ECS Solutions and Timothy Matheny

Tim Matheny is the president of ECS Solutions, a CSIA Certified system integrator in Evansville, Indiana. He has more than 33 years of software engineering and consulting experience. Working for ECS in a variety of roles since 1982, he has served as president for the past 24 years. Tim holds a degree in mechanical engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He also completed the lay minister certification program at Concordia University in Wisconsin. He started Engineer Our Future, a collaboration of workforce and economic development entities, high school teachers, business leaders, and college students.

Contact Tim and ECS Solutions and let them know you read about ECS Solutions on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

Timothy Matheny, ECS Solutions, Inc.

ADDEDTuesday, July 12, 2016

  • Q
    Without naming names, tell us about a project that was very challenging and what you did to solve the customer’s problem.
    A
    In my opinion our most challenging project was challenging not for technical reasons, but for soft-skill — leadership and management reasons. These are, after all, the things that engineers often struggle with. 
    
    We had a customer come to us and essentially say, “My plant is a mess. I don’t know where to start or how much it might cost. We have new owners with money and the objective to improve our reliability and profitability measurably over a two to three-year period.” They had no project definition, no specifications, and essentially no drawings. We did a quick-and-dirty FEL-0 level study/design, told them $5-7M and they started writing POs. 
    
    At this point a reader might be thinking, gee, Tim, what a gift! Remember, however, ECS still has no project definition, no specifications, and essentially no drawings. We have an organization built on standards and methodology, hopefully enough money, and a goal to upgrade the worst hardware offenders during the next scheduled outage, which was a moving target. Other readers might be thinking, there are enough red flags here that ECS should have run. Fortunately, we didn’t. 
    
    Our challenge was to use our standards and methods as best we could, to the degree we could, neither throwing them out nor perfecting them as we would have liked, keeping the goal in mind. Had we not possessed standards and methodologies, I suspect we would have failed. Had we insisted on perfect adherence to the same, we definitely would have failed. Addressing the challenge required leadership to define the path and to continue to hold a light on the path ahead. It also required management to assess and redirect if we strayed from the path. 
    
    Our success in balancing the extremes of throwing out our standards and following them to the letter led us to a very happy, repeat customer and very profitable projects.
  • Q
    How should a customer go about choosing a system integrator?
    A
    When choosing a system integrator, track record, experience, certification, established business practices, project methodologies and the like are musts. Look for an integrator that is interested in understanding your business — how you make money — not just how you make your product(s).
  • Q
    What suppliers do you work with?
    A
    Most, if not all.
  • Q
    Do you specialize in any industry, product, or discipline? Why or why not?
    A
    ECS focuses on process industries, particularly batch process industries, because we have developed technology that allows us to deliver dramatic benefit to those industries.
  • Q
    Why do they return?
    A
    We deliver value, on-time. 
  • Q
    How much of your business is repeat?
    A
    80% 
  • Q
    What’s unique about how you approach a project?
    A
    I do not think we are unique. I presume that the best and most competent integrators understand that their customers are not in the business of making their products, they are in the business of making money. Their products are just their chosen vehicle for making money. Projects have to deliver financial value. 
  • Q
    How would you describe to lay people what you do?
    A
    If they are old enough, I ask if they remember Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound.” We have our fingers in the hole. If not, I say that we keep manufacturing jobs in the United States by helping manufacturers do what they do better, faster and cheaper. 
  • Q
    What advice would you give to a prospective customer researching automation/controls engineers or system integrators?
    A
    Industry experience is important, however, I have seen breakthrough innovation come from bringing experience from one industry into another. 
  • Q
    What’s the best advice you could give your younger self, just getting started?
    A
    Learn more, faster. Fail fast, fail cheap — it’s much better than paralyzing analysis. 
  • Q
    What makes you, Tim Matheny, optimistic about the future of the automation-control systems industry?
    A
    Automation has been the primary influencer of the historic increases in U.S. manufacturing efficiency. Automation delivers bottom-line value to manufacturers. The automation-control systems industry needs to learn to measure and tout that value as proof that we are not cost-centers, but value-creators. We deliver real, hard, tangible, measurable value, not paper financial value. How exciting is that? How can we not be optimistic about taking part? 
  • Q
    What is the smartest decision your company has made recently?
    A
    Recognizing the value in the technology we now call S88 Builder, pursuing development and focusing ECS on delivering the quality process controls our technology helps us deliver. 
  • Q
    Share the history of how ECS Solutions began and how the company has evolved in the automation industry.
    A
    My father-in-law and a partner started two companies simultaneously, one more of an engineering services company and the other an automated equipment builder. After a few years they amiably separated, each taking one whole company with my father-in-law agreeing to change the name of his company to avoid confusion. He built the company around one large customer. 
    
    When they crashed, so did ECS. Combined with his illness, he decided to sell me the business. I was determined to never be dependent on one customer ever again. ECS served a wide variety of local companies, including our old large one, developing a reputation for delivering value, on-time. 
    
    After delivering several configurable/programmable soot-blowing systems to the coal-fired power industry, ECS developed the configurable process control technology we refer to as S88 Builder today. Today, ECS uses its dramatic difference to deliver high-value, high-feature process solutions faster and more cost effectively to a variety of food, beverage, personal care and specialty chemical manufacturers. 
  • Q
    Why should a prospective customer hire a CSIA member?
    A
    It is a lower risk proposition to work with a partner integrator that has invested in itself by implementation of better and broader business and engineering practices. Customers want partners that will be around tomorrow. Integrators that have invested in themselves are taking a long-term view of the future.
  • Q
    In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the automation marketplace today and in the future?
    A
    Customer support has been and still largely is defined by how fast a rock star controls engineer can get into the plant. Multiple, regional, offices are a “Circuit City” response to the customer support problem. As an industry, we need to leverage the swell of connectivity to propose “Amazon.com” solutions to this problem — faster, internet-based, proactive, etc. 
  • Q
    How has ECS Solutions grown or changed in the past year and what do you expect for your company in the next 12 to 24 months?
    A
    ECS has increased its focus on process manufacturing — particularly batch process manufacturing, invested in outbound marketing, and further developed our high-performance, high-value, process control and management technology. These changes have made us more successful with a growing list of process customers. We are getting more opportunities by promoting our successes and closing more of them by showing how we can deliver what process manufacturers need — better, faster and less expensively.
  • Q
    What kinds of trends and challenges are you seeing in industrial automation right now?
    A
    Whatever buzz words you like — convergence of IT and OT, connected enterprise, Internet of things, MES, MOM, etc., — plants are more connected than ever. There is a growing willingness and even desire to look for improvement in the total manufacturing process, starting and returning to the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, not just as we have. Customers, with their competent integrator partners, are finding more opportunities to improve effectiveness, lowering the cost of manufacturing in the United States.
  • Q
    Why did ECS Solutions become a member of CSIA?
    A
    I'm not sure how I first found out about CSIA, but I do remember going to the website, finding the Best Practices and Benchmarks and being unable to download them without becoming a member. The upcoming conference was close enough to drive to. I remember suggesting to my operations manager that we should join, go to the conference, and get the BP&B, reminding him that we could always quit and keep the book. The conference sold us. We never quit.
  • Q
    Tell us how you got started in the business of control system integration.
    A
    After he piqued my interest in control system integration, my father-in-law invited me to leave my good, steady, job with a large company to join him in starting up ECS. He promised me that I would learn more, faster, than in a large company and convinced me that knowledge was job security, not the size of the company I worked for. I saw ECS grow and then crash due to a variety of things, including my father-in-law’s illness. I took over with the opportunity to restart ECS from near nothing and built it into the company it is today.
  • Q
    What is the biggest benefit of CSIA membership for ECS Solutions?
    A
    By far the biggest benefit of CSIA membership to ECS Solutions is the sharing of ideas between members. First, we received and acted on the Best Practices and Benchmarks. The conferences, and now the peer group that ECS is a part of, are “living best practices forums.” I have brought things to share and have brought ideas to test at different times. I could share and share without getting even with the benefit my fellow members have given me and ECS Solutions.
  • Q
    ECS Solutions is a CSIA Certified control systems integrator. When someone asks, “Why should I hire CSIA Certified?” what would you tell them?
    A
    Certification is important to end users because certified integrators are better at all aspects of conducting business than non-certified or non-CSIA-affiliated integrators. Attesting to this is the fact that 80% of Control Engineering's Integrators of the Year over the last five years have been CSIA Certified Integrators.
    
    The CSIA Certification process has made ECS Solutions better in innumerable ways. The Best Practices and Benchmarks showed me that all aspects of how ECS conducts business are important to our success, not just our technical prowess. I am absolutely convinced that ECS would not have been honored as the small 2016 Integrator of the Year without CSIA Certification.
  • Q
    Why did you choose a career in control system integration?
    A
    My father-in-law initiated my interest in control system integration. He happened to be in the right place, at the right time, putting the first — or one of the first — PLCs into GM. From the start he saw and preached that PLCs were not relay-replacers or more reliable solid-state logic, but rather a way to make processes perform better and be diagnosed quicker — delivering more value to the end user.