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Preventing a Silent Killer

Preventing a Silent Killer

The stories are tragic, and they happen too often. Families in their homes, employees in offices or construction workers on job sites become sick or die because of gas poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year more than 400 Americans die, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning alone. That doesn’t take into account the other deadly gases – nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen, LP and natural gas – that kill or cause severe illness.

With this in mind, it’s no exaggeration to say that gas detection equipment and systems save lives. Since 1972, Macurco has been a leading brand of fixed gas detection equipment for residential, commercial and light industrial applications for a number of different gases. Today, the company has a diverse range of competitively priced products that can monitor, detect and facilitate the elimination of these deadly gases with its products used as standalone systems or tied into a building automation, residential security or HVAC system.

As Macurco continues to introduce new products and refine its technologies, it maintains its focus on customer support and service – always ready to assist a dealer or contractor right away with an answer or advice. After all, they recognize how critical their products are to the safety and security of their customers’ customers.

Jim Currans, who started the company in Englewood, CO, shaped its operating philosophy. He started the company with a few gas detection products, but even as the product line expanded and his company grew, he maintained its focus on technical support, customer service and value, says Rick Cullwell, Macurco’s national sales manager. Upon his retirement in 2001, Currans sold the company to Aerion Technologies, a group of investors led by Mike Strandell. Recognizing that the brand was well-known and well-respected throughout the industry, Aerion Technologies kept the Macurco name.

In 2006, 3M acquired Macurco, but it, too, retained the brand name. Last year, 3M sold the business back to the investor group. Strandell continues to lead the company as CEO, under the Aerionics name. Macurco is headquartered in Round Rock, Texas. It manufactures all its products in the United States and ships them from its Round Rock facility.

Through all of the ownership changes, Macurco’s senior management team remained in place, which provided the steady leadership that allowed the business to grow. Cullwell says the growth came from listening to what the customer wanted and then being there to help them after the sale. “We’ve always run the company the same way,” Cullwell says. “We’ve been able to build the company based on what the customers’ needs are. I’ve been with the company for 19 years. Most of the customers we have go back at least that far.”

Now that Macurco is once again independently owned, Cullwell foresees a bigger marketing push to attract new distributors and dealers as well as its product line that encompasses fire and burglar alarms. About half of Macurco’s business is in HVAC, with the other half in the security market. Cullwell says there is a natural tie-in among the products between the security and fire alarm companies and HVAC and mechanical contractors, with some crossover of customers buying security products through HVAC distributors and vice-versa. All of its sales are through wholesale distribution.

Because Macurco products tie into existing building automation and HVAC systems, Cullwell says energy savings and its focus on meeting building codes and safety standards are major selling points of how Macurco can help a landlord or building owner run their operation safely and efficiently. “All of the products we manufacture meet the building codes as well as any local standards,” he says.

Cullwell cites the example of a parking garage that is mandated by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to maintain the air at a maximum level of 50 parts per million of carbon dioxide and run a 200-horsepower fan 24 hours a day. But is it efficient to run a fan day and night when the garage is empty almost half the time? With a Macurco detector, the fans are modulated to run only when needed, which translates into energy savings for the garage owner.

Macurco CM-E1, CM-6 and DVP-120 Control Panel.
Macurco CM-E1, CM-6 and DVP-120 Control Panel.

Macurco recently launched its new 6-series platform, which builds on the success of previous models. “With the 6-series, we’re really revamping and modernizing the product line,” Cullwell says.

The CM-6 carbon monoxide detector is an upgraded version of one of Macurco’s most popular products – the CM-21A. The CM-6 incorporates the elements of the original CM-21A as well as other models and adds analog output that can tie it back to a control panel or a building automation system. “The CM-6 has the components and features that were in five different carbon monoxide detectors that we had, and now it’s all in one unit,” Cullwell says.

Other products in Macurco’s 6-series include the GD-6, which provides automatic fan control to detect and help maintain acceptable levels of combustible gases such as methane, natural gas, hydrogen, LP and propane gas. The TX-6 also has an automatic fan control to detect and help maintain acceptable levels of nitrogen dioxide and other toxic gases. All of the units in the 6-series can be used as standalone units or as a part of a larger building system.

Advantages of the 6-series models are the internal sensors as well as the programmable relay outputs to control fans. The units can tie into Macurco’s DVP-120 exhaust fan controller to provide automatic controls to help maintain an acceptable environment in parking garages or other facilities. The DVP-120 can control up to 12 gas sensors in any combination for carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and combustible gases. “It’s completely programmable,” Cullwell says. Up to three ventilation control zones can be defined, and each zone can be controlled based on transducer signals and/or time of day.

Over the course of this year, Cullwell estimates that Macurco will introduce as many as eight new products. “We’re looking at the way the products are installed in both Security and HVAC and how we can make it easier for installers,” he says. Macurco product engineers go to job sites to get real-time feedback from installers, and representatives also talk with customers who come to the Macurco booth at trade shows to get the perspective of customers.

Staying true to its founder’s mission, Macurco continues to provide a high level of technical and customer support, often taking calls directly from the HVAC technician or mechanical engineer who is on the job site. Cullwell says he’s been on the phone many times “talking to an installer on a cellphone while they’re installing and wiring the product right there. We can work with any of them.” Having that live support – and not negotiating through a maze of pre-recorded voicemail options – is critical to the success of the customer.

In addition to taking the calls from the installers, Macurco’s manufacturers’ reps are always available to assist end users or dealers and distributors wherever they are. A major component of Macurco’s strength revolves around supporting its distributors, dealers and end user customers through product demonstrations and technical training. While Macurco operates in a niche market with a couple of major players and many regional companies, Cullwell says its focus on customer service gives it the edge.

Cullwell says Macurco has been fortunate to work with a number of strong and dedicated distributors for years. He’s found that the most successful distributors of Macurco products are the ones that sell controls and control systems. “They will have engineers onsite or have experienced technicians that are working for the company to do a design and build of the product line with the installers,” he says of these distributors and dealers. “Even a lot of the dealers we work with are design-build kind of customers.” Macurco also works with traditional HVACR distributors that may not be as strong in the controls area and, in many cases, the staff and manufacturers’ reps will work directly with the distributors’ end user customers.

Because gas detection products must be able to meet the building codes of a state, municipality or national safety standards, Macurco works closely with inspection agencies to ensure that its products are acceptable. One of the strongest markets for Macurco has been southern California. The City of Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety tests and approves Macurco products for Los Angeles County. Telecommunications companies are also important customers for Macurco because most of these facilities have backup generators and battery backups. “Any time you charge a wet cell battery, you give off hydrogen,” Cullwell says. With the Macurco hydrogen detectors, they will turn on fans and send out an alert if the hydrogen levels get too high.

About 98 percent of products are shipped from Macurco’s Round Rock manufacturing facilities within 24 hours, while specialized or larger products may take a couple of days to get out the door. Cullwell says there are times when a customer needs a product overnight or else runs the risk of being shut down by building or safety inspectors. He cites an example of an OSHA inspector finding unacceptable levels of ammonia that must be brought down to acceptable levels and monitored by the next day. Other times, the installation of gas detection and control systems is overlooked in the construction or renovation of a building. Then the building inspector shows up. “By then, it’s rush time,” Cullwell says. “We work with the installers and distributors to get the product out as fast as possible.

Macurco at a Glance
President & CEO: Mike Strandell
Senior Management: -National Sales Manager: Rick Cullwell
-Technical Manager: Steve Bonino
-General Manager: Jeff Christiansen
Headquarters: 208A Commerce Blvd., Round Rock, TX 78664
Employees: Under 20
Major Product Lines: 6-Series Detector and Controllers, DVP-120 Control Panel, HD-11 Hydrogen Detector, CM-E1 CO Detector, GD-2A Combustible Gas Detector
Year Founded: 1972

“Our emphasis is on working with the distributor and installer to educate them and support them,” he says. “Being able to go ahead and work with the installers and being able to have strong customer service and technical support are the most important things for us.”

Michael Maynard is a contributing editor based in Providence, RI. He writes frequently on HVACR, construction and architecture issues. Contact him at [email protected]

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