Most of you already know Ed McLaughlin, who has had a long and storied career starting at 3M and moving to Canon, then Ricoh before leading Sharp. Ed is currently overseeing the power protection solutions company Innovolt, which was acquired by East West Manufacturing in 2017.
Ed also happens to be a friend, mentor and guru to me personally, and I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with him recently and get a status report on the state of power protection in the channel.
Can you explain to us what Innovolt does, and how its products and purpose have evolved?
Innovolt was formed based on R&D that validated that there were interferences and electrical overstresses in the power grid that were affecting more sophisticated technology. It was an area that had not been addressed previously in the area of power protection.
In areas where there is no power disturbance it is not an issue, but if there is a power disturbance, being protected against the right things can substantially improve the performance and the longevity of the equipment. The problem is, it’s not something that is seen immediately. People put a power protection product at the end of their devices, but they don’t know whether it works or not. It’s sort of like a phantom reward — maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.
Humans tend to do things out of habit — because we always did them a certain way. That is becoming a very serious issue for the office equipment industry, where things have changed, and they’ve changed a lot. It used to be that power protection products were made for devices that only plugged into the wall. The very notion of printing from a computer was an outside-the-box thought process at the time most of the power protection solutions were developed. Now things have changed so much we very rarely use the copier as a copier; we use it as a printer because the sophistication and the intelligence built into these devices are remarkably different than they were yesterday.
Talk to us a little about, data and advanced technologies, and the role they play in Innovolt’s post-acquisition path forward.
Our solution is more of an account management tool than it is just surge protection. Surge protection is basic and Innovolt is about far more than that. We’re about power protection — current inrush and the overvoltages that come as a result of other devices. There is a lot of equipment that is now being put on the same grid — you’ll invariably encounter machines showing up all over the place that weren’t there before. The expansion of different power sources, different generation methodologies that change what the grid is producing — all these things change the results. The power grid that is clean as a whistle today may be plagued with problems tomorrow. And when they are, it’s difficult to identify where the problems are coming from.
That’s where data comes into play, and one of the reasons that we’re as invested in the data as we are, and continue to invest in it. We want to make it more accessible for technicians, so that the minute they walk into an office, they can take their phone out and detect what sort of problems are going on with any device that’s hooked up through Bluetooth. They can read it and understand it and send it up to the cloud, download a report if necessary and conduct a voltage meter reading on an outlet of a given device to make sure that it’s getting the right kind of voltage. With our technology, they can read high voltages remotely without ever removing the machine — or even touching the machine, for that matter, or unplugging it or getting near the plug.
Data is critical in helping the service technicians communicate more effectively with the client about the kind of problems they may be experiencing. Not just with the printers, but with other devices that might be on a network as well. The knowledge is really what’s going to be the value that we bring to support our customers.
I would like to see continual development of the data and the knowledge aspect and integrate that to make it easier for technicians to be more productive. One of the things that I’m focusing on right now is converting the entire product line over to a Bluetooth-enabled product to make the technician’s job easier. This allows for more tools and more knowledge the minute they walk into the room. With East West’s commitment to Innovolt, they’ll be some new technologies hitting the market very soon.
How do you want to be looked at and utilized in the channel?
As a better partner, someone that can work with dealers to develop a superior product and to provide them with more answers for how they can manage their accounts.
In terms of solving the problem of power protection, we have to keep abreast of developments going on in the grid, try to determine what sort of problems exist and what they affect. The knowledge that we help develop can continue to enhance the whole concept of predictive maintenance, which is really where the industry must head, and we’re not there yet. There are a couple of instances here and there of companies that have pieces of predictive maintenance or say they have predictive maintenance, but I’d like to be able to predict not only how things are going to go wrong or when, but how I can improve the product and extend the lifespan and ensure more reliable products are built. If I’m a service provider, I want to know when something is going to break before it’s breaking. If I’m a manufacturer, I want to know how I can change that product based upon the environment in which it lives.
I want to be able to analyze and understand the electrical environment that we’re in, and whether or not there are things that can be done to improve that entire electrical environment, because it can affect so many other pieces of information that we need every day to run our businesses. There are many things that we can do, and I see us developing more solutions for different industries to make the products respond better to the power grid, or protect them against the power grid that they are on.
We’re just one of the tools that can help people do a better job. We happen to do it better than anybody else because we’re built based upon today’s technology, not yesterday’s technology. And we’ve taken into consideration the impact of the modern power grid in the United States. It’s built around the power grid, looking specifically at the technology that it supports. It’s built for today.
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