• TAC Field Devices

    June 1, 2008
    In the world of building automation, valves and actuators are the unsung heroes the offensive line of HVACR, if you will. They're the ones that are working

    In the world of building automation, valves and actuators are the unsung heroes — the offensive line of HVACR, if you will. They're the ones that are working hard to make the adjustments to the HVACR system to ensure a comfortable environment. They're also a lot more intelligent than most people give them credit for. TAC Field Devices enjoys a loyal — and growing — following of wholesalers, contractors, building engineers and owners who rely on these durable and intelligent products.

    Building automation system devices is the hallmark of TAC Field Devices, a division of TAC, which boasts some of the most well-known brands in the industry, including Barber-Colman, TAC ERIE and TAC DuraDrive. TAC Field Devices products and systems are found in more than 150,000 installations on every continent (yes, that includes Antarctica) and in buildings of all types and sizes. Its expertise in building automation solutions has the backup resources of TAC's parent company, Schneider Electric, the world's electrical distribution, control and energy management specialist with 112,000 employees around the world and operations in more than 190 countries.

    A 500,000-square-foot facility near Rockford, IL, is the North American manufacturing, distribution and logistics facility and headquarters for TAC's building automation products. The facility is ISO 9001:2000 certified, and it is a landmark in the city, says Doug Williams, vice president of Marketing for TAC Field Devices. “Everybody in this area knows where our building is located,” Williams says.

    TAC has been around for more than 80 years, he says, and some of its brands date back even further. Barber-Colman, for example, is a brand that began in the 1890s and has grown through the years. It's a history that TAC Field Devices embraces because distributors and contractors alike highly regard the brand. “We've been manufacturing some of the same products for more than 40 years,” Williams says. “Over the years, we've improved design and made productivity gains. There's still a huge installed base of loyal customers out there in North America.”

    TAC Field Devices competes on three battlefronts: new construction, substitution and direct replacement. In new construction and retrofits, its products interface with TAC Building Systems platforms and provide industry-standard interfaces to work with competing systems. “With selection tools, technical support and product training, we strive to make our products easy to select, use and install,” Williams says.

    TAC Field Devices sets the industry standard with its PopTop Erie Valves that are easy to install. “You can put an actuator on a valve with one hand. That is just one innovation that we are known for,” Williams says. The innovations keep coming from the company. It is now transferring this technology to a new line of ball valves that were released this spring.

    TAC Field Devices has made subtle modifications in other devices in order to create products that meet the needs of more of the high-tech building automation systems. TAC Field Devices has developed its sensors to react more efficiently to changes in the environment.

    But introducing new and innovative products at a company with such a product legacy also represents a challenge. When you've been making the same quality product for the past 30, 40 or even 50 years, it can be difficult to take it away in an effort to streamline the product portfolio or to introduce newer, more intelligent versions.

    There's always the risk of alienating the longtime customer who depends on that Barber-Colman valve, and TAC Field Devices makes every effort to support them. Legacy support is something that is not lost on TAC's sales and marketing people. As Williams puts it: “How do we best support the contractor who walks in with one of our products from the 1950s?”

    TAC Field Devices recently went through a rationalization of its pneumatic thermostat covers. Over the years, TAC Field Devices continued to introduce new thermostat covers for the same basic thermostat. The costs of maintaining multiple variations were high, so the product development team produced one universal unit with cover plates. “You'll get some pushback,” he says about change. But explaining how it is a cost savings for everyone (fewer thermostat units means more shelf space for higher-value products) alleviated much of the wholesalers' concerns.

    TAC Field Devices is trying to balance the needs of its end-user customers with those of its wholesaler customers. They've been able to successfully meet this challenge by staying close to its customers and explaining the benefits for them. For example, TAC Field Devices recently introduced its new Forta Linear Actuators. They can replace up to five actuators that wholesalers have on their shelves. With its intelligent startup, it can be easily adapted to be the only globe valve actuator that a contractor needs in his truck. That's good for everyone.

    TAC Field Devices' salespeople — regional sales managers and regional product specialists — bring both technical and business development skills to their jobs, so wholesalers see them as true partners. “They know both our products and the wholesale business,” Williams says. They are in the field providing product training for wholesalers and their customers, consulting with engineers on the best type of products for certain projects and assisting, when necessary, with the right applications.

    In 2006, TAC decided to reduce its manufacturer rep organization and go with a direct sales force. Williams says this was an important step to show wholesalers that its salespeople would be totally committed to its products and to the wholesaler. “It allows us to work with the wholesaler on specific business development plans. We are trying to be more of a partner rather than just a parts provider,” he adds.

    “It's amazing,” Williams marvels. “We see a big uptick in business after we've had a regional product specialist go out to a wholesaler and do a two-hour presentation with their customers on valve selection.” The decisions about when to hold an event such as a product demonstration are strategic and are part of the business planning process that its salespeople develop with their customers. “We want to make the most effective use of everyone's time,” Williams says.

    The information sharing between sales managers and customers also extends back to TAC Field Devices headquarters. On a quarterly basis, the regional sales managers come to Rockford for technical updates and business training as well as sharing best practices and trends that are taking place across the industry. With TAC's worldwide reach, TAC Field Devices' senior management can share what's happening in Europe and Asia, and how that impacts the North American market.

    TAC's global presence also provides TAC Field Devices with research and development resources and market experience. In addition to the R&D taking place in Rockford, TAC also operates design centers in Italy and Sweden. TAC Field Devices identifies the global trends and works with early technology adopters to develop new products and address changing demands. “We work with large OEMs on their equipment interface needs. We work closely with our Systems Product division and partner/branch network to assure that our field devices serve the needs of today's building management systems,” Williams says.

    They balance it with the product legacy embedded into the culture of TAC Field Devices. There are engineers on staff that have been designing control products for 45 years. “You don't see that kind of legacy much anymore,” Williams says. This kind of employee loyalty translates into quality and pride of workmanship.

    Wholesalers also experience the loyalty and company pride when they call any of TAC Field Devices' more than 40 employees in its Customer Care Center. “They know their stuff and can refer callers to our technical support team to help them with product selection,” Williams says. Like other HVACR manufacturers, TAC Field Devices knows that there will be a smaller supply of well-qualified workers in the future. Among its recruitment strategies are internship programs and in-depth employee development. “We identify employees with high potential not only in the Field Devices division but in rotations with other divisions throughout Schneider Electric,” Williams says. “This is a really great company with the opportunity to move around.”

    The Rockford distribution facility provides same-day shipping on its high-moving items, and Williams says TAC strives to maintain a 98 percent on-time delivery rate. The company also provides EDI with some of its larger wholesalers and is introducing a Web portal so wholesalers can manage their business and activities with TAC Field Devices online. Recognizing that not all wholesalers want to — or can't — invest in a full-blown EDI, it has designed a system that is similar to an Internet shopping site.

    Williams says the wholesaler channel is an “integral” part of its growth strategy. “The availability of TAC Field Devices throughout the wholesale channel supports not only our systems and OEM growth strategies, but it gives the mechanical contractor a local stocking point for same-day access to the products he needs,” Williams says.

    TAC Field Devices' membership in HARDI strengthens its relationships with HVACR wholesalers. The company has been an associate HARDI member for many years and views it as a “critical industry group” that benchmarks the HVACR industry and where it is heading. They recently participated in the 2007 HARDI Executive Forum. With legislation and changing market requirements, TAC Field Devices will continue to look to HARDI for contacts and industry data, and to support its growth strategies.

    Growth remains the operative word at TAC Field Devices. Williams says the company is committed to investing in product development so it can continue to differentiate itself, working with its channel partners to improve the efficiency of delivering products and investing in the recruitment and development of a talented staff. “There is a legacy of knowledge and tradition that we need to preserve and pass to our next generation,” Williams says.

    Michael Maynard is a business writer in Providence, RI, who writes on issues related to HVACR, construction and architecture. Contact him at [email protected].

    Best Practice

    Definition and Example: Starting in April 2008, TAC is introducing an e-commerce site for wholesalers to place orders, check account status, track deliveries and assist in product selection.

    Significance: With 24/7 direct access to account and product information, the wholesaler is empowered with immediate access to information without calling or sending an e-mail for updates.

    People Involved: This has truly been a multidisciplinary approach. We've worked closely with our customer service, IT and channel partners to provide the needed functionality at launch.

    Timing: Our regional sales managers will be contacting our wholesalers to establish launch and training schedules.

    TAC Field Devices at a GlanceManagement Team: David Gill — Vice President & General Manager
    Brent Shultz — Chief Financial Officer
    Doug Williams — Product Marketing
    Jerry Snyder — Production
    Per Ahlund — Logistics
    Patty Nichols — Customer Care Headquarters: Rockford, IL Background: With more than 80 years of experience, TAC is a leading provider of building automation solutions based on Open Integrated Systems for Building IT. TAC's parent, Schneider Electric, is the world's power and control specialist with 110,000+ employees and operations in 190 countries. Major Product Lines: Building controls and peripherals, including valves, actuators, sensors, etc. Brand names include Barber-Colman, TAC Erie and TAC DuraDrive. Website: www.tac.com