Chris Tury, Outbound Technologies, Inc. PostedThursday, January 16, 2020 Q Can you give a little history about how Outbound Technologies Inc. (OTC) began and grew? A We were founded in 1994 in the Detroit area. We got our start in the abatement industry, which is industrial equipment for air-quality pollution control. For instance, when an automobile is painted, there are VOCs (volatile organic compounds or chemicals) that are a by-product of the process. An abatement system will concentrate the VOC-laden air and force it using fans and ductwork through filtration media to remove the large particulate. Then the remaining air is forced through multiple chambers at very high temperatures to incinerate the balance of the VOCs. This allows for the air that is expelled into the atmosphere to meet EPA standards and be safe for the ozone. Our success in the automotive abatement industry led us into other sectors, such as general assembly, stamping and powertrain. We expanded in 2000 by starting an office in Indianapolis. The main attraction was that Indianapolis is the North American epicenter of the pharmaceutical industry, and we didn’t see too many SIs there at the time. Add to that the reasonable proximity to our HQ in Michigan was appealing. After much success in Indy, OTI No. 3 was born in 2006 north of Cincinnati. This location allowed us to build into a third major vertical industry, which was the consumer good market. Also being reasonably distanced from our other locations was of great benefit for customer coverage, resource sharing and collaboration in general between offices. Now we are (75) strong and have developed a portfolio in many different industries and take pride in our project diversity. Q How much of your business is repeat? And what makes customers come back? A 80% of our customers come back, which we are incredibly proud of. They return for a few reasons. Most importantly we do what we say we will. We have a proven and repeatable method of project execution. We are honest and strong communicators. We have shown longevity and will likely be around for many years for future support. We have a strong reputation and low attrition rates. We have a sense of humor and are down to earth. We love what we do. The passion and eagerness to solve problems and help people is evident, which builds trust and respect. Q Do you specialize in any industry, product or discipline? Why or why not? A Yes, we specialize in some industries and applications. However, one that has brought us much success is our presence in industrial paint finishing. Being in the motor city led us to the automotive paint finishing industry, and we have completed many paint shops. The revolution of how vehicles are painted has been part of our company history. The change from spraying in some cases to full-emersion dip tanks has been a massive shift to better quality. We are extremely proud that many new models are painted using our control systems and software. Q What suppliers do you work with? Are you certified or endorsed with any you’d like to mention? A Yes, we are a Rockwell and a Siemens solution partner. Both companies have amazing cutting-edge products and solutions. They are both on the forefront of leading technology and have a wide raging geographical installation base. We are excited for these partnerships as we have exposure to best-in-class technical support, products and a wide range of industry experts. We feel strongly about their future and how it relates to our own. We are humbled to be part of a very select group of system integrators that are affiliated with these firms. Q What is the smartest decision your company has made recently? A The installation of a modern scalable ERP system. We used separate systems for many business functions such as payroll, scheduling, accounting, purchasing, etc. By eliminating all of these and combining them into one companywide system, we have gained massive efficiencies. I feel we can grow our technical headcount without adding much overhead and administrative support due to our business automation. All data is real-time, and everyone has visibility as soon as items are posted. We have an increased awareness to everything from project budgets, to procurement details, to sales reporting, to vacations and the list goes on. We have eliminated the need for several spreadsheet-based systems and have automated numerous processes. It even wishes you a happy birthday right after it’s nagged you to submit your weekly timesheet and expenses! Q What makes Outbound optimistic about the future of the automation-control systems industry? A Sadly, it’s due to the baby boomer generation exiting the workforce. This will cause an increased co-dependence on SIs as the tribal knowledge will be lost to the beach and the golf course. As more folks retire and less seem to join STEM positions, they will need us more than ever. Also, the technology is exciting to me because of the elimination of human error as it relates to quality control. For example, there have been numerous food-related recalls in the news. Automation technology has current offerings that could potentially eliminate many of these quality matters, which, in turn, will make for healthier products and people. We are doing profound things in automation that make people safer in manufacturing and in the world. Q What kinds of trends and challenges are you seeing in industrial automation right now? A There are a few of note that jump off the page to me. One is the talent war. This is prompted by many baby boomers exiting our industry and the challenge to generate interest in the newer generations in manufacturing careers. It seems less attractive for some reason despite the earning potential and job security it can provide. It is becoming more of a trend to hire younger engineers and train and invest in them rather than to seek experienced ones. Another is seeing more projects be quoted on a time-and-material basis rather than fixed price. We tend to enjoy and condone quoting projects fixed price as we feel it’s best for a business relationship due to our willingness to absorb risk. It feels like there is less time or qualified people in the industry that are generating specifications and scopes of work for bidding purposes. We are seeing a trend toward negotiating rates and providing flex resources to augment our clients’ internal engineering staffs. This presents its own challenges as different resources will all take a different amount of time to complete the same task. While it’s commercially less risky for me as an SI, it’s not a trend we think is best for the industry in some cases. Q What challenges are your customers facing now? A Well, 50% of our revenue is derived from the automotive industry, so I’ll discuss that one being near and dear to my heart. I’m a Detroiter after all! The auto makers are struggling with where to invest their capital dollars. Market sentiment has been shifting faster than ever before. For example, the shift from consumers buying sedans to SUVs was faster than anticipated. If you are an auto maker where do you invest? In the EV market? In more fuel-efficient engine blocks and transmissions to meet possible upcoming federal fuel regulations/standards? How is ride sharing and virtual work environments affecting consumer buying of new autos? What about emission standards changing? So many questions and challenges cause this industry to be in a state of flux. While I don’t see us moving to flying cars anytime soon, the industry is changing, and it’s becoming tougher and tougher to predict the next few years and how these firms may invest moving forward. Q How should a customer go about choosing a system integrator? A The most important factors are methods followed by experience. Designing custom systems and solutions should be done in such a way that best practices and standards should be followed in a consistent fashion. High levels of detailed documentation are required for multiple phases of a project. How these items are developed and communicated is often key on projects. Selecting someone who can demonstrate past and prior experience is also a determining factor. While we all started at one point without experience and expertise, it can be risky to select an SI without prior experience. I encourage those looking for an SI to dive into their methods on project execution and project examples to prove competency. Q Finally, what’s the best advice you could give your younger self, just getting started? A Take some courses on professional development.. Invest in your future just as you would in stocks. It pays huge dividends to be a strong communicator regardless of your industry or profession. Those that can properly articulate problems in a constructive manner tend to be successful in their pursuits. Professional development can cause individuals to acknowledge their weaknesses, which then allows them to focus on step two, which is steps for improvement. It can be difficult to self-realize faults and these courses help to focus on the individual areas we tend to struggle. Everyone tends to be stubborn in some aspects of their lives and by investing in yourself, you can become more open minded and empathetic to others, which is a big plus in business and human relations.