Barry Brian, DRM, LLC PostedThursday, October 22, 2020 Q How did you choose a career in control system integration? A Honestly, it just fell into my lap. Back in high school, in the ‘80s, I was the one that you came to if you needed your car stereo wired up. Honestly, I could just read schematics. It made sense to me. I saw commercials on television for ITT Electronics. I thought that was that was a cool place. Dad asked me to talk to the local electronics instructor at high school, which I did. He suggested Nashville Tech, at that time they had an entry program into Saturn. And I opened the Nashville Tech catalog and the first thing was Automation Robotics Technology. And believe me, I was hooked. Q How did DRM begin and how has the company evolved since you started? A When we first started, in 1995, my partner, Jeff and I, were working together. A person who became our partner, Woody, he had a business where he built hangar doors for military installations, and he needed control panels built. So, Jeff got to working with him building control panels and when an opportunity came up, Woody asked us if we wanted to start DRM, so we did. When we started there were 5 of us including our secretary -- that was in June. By July, we were about 12 folks. And now I think we’re right at 80 folks. Q Does DRM specialize in any industry product or discipline? A As a matter of fact, over the years, it seems like we’ve really carved out a niche in the glass and polyurethane business. Both of those things, we had here local in Lawrenceburg [Tennessee] when we were first starting out. It was automotive glass, so we got used to dealing with gravity sag glass. It’s either convex or concave and not nice flat plate glass like you typically see. So, we had to evolve our equipment into handling that stuff very quickly. Everything we do is pretty much custom. Hardly ever do we do the same thing twice. So, yes, it’s usually glass handling, polyurethane, we do all kinds of machine rebuilds. We found that we have a special knack for that. And then we have a lot of folks that just come to us that need customized robotic palletizing, dispensing. We do a lot with a lot of adhesives and different things like that as well. So, you’ll see us in automotive, you’ll see us in consumer goods, you’ll see us in all different kinds of process industries, so we’re quite broad. But what we always do, everything we do pretty much is based on a PLC or a controls type atmosphere in some way or other. Q How has DRM grown or changed in the past year, and what do you expect for the company in the next year or two? A Well, one of the things we’ve done is strive to become CSIA certified. Hopefully, by the end of this year, we will be CSIA certified. As far as changing, we’re adding technologies all the time. We’ve added simulation to what we do – a lot more now than we typically did. We’ve added more mechanical capabilities over the last few years -- we’re moving more and more mechanical all the time. Q What would you say is the smartest decision your company has made recently? A One is working with the area high schools and the vocational centers and colleges. That helps us cherry pick the cream of the crop, the young folks that would be coming in. We worked with LEGO Leagues with robotics and that sort of thing. Over the last few years, we’ve had up to 500 high school kids come through our facility when we have a really cool robot project or something. And we’ll make sure that each person has at least couple minutes to drive a robot around. Also, moving to Microsoft Teams. We had all that implemented probably 2 to 3 months before all the COVID pandemic hit. So that was really a big deal for us. We kept our essential folks here working in the shop, and then a lot of the rest of us in engineering or other things like that were able to work from home. So, that along with hiring HR and EHS safety has been some of the smartest things that we’ve done. Q What would you say is unique about how you approach a project? A We learned early on that no matter what, we would never walk away from a project. It doesn’t matter if we lose money or whatever, our customer will never know the difference, and we’re going to make sure that we provide them a quality solution no matter what. So that’s something that’s a little bit different. Also, we build things very much with a maintenance person in mind. A lot of times our panels are a little bit bigger. They’re a little bit differently laid out so it’s easier for maintenance. Our drawings are very straightforward. Our programming is very straightforward. We have a certain way that we’ve learned over the last few years that we’d like to program, so that if any one of our guys writes the program, if they happen to be on vacation or tied up on something else and there’s a problem, anyone else can look at it and in just a few minutes understand it. We don’t do anything black box. Everything we have is wide open to the customer so they can jump in there if they need to make extra additions to it or troubleshoot it whatever, they can. So that’s kind of the way that that we are different. It’s more geared toward supplying something the customer is going to be very happy with for a long time. Q How much of your business is repeat? A A lot of it is, as a matter of fact, yet we hardly ever do we get to do the same thing twice. For example, we’ve got customers in the automotive glass business, they’ve come back to us over and over again to supply a solution. But one time it might be for sunroofs, the next time it might be for windshields, quarter windows, or backlights. But I can’t think of any customer that we’ve only done one project for. Q What would you say the challenges are for your customers? What are they facing now? A One of the big things we see is having a good skilled maintenance work force. We’re getting more and more technical solutions all the time, but we’ve got to make sure that even though those solutions may be very technically complex they’re easy to maintain, they’re understandable. Also, adding remote means to login to a system. For example, we are in Tennessee but a lot of our equipment is in Michigan, so a customer might call us and say, you know we’ve got issues right now. They can’t stand to wait until we fly or drive up. If we can login to that equipment from here, within just a few minutes, we can resolve it because it’s usually always something simple. It’s a button has been pressed when it shouldn’t have been or a switch is slightly out of adjustment. We also see purchasing departments not being able to keep up with technology, so they don’t know exactly what all to ask for. Q Turning toward the industry, what trends and challenges are you seeing in industrial automation right now? A We see robotics reaching out into a lot of companies that have never had robotics before. Just recently, we were contacted by a company that sells potatoes. They realize they need palletizing robots. But they are dealing with odd, shaped boxes that they must palletize because they’ll switch from Irish potatoes to sweet potatoes to whatever. It’s all different kinds of consumers anymore who realize that robotics can help them. And with robotics comes along PLCs and all the other things we’ve learned about automation safety. That’s a big thing too. A lot of companies want to be sure that as they move into something new that it is safe and that their operators are going to be able to understand it and be able to feel comfortable being around it. Q What’s the biggest challenge facing the automation marketplace today and in the future? A Finding good, qualified candidates to put in automation systems as well as maintain them after they’re put into place. We go out and recruit folks from high schools, from vocational schools, from colleges to bring them in here. But even then, we find out that those folks need to be trained. We’re starting our own training programs here. We know that these folks need more than what they’re getting in schools to do exactly what we want them to do. So, good, qualified, technically skilled people are hard to find and going to be even harder to find. So that I think that’s the biggest challenge. Q What advice would you give a prospective customer who is researching automation controls engineers or system integrators? A Find someone that you trust. Talk to people, talk to different integrators, find out one that really seems to suit your application well. If you’re needing welding, you need to be sure that person can weld well. If you’re needing something to go along with a furnace or something like that, someone who really understands burner controls or electric heating. Whenever you find that, and you get a good confidence level in that integrator you will know that you found the right people for the job. Q What makes DRM optimistic about the future of the automation control system industry? A Honestly, it’s all the new, young folks that we have coming into workforce. It’s amazing. These guys, they really want to learn. They have a zeal for that. We just must make sure that we can position them properly within our company. Some folks are just automatically set to go out and work in the panel shops, some really like programming, some really like mechanics, some like running the machines. They usually have an idea of where they want to go but we found that one of our strengths is finding the right seat on the bus for them. And sometimes it’s a little different than they think. Q What’s the best advice you could give your younger self just getting started? A It would probably be, just calm down and trust your instincts a little bit more. A lot of times I think that I would overthink situations or I would want to jump in there and be the first to learn this or that. And a lot of times I’d probably be a little bit better off if I did just slowed myself down just a little bit to it to make sure that I handle everything properly. And I’d also love to tell myself that you can do anything that you want to do as long as you’ll set your mind to it and just follow through with it, because until you give up there’s always that opportunity that you’re going to win. Don’t give up, and just win.