A Kansas Electronic Components Firm with a Global Footprint
ECS, Inc. International
ECS, Inc. International is headquartered in Lenexa, Kansas with manufacturing operations in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea and China along with a global distribution network to market its products. ECS produces frequency management products including quartz crystals, quartz filters, precision crystal clock oscillators, ceramic filters-resonators, metal power inductors and multiple other circuit board level components that will be introduced near term.
The company’s commitment to research and development has kept ECS on the leading edge of crystal, oscillator and metal power inductor technologies.
Recent escalation in the company’s growth is driven by its reputation and brand for highly reliable products, proactive promotion, and an ability to stay on top of industry needs and trends. ECS is committed to pursuing quality and a proven strategy for innovation and research.
When it comes to electronic components, small is ‘big’ right now in some of the sectors ECS Inc. serves, particularly the medical field. “Miniaturization in our industry has been astronomical. We’re producing products that are barely a millimeter in diameter. It’s only natural that these types of products will be used in embedded medical devices or anywhere miniaturization is key, or board space is critical,” says Chief Executive Officer and President Brad Slatten.
Slatten describes the company as “a solutions provider, specifically for frequency control, magnetics, and soon, some very unique antenna solutions.” Its components have gone into tiny pill-sized cameras that patients ingest so that their doctors may observe the internal abdomen without invasive surgeries that may end up being problematic. ECS has also introduced crystals, oscillators and inductors for multiple other medical applications such as the modern blood glucose metering devices using the Blue Tooth Low Energy wireless standard.
In addition to the medical sector, ECS products are also used in “automotive, automotive aftermarket, telecommunications, Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable [markets],” he says. “We work closely with IC [integrated circuit] manufacturers, providing their design engineers samples when they’re developing new products so that they recommend our devices ahead of the competition.”
ECS Inc. was incorporated in 1980, and used to focus almost exclusively on frequency control devices. Slatten previously sold quartz-material for electronic products on behalf of a Japanese firm, and ECS happened to be one of his customers. In 1994, he acquired ECS and became its owner. At the time of the purchase, ECS was relatively small, with perhaps $1.5 million in annual revenue, he recalls.
Over the decades, the company grew and developed new product lines. “We’ve evolved into the magnetic side of things, specifically power inductors, and we’re getting into some other products moving forward.”
There have been other big changes along the way. For one thing, ECS used to manufacture its products in the United States. This became too costly, so two decades ago, the company moved its manufacturing operations off-shore and currently works with fabrication partners located throughout the Pacific Rim countries to produce its products.
While manufacturing is done in Asia, the firm does select programming of some of its clock oscillators at its headquarters in Lenexa. We’re working on extending our footprint to the European marketplace,” states Slatten. “Outside of our Pacific Rim footprint our domestic presence resides in Florida, Maine, California, and Minnesota.”
As it relates to increased revenue, the business has joined forces with half a dozen component distributors. “We’ve made a concerted effort over the last three to five years to enhance and increase our global distribution network. Keep in mind, we’re just a commodity and not an integrated circuit manufacturer. We sell what is referred to as a passive component,” he says.
Slatten says that roughly three years ago, the company began to get requests for reliable, high-performance components from the engineering community. “We made a concerted decision to provide what the customer was requesting. We began to design and follow the format called AEC-Q200, which is an automotive designation for robust, high-reliable-type components. We saw where the engineering community was going, and we were willing to support them with a solution they needed. It’s been very successful.”
The AEC-Q200 standard set by the Automotive Electronics Council (AEC) was developed for passive electronic components. ECS’s factories are also “ISO/TS certified and these certifications must be in order for us to go to market with our products,” he adds.
ECS will continue to offer newer RF products for the WiFi, Bluetooth, and LTE markets. ECS currently has a variety of products available for clients to meet their communication needs. With the increasing number of connected devices in the office, home, autonomous vehicles and industrial robotics sectors, Bluetooth, ZigBee, WiFi and other wireless standards have become prevalent. ECS Inc. will continue to introduce crystals, oscillators, and inductors to meet the requirements its customers demand for these technologies.
ECS Inc. prides itself on its design and development capabilities. “We are not marketing anyone else’s products. We have fabricators produce our components to our specifications. We have engineers on site to make sure the processing doesn’t change and that they’re building to our needs and requirements,” he says.
One of the company’s flagship lines, the ECSpressCON – pronounced ‘express con’ – oscillators, with frequencies up to 1.5 GHz, “was developed about four years ago,” says Slatten. Popular original products such as the ECSpressCON series have enormously boosted the firm’s bottom line due to its “quick turn” capabilities.
ECS Inc. grew by roughly twenty-four percent in 2017 over the previous year then grew again by fourteen percent in 2018. Slatten anticipates continued growth this year, perhaps around the fourteen percent mark as well. ECS’s rapid expansion can also be attributed to a few other factors as well, including a culture of innovation and quality, excellent customer service, and a change in its promotional strategy.
The new strategy came about after ECS examined the way it marketed its devices. “I used to think if we came out with a new widget, a new frequency control device, a new power inductor, all we had to do was broadcast it to the engineering community, and they would buy it from us. I was wrong about that,” explains Slatten. “I thought of us as a high-tech company. We had to become a marketing company if we were to grow. We hired a multimedia person who came on board, and our social media and exposure has grown dramatically.”
This pre-emptive approach also meant taking a look at what worked and what did not in terms of marketing. “We improve and enhance our website on an annual basis and monitor its effectiveness through analytics. We continue to market and make a big deal about everything we do through social media, trade publications, and other marketing outlets,” he says.
The company has also benefitted from having an excellent reputation for customer service. “We receive accolades from the engineering community about our service and support. [We want to know] how we can best support our customers. Too often our competition goes to market with, ‘We have this new widget and you should buy it from us,’ but they’re not solving customer needs with this approach,” notes Slatten. ECS dedicates its resources to assist the customer base and the design engineering community with their new design needs.
ECS Inc.’s customers appreciate “the team that we’ve put together over the last five to ten years and in particular, these past three to five years. We all have varying degrees of experience in this industry, whether it’s distribution, manufacturing, design, or engineering. That’s what really sets us apart.”
The recent growth has allowed the company to increase its workforce. At present, it has twenty-three employees, up from seventeen. “We’re looking for talented people who will become team players because that’s our culture here. We are a team [focused] organization,” he says.
Innovation infuses everything ECS Inc. does, so it is not a surprise that the firm has several new products scheduled for release over the next few years. “We are planning on introducing a network of chip antennas and variations thereof. We see with 5G coming on board, not only will frequency control devices be in huge demand, we also see the sensing and the antenna world growing dramatically. We’re working with a couple of manufacturers overseas to manufacture our products to our needs and our specifications. I suspect in the next six months, we’ll be introducing those. We’re going to expand on our magnetics as well. We will be focusing on further miniaturization of these products,” he states.
“I see us continuing to expand our product offerings,” he says, noting that this will happen over the next few years, “through continued miniaturization and AEC-Q200 format solutions.”
As long as growth continues, Slatten anticipates a bright future. “We have a detailed business plan to become a $50-million plus company within the next thirty-six to forty-eight months. We plan to be at least a $60-million plus company at the five-year mark. It will require a lot of work, but we feel we can get there,” he states.
Another market segment which is of high interest for ECS is the smart grid and utility metering industry. The company has a wide range of products commonly used in such applications: tuning fork crystals, microprocessor crystals, filters and VCO’s for the residential and industrial meters and TCXO’s, OCXO’s and VCTCXO’s for the platform infrastructure.
ECS will provide components to support the heavy traffic and high speed of video and data transmission that are an essential requirement in today’s telecom market. As network speeds and transmission frequencies increase, the requirement to maintain low transmission noise remains key. ECS Inc. offers several time and frequency components that support modern network requirements. These products include High-Frequency Low Jitter Clocks and VCXO’s as well as timing and synchronization modules for wireless and wireline applications.
“From a statistical perspective, since our inception, we’ve shipped in excess of four billion components. We have customers who are located in over 125 countries. We’re continually addressing the market needs. Being that solutions provider is extremely important,” adds Slatten.