Michael Gurney, Concept Systems Inc. PostedTuesday, August 11, 2020 Q How did you end up in control system integration? A My dad was a control engineer, so I grew up around controls and automation. I used to see my dad with the big roll of diagrams rolled out on the kitchen table, so I got exposed to it too early. I had no idea what it was at that time, but over the years, I garnered a sense for what manufacturing was, what automation was. Fast forward, I graduated from Oregon State with a mechanical engineering degree in 1993. When I graduated, the job market was not very good. I took a job at a system integrator as a draftsman. It happened to be the company my dad worked for. I was working up electrical schematics, so it was a little bit overwhelming as a mechanical engineer. But I got really engrossed in it, felt like I had a knack for it. I quickly worked my way in the engineering side of things and the rest is kind of history. Q What made you to leave that company and start your own company? A I left that company after about 6 years and because they went through a corporate buyout and really change the direction of the company to a direction that wasn’t too exciting to me. It was all around the Y2K hubbub and they were going after mediation services, things like that. And as an engineer at heart I wanted the engineer systems. I decided to leave. The plan at that time was to take 3 months off to sort through what I want to do next. During that 3 months, I started getting phone calls from my past customers asking me to get involved in different projects. Eventually, I started saying yes to a few of those. Being on my own and negotiating deals was very exhilarating so I just kept doing it. That led me to join up with my business partners and started doing it for real. Q How you go from picking up a few projects to evolving your company and growing it to where it is today? A It’s just a matter of coming up with good solutions to challenging problems, doing right by the customer and slowly but surely it grew. Q Do you specialize in an industry, and why or why not? A We intentionally do not focus on any one industry. We’re a technology-driven company, and we maintain expertise in those technologies and leverage it across multiple industries. That said, we do have some specific industry knowledge based on work we’ve done year over year in aerospace and foundry-type work with products. But our approach to the market is very technology-driven, and those technologies are control system retrofits, so really going in with the customer and removing obsolete equipment and replacing it with the latest technologies where they can take advantage of the latest networking architectures and protocols, things of that nature. We do a lot of motion control like the electric servo motion control, hydraulic control, and CNC. We also do a lot of robotics, that’s the technology that’s kind of emerged over the years. When we started, we didn’t do a lot of robotics. Now, it’s hard to go on a sales call where the customer is not asking about robotics. We’re involved in manufacturing intelligence, so getting data off the plant floor and presenting it to management or operational personnel to make decisions on how to run their lines. And then we get involved in a lot of vision and process control. I know that’s a lot but again, we are technology-focused, so keeping our edge on all the automation technologies that are out there is important to us. Q What’s unique about how you approach a project? A We really take a partnering approach with our customers where we expect our customers to be part of the project with us. We don’t take on a project and go off and do our engineering thing for 6 months and show up on the partner’s doorstep with a completed system. There’s a lot a lot of engagement with the customer throughout the whole process. And that really goes back to our technology focus, where we’re not targeting any one industry. So there are certain industries where we’re just not going to have that depth of process knowledge, so when we work with the customer, we’re going to bring that technology expertise to the table, but we’re really counting on them to bring the process expertise. And together we can come up with a very innovative automation solution. So, it takes a high level of interaction between us and our customers Q What advice would you give to a prospective customer researching automation controls engineers or system integrators? A Do as much homework as you can before you make contact. Then once you do make contact, take some time to get to know the company and the individual that you’re going to be working with. And make sure they’re excited about doing business with you and the type of work that they’re going to pursuing with you. And then also look for credentials, established relationships, experience with the key hardware suppliers, and, finally, look for somebody that has the CSIA certification. Q What kinds of trends are you seeing in industrial automation right now? A Well, the overriding trend seems to always be the same, and its rapid advancement of technology. Technology just moves so fast that there’s always something that’s emerging. More specifically, we’re seeing more and more robotics applications, and not just because robots are advancing but the technologies around them are advancing. It’s not uncommon for us these days to mix vision or 3D laser scanning with a robotic application or adding tactile feedback to a robot where the robot can feel and see now with vision and tactile feedback. So those technologies are really opening what is possible. And then the number of robots that are out there, the number of players coming into the market are helping drive price points down. You put all that together, and there’s just more and more you can do with a robot that actually pencils out from an ROI standpoint. Q What is the biggest challenge facing the automation marketplace? A Well right now, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a lot of uncertainty on the market. Beyond that, I’d really say it depends on perspective. From a customer perspective, I think the biggest challenge is where to invest your dollars, how to go about automation in a way that makes sense and shows returns along the way. If there’s a lot of potential out there, automation can solve about anything. But the manufacturer has the limited dollars to invest so they got to invest them wisely. That’s probably the biggest challenge, navigating all the technologies out there, all the applications that can be solved and where to invest your dollars. From a systems integrator perspective, it’s really where to focus your energy. It’s the same kind of challenge: There’s so much technology, there’s so much potential. It’s really important to be to be focused on a certain set of technology or types of applications. Q Are you optimistic about the future of the automation control systems industry? A Absolutely. There are so many applications that can be solved with automation as well as motivation to reshore and price points dropping and new technology advances. There will be no shortage of projects in the future. The future of automation is very, very bright.