Design World’s editorial staff is pleased to debut our newest podcast series, Executive Edition. In this series, our editors will be talking trends in engineering with top manufacturing and OEM leaders—across multiple disciplines, including motion control, fluid power, 3D printing, bearings, connectors, mechanical power transmission, and more.
Our inaugural episode, featuring Ryan Schroeder, President of the Americas for IMI Precision Engineering, is very timely, as his company recently announced a blockbuster acquisition of Bimba Manufacturing–something sure to shake up the pneumatics segment of the market.
You can listen to the entire podcast below for free or find the series (along with a lot more!) on the Design World page on Soundcloud.
[A lightly edited transcript follows …]
Hello—and welcome to Design World’s Executive Edition, where we talk trends in engineering with top manufacturing and OEM leaders. I’m Paul Heney, Editorial Director for Design World.
Today, I’m glad to welcome Ryan Schroeder, President of the Americas, for IMI Precision Engineering to the podcast. Now many of you in the fluid power space will recognize IMI as the parent company of pneumatics leader Norgren. Ryan has vast experience in the motion and fluid control technologies industry; he holds an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota and a BA in Supply Chain Management from Michigan State.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Ryan!
RS: Hi, Paul. Thank you for having me.
DW: Well, let’s jump right into it … Ryan, can you tell us what big trends are you seeing in automation in general, and pneumatics specifically? And how is IMI Norgren responding to those trends?
RS: That’s a great question. I think from an automation perspective, the trend in the marketplace for sure is interconnectivity. Our customers tend to care less about whether pneumatic, hydraulic or electromechanical; they care so much more about ease of connecting the system together, ability to get the products quickly and flexibility. It’s clearly going to the direction of connectivity. Then last but not least—certainly not least—is ability to pull data out of the system and help make their systems run more efficiently.
DW: Okay that makes sense. Ryan your company announced just last month that you’re acquiring Bimba Manufacturing, which is a pretty big shake up in the pneumatics world I have to say. Could you talk a little bit about where your product lines mesh well, were there some overlap and how you see that fitting together?
RS: Yes, we are so excited to welcome the Bimba team into the IMI family. It is nearly a perfect fit from our perspective. It is the very top if our acquisition list. We’re so happy to get this across the line. Where it fits really if you think of Norgren, we’ve always been the strongest from an air prep and FRL side of the product line. We do decent on the valve side of the business and have a pretty broad product offering including cylinders. When you look at Bimba, they really are the dominant cylinder player, particularly from pneumatic roundline cylinders in the marketplace particularly in North America. It fits perfectly with us.
Furthermore, when you look at their footprint and you look at their cap to market, they really, genuinely welcome their distributors as a core part of their business. We felt that’s a great fit with Norgren, having a very distributor centric model as well. At the core of it, the cylinder business was what we were after. We’re so happy to see what else comes along with the ride. Vaccon—we today do very little at Norgren on the vacuum side of the business. Their relatively recent acquisition of Vaccon fits perfectly with us.
It’ll help us continue to enter that part of the automation marketplace with the Vaccon brand and the products that come along with it. You go to the other side of the country and you look at their Acro acquisition—Acro mostly makes pinch valves and mostly into the life science sector. Often when you think of IMI Precision Engineering, you think of automation or at least we think of automation. A big chunk of our business isn’t life science, with our clone business as well as our KIP and FAS businesses in Farmington and Switzerland respectively. Bringing Acro into that life science play is really an important element for us.
Furthermore, they’ve made an acquisition with INTEC, an electromechanical actuation, higher-end force type of applications and that is something we do very little with today at IMI. It’s something we’ve been really looking at a lot here recently. You look at it all together, the core business fits perfectly with us. Some of their subsidiaries are really going to help us with future growth and future acquisitions in the coming time.
DW: Sure, that makes sense. Ryan, what about a timeline for the acquisition? Can you tell us what will be happening behind the scenes during 2018 both from the marketing side and from the engineering side?
RS: Sure. Obviously, it’s not closed yet. We’re looking to close it hopefully in late January or early February. We’re trying to close very soon, but it’s not closed yet. I have to point out that, until that happens, it’s not official. Once when it becomes official, we will look to on early days essentially to have Bimba operate as they do today. Pat, the president of Bimba will report to me and things will proceed as they do today. Obviously, we will look to grow the business. Our synergies are not to cut cost more so to grow, that will be our focus.
Taking advantage of what Acro does as an example and using our life science sales team to continue to push their products in the marketplace and looking to see from a distributor perspective how we can offer more to our distributors and their distributors than what they get today. That’s going to be in the early days of what we’re looking to do. The other things will come in due time. That’ll be the initial push. Furthermore, operationally, we certainly are going to look to improve both of our business. We think we can learn from them and they can learn from us. We’ll definitely do a good deal of work to improve operationally.
DW: Besides the acquisition, what is IMI’s corporate outlook—over the next 12 to 18 months?
RS: Yes, so from IMI’s perspective, we are really encouraged at what the outlook is for 2018. Going into 2019, we’ll have to really see what comes. Going into 2018, looking at industrial automation, we obviously are a part of NFPA. We take their economic forecast very seriously. We expect we will meet or exceed their economic forecast.
We’re thinking we will be able to take market share in the year. We would expect to meet or exceed that economic forecast that’s on the automation side. Life science same thing, life science’s forecast has increased four percent from a market perspective. We are expecting to increase a bit more than that. With clean energy, continued to bounce back nicely, which is great. Our automotive and plant business out of Detroit, we expect to have a slight growth there. All in all, all of our verticals are expecting growth in 2018. I think this could be the first time we’ve ever seen that.
DW: Let’s switch gears a little bit Ryan. Can we talk a little bit about the IoT? In your mind, is that something that’s overblown? Is that something that’s underestimated? What are IMI’s goals with IOT? Are you creating IOT compatible components or systems? What’s your stance on it?
RS: Yes, it comes back to the first question. I think IoT, is it overblown? No, I don’t think it’s overblown. I think it’s something that five, six, seven years from now won’t be thought of the same way as it is today—not because it’s overblown but because it will be a part of everything we do.
Interconnectivity and data collection will be a part of everything we do. It is undoubtedly the direction the industry is going. We have to be ready for it and indeed, we are getting ready for it pretty well. Every single product that we launch in the marketplace has interconnectivity built into it. We’re not launching products that aren’t IoT-ready. We know that’s an important piece of it. Not unlike some of our competitors, some other players in the marketplace, we’re not necessarily today planning to make a move to gather the data and do anything with the data today. That is something we may like to do in the future. Instead, we see our important role in the marketplace is to provide the data and have products that are able to provide that data.
DW: All right, one last question, Ryan. Let’s talk a little bit about green engineering. How important is green to IMI Norgren? Are there any initiatives that you’re working on, whether that be on a product level or on a manufacturing level?
RS: Well, from a manufacturing level, it is an objective of every single one of our factories to consume less energy and be more efficient year after year after year. It is part of our initiatives for every factory. We take it seriously—everything from air loss on pneumatic systems to energy consumption to infrared heat analysis to make sure we do not have any hotspots in our electrical systems in our factories. We take that very seriously.
We operate in a way where we have as little of a footprint on our communities we operate in as possible, things like right lighting, and when we’re replacing our roofs, we’re making sure we’re using reflective roofing and the proper level of insulation and so forth. We take that very seriously and we have for some time.
For parts of our products, it is definitely important and some products more than others. On the mobile side of the business, weight and efficiency have … efficiency from an air perspective but also from an electrical consumption perspective tends to be very important. We put a lot of emphasis on that. Some of our products in our commercial vehicles marketplace as an example, the energy to actuate a valve puts the total system right to the edge of ability to have to go to the next fuse level.
For that reason, we work very hard with our valve technology and solenoid technology such as latching solenoids in the legs to consume as little energy as we possibly can. On the pneumatic side, many of our new products, we’re coming out with the Excelon Plus (FRLs, at right) line that goes a great length to make sure that we are minimizing the air loss from cycles in the legs. We do take it very seriously. It’s something that it’s certainly more important in certain marketplaces than others. We operate so broadly on the marketplace, we have to be there or we’re going to miss opportunities and we recognize that—not to mention it’s the right thing to do for the industry and for the world.