issues, eliminating employee benefit issues, quickly being able to ramp and provide increased production capacity. We provide the complete solution. Our goal is to be an extension of our clients’ organizations.”

CCI’s complete solution begins with sales and project management. The team reviews the overview of the project and then develops scope and deliverables, and establishes a timeline with the client. After the product scope is defined, the project is released to engineering for development efforts. Once in the hands of CCI engineering, this is where products come to life. CCI engineering specializes in all of the major engineering disciplines. These include: electrical, mechanical and pneumatics. Further engineering competencies include: PLC and PAC programming, motion control, robotics, vfds, embedded control, networks, and skid system design. Lastly, an expertise in manufacturing engineering, specializing in design for manufacturability (DFM), quality and test engineers round out CCI’s engineering group. Once the initial designs are solidified, CCI’s material management steps in and works with the supply chain to establish forecasting, potential product improvements, and contract negotiations.

When it comes to the manufacturing process, Cascade Controls offers New Product Introduction (NPI)/Rapid Prototyping, Lean Line Assembly (for volume-based assembly) in a cell-based manufacturing environment. CCI also manufactures custom products assembly for its equipment manufacturer client base as well as scalable projects. These are high mix/low volume opportunities. These are applications where the client delivers a similar process with some degree of variability but does not allow for the product to be an entirely repetitive product. From a manufacturing certification standpoint, CCI carries UL, EtL, and CE certifications. Last, the organization carries an ISO9001:2008 certification with ISO9001:2015 pending.

CCI’s focus on business development and manufacturing is an exciting new incarnation for the business. However, the company is no stranger to the products that it uses on a daily basis, beginning as a technology distributor specializing in automation and controls. Known as Cascade Controls Northwest (CCNW), the distributor dealt primarily with PLCs, peripherals (HMIs and industrial monitors), variable frequency drives (VFDs), motion control, various sensing technologies, motor control, power distribution, and industrial enclosure housings.

This laser focus on automation and controls—rather than on full line distribution—made the company an industry pioneer. The concept was the brainchild of Lee Wayt, who founded CCNW in Portland, Oregon in 1989. “He wanted to bring that [concept] of being strictly automation-focused and controls-focused to the market because there was a growing need for automation and control products in the industry,” Adam says. The entrepreneur “came up the ranks” on merit and hard work. “Lee truly is that business success story.”

Lee had a “best in class mentality” that helped propel his startup to success. It wasn’t long before the company became a recognized name in the Pacific Northwest. “Lee had this vision of having multiple distribution sites up and down the I-5 corridor. And within 10 years he established six locations.”

In 2016, after years of successful growth, the team decided that it was time to seek a new direction. The company sold the distribution division and began focusing exclusively on OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) based manufacturing services and product development. The move came from clients “wanting more,” Adam says. “They didn’t want to just buy products; they wanted a complete solution. They wanted to be able to focus more on other corporate initiatives and core competencies. So that is why we started our venture into our manufacturing and partnering efforts,” he explains.

“Seismic shifts in market practices” motivated clients to seek that full service solution, Adam adds. “Market downturns such as the dotcom bust in 2001, the internet, and the housing and credit crisis of 2008, and the increases in minimum wage have significantly changed the way that business was conducted historically.” The financial pressure forced companies “to focus on the bottom line and stock price. Ultimately, companies do not [want to] carry the overhead that they once did.”

As market shifts created new opportunities in manufacturing arena, increased competition in the distribution arena also pushed the company in its new direction. “CCNW [was] unable to compete with large distribution box companies as standard technologies became more commoditized, more people carried the same products, and margins eroded. The [big box] competition will always have more trucks and more inventory locations. CCI became committed that its future growth will be in its valued-added engineering, and contract manufacturing services to the equipment manufacturers.”

After selling the distribution arm, the company began its rebranding initiative. The first change was changing the name from Cascade Controls Northwest to Cascade Controls Inc. to demonstrate its expanded capabilities and footprint. “[We wanted] to remove the feeling of being a territory-based company. CCI ships internationally today and has no territory restrictions. We currently have relationships both domestic and abroad.”

CCI’s new direction built upon a strong foundation, making it a logical next step in the company’s evolution. “CCNW had always provided a high degree of application experience,” Adam says. But, “clients no longer wanted these solutions delivered in a pallet to the back of the warehouse. Clients wanted assembled, programmed, tested, and validated products – ready to go electromechanical solutions.” The team has met that demand by creating “a new, significant path to market via engineered and contract manufacturing services.”

Even though Cascade Controls has undergone significant changes over the last year, it remains an organization with a family feel at its core. Many of Cascade’s employees have that have been with the organization for 15 to 20 years. In fact, there are several instances where CCI has had two and three generations employed by company. “That is something that the organization is very proud of,” Adam says. “Longevity and family feel are not very common today in business—this is a mindset that we share with our clients. A strong relationship is at the foundation of our business. We look for partnering agreements, not buyer versus seller relationships.” Having a partnership means that both parties benefit. “We look for opportunities that are two ways,” says Adam. “It has to be mutually beneficial for both organizations.

“We look to evaluate partnering traits early in the meeting process. When I meet a new client or a new prospect, we’re both interviewing one another,” Adam says. “We’re looking to see if we can build trust, and how can I assist them where the client ultimately wants to go. We always take the win-win partnering mentality. Our best relationships are where we have worked through a variety of issues. Additionally, our clients that we partner with have a high degree of intellectual property. Last it is not uncommon for our clients to want to keep a large brand name image but want to significantly leverage our operational services. In these instances we enter brand labeling agreements. Thus, trust in the business agreement is paramount.”

Of course, building relationships and caring about customers creates a positive work environment in addition to a successful business venture. “While bottom line is important, it’s not everything. Therefore client experience is a big focus. Of course the business relationship is that it has to pencil financially—that is first and foremost. But you should be able to have a little fun along the way and enjoy who you are working with.”

As CCI continues to rebrand its image, CCI is ready to help clients navigate a complicated future. “We are really preparing for the automation revolution,” Adam says. “The time is now as new technologies become available. New opportunities stem now due to technologies becoming easier to work with, technology is now more accessible, and with our ability to easily obtain big data, the globe continues to shrink due to technology. It is also creating more opportunities at an increasing rate as new markets become available. Additionally, factories want to get products to clients faster, and clients continually want new offerings. So CCI has invested significantly internally as we are poised for substantial growth to meet these requirements. We are looking for those companies, equipment manufacturers, entrepreneurs alike that want to take that next step.”

To do so, CCI continues full speed ahead with its rebranding initiatives. CCI is no longer a distribution operation, but a full service product developer and OEM manufacturer. “We are looking to be found,” Adam summarizes. “We are looking to rebrand the organization because people still know us as being that distribution entity. Within the CCI organization, we say that we are looking to provide ‘life enhancing automation.’ We have the team and capability that we believe we can help companies provide new and unique technologies. The automation boom is upon us and, for those businesses that are looking for help, we are here to help make their future goals a reality.”

October 20, 2017, 8:30 AM EDT

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