The manufacturing sector continues to face many challenges, including the emergence of low-cost producers, complex supply chains, technological change and growing demands of regulatory compliance.
Adversity often brings a strong impetus for companies to focus on productivity and growth: from lean manufacturing and continuous improvement to driving adoption of new innovative technologies and business strategies. Two tech manufacturers in Greater Toronto Area’s York Region have done just that, finding successful high-value product and service niches.
A "SMART" MOVE INTO INTELLIGENT BUILDING SOLUTIONS
Vaughan, York Region-based Mircom Group of Companies has become North America’s largest independent manufacturer of fire and life safety systems. Mircom Group is best described as an intelligent building provider and participates in connected real estate and in the Internet of Things, according to Mircom Group’s director of research and industry affairs, David Sylvester.
An under-pinning technology for Mircom Group is an industry standard called BACNet: an interoperable building systems protocol for the integration of fire alarm systems with building automation systems.
“We believe in unified solutions, making things easier for our customers,” says Sylvester. “We are drilling down into tactical emergency response, human behaviour, communications, and knowledge sharing in different environments to reduce risk.”
In a sea of multi-billion dollar giant competitors, Mircom Group’s strategy is paying dividends. Sales are approaching $100 million and the company’s footprint stretches across 70 countries—supported by 20 branch offices around the world. Nearly half of the Mircom Group’s approximate 600 employees are in the 85,000 square feet Vaughan facilities, where R&D and manufacturing take place.
An impressive 10 percent of Mircom Group’s entire workforce is dedicated to R&D. A team of 60 engineers and programmers, many with PhDs, develop integrated, intelligent systems, including hardware, firmware and software.
“We believe emergency responders need to be empowered with better tools and analytics when they respond,” says Sylvester. “Our research and development is focused here, because that is where we can save the most lives quickest.”
Sylvester explains: R&D benefits from ongoing market research—accessing social media and other sources—for greater insight on industry influencers and buyers in life safety and the intelligent building sector.
“We are trying to understand the ‘voice of the customer’ in the context of product development and the R&D cycle,” says Sylvester. “We need to feed the 60 people in R&D and make them knowledgeable of what is going on in the market.”
Mircom Group collaborates on product design with both local universities and colleges. For example, working with York University, Mircom Group developed OpenGN smart building technology, incorporating geomatics and new visualization tools. Firefighters can now have an interactive, easy-to-use, 3D visualization of a building's interior for faster response.
Another showcase technology from Mircom Group is Smart Home applications. The TX3 InSuite solution integrates video intercom, home automation and system integration for condo developments. Condo residents can use in-suite touch screens to monitor cameras in the building, book service elevators, and more importantly, stay informed during a fire alarm emergency event.
The convergence of customer needs, product design, and manufacturing is creating new solutions for the Mircom Group.
HIGH-VALUE WIRELESS DEVICE LIFECYCLE MANAGEMENT
Richmond-Hill, York Region-based ProMobility has matured from a wireless dealer, selling and repairing pagers, into a premiere device lifecycle management company. ProMobility is an exciting story of process innovation and recent accelerated business growth.
Japanese lean manufacturing and related tools are prominent in ProMobility’s assembly and operational processes.
“It is part of our DNA…..we live it every day,” says ProMobility’s VP and general manager, Rick Ash. “We need the flexibility to ramp up at the push of a button and scale quickly.”
Ramping up quickly, indeed. As many as 50,000 mobile devices pass through ProMobility’s doors every month, and a remarkable 99.9% of waste from landfills is diverted: Devices are received, categorized and inspected according to customer specifications; data is sanitized and destructed during a quality control process; parts are harvested, reused and recycled; and devices are resold back into the wireless ecosystem.
ProMobility is the only service provider in the wireless carrier space, certified for both R2 (Responsible Recycling Practices) and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) electronics recycling. ProMobility is also about to become a member of the OES (Ontario Electronic Stewardship) e-waste program and is the only Canadian company in the process of certification with the international e-Stewards Initiative.
“[Gaining certifications] has been a cornerstone of our business related to success factors and competitive advantage,” says Promobility’s president and CEO, Joseph Belcredi. “A certified business makes us a better company, and builds that trust factor with our customers.”
Obtaining R2 certification in March, 2013, was crucial for ProMobility landing a large U.S. client that entered Canada. Just six months later, ProMobility’s facilities almost tripled in size from 26,000 square feet to 66,000 square feet, and headcount jumped from 32 employees to 120 employees.
ProMobility has successfully differentiated itself, acquiring expertise in data privacy, environmental controls, employee health and safety and corporate responsibility.
“The green piece is fully integrated into whatever we do,” says Belcredi, “and we are taking it to the next step.”
We have two examples of superb niche marketing, with product and service offerings customized to the specific needs of target groups. Both strategies deliver high value, services and support, skills and expertise, and ensure the end result exceeds customer expectations—a recipe for continued success.