Engineering a Brighter Future
Intellitec built a reputation producing power control systems. With new tools in place, the company is heralding a new era of technical innovation, market expansion and streamlined productivity.
By Luke Schmaltz
Ned Schiff has been working with electrical systems and power control applications for more than 30 years.
Yet the Intellitec president readily admits he is not driving company success.
Intellitec is an “engineering solutions-driven company,” Schiff said, citing its founding by retired Zenith engineer Bill Slavic.
Those engineers are driving success and change, Schiff said. Sometimes, they even make competitors products better.
“We continue to ask a lot of questions as technology changes,” he said. “Frequently, we are solving problems that don’t involve our products. We truly view ourselves as a partner and resource for our customers.
“These relationships lead our customers to come to us first when they identify a need,” he said, “Our ability to quickly develop a reliable, cost-effective solution truly sets us apart from our competition.”
Schiff recently provided his team with new tools he said will be key to helping Intellitec create a tech-savvy user experience and further forge a market identity based on quality, efficiency and affordability.
Schiff joined the RV industry nearly 25 years ago as vice president at Technology Resources Corp. (now Southwire), where he helped introduce the Surge Guard power protection line (undervoltage, overvoltage, open neutral and surge protection) to the RV industry. He went on to incorporate the surge protection advances into the automatic transfer switch.
Eventually, Intellitec hired Schiff to be the company president. Four years later, he lead a recapitalization effort. Intellitec used the funding to buy its 34,000-square foot, 9-acre industrial campus headquarters in DeLand, Florida, giving the company greater control of overhead costs.
Other portions of the recapitalization funding were directed to purchase state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and to make significant investments in marketing and engineering.
Intellitec has plans for “a number of new products” in 2021, Schiff said, and the company is expanding its engineering department, both in-house and through its network of engineering partners.
Growing the engineering department will help the company broaden its product development capabilities. Schiff said. Additionally, Intellitec’s ability to partner with other outside engineers addresses issues with limited engineering resources, which Schiff said every manufacturer contends with.
“When we are developing a new product that requires new expertise, it greatly shortens the development time and reduces risks of contracting that expertise, as opposed to learning it or hiring another engineer,” he said. “Using outside engineers allows us to expand our efforts and develop more products in parallel with internal expansion.”
Schiff said the new equipment is having a huge impact on the ability to develop a wide variety of products at a faster pace. For example, printed circuit board manufacturing equipment has expanded Intellitec’s capacity to produce, improve product quality and create redundancy.
“We also have the ability to use smaller components, allowing us to shrink future products,” he said. “We now have a dedicated, lead-free line for boards, which are required for certain industries, thus expanding our markets.”
Schiff noted Intellitec’s new opportunity to produce harnesses, for one. He said OEMs increasingly outsource harness work, and investments made in the new equipment enable Intellitec to fill the OEMs’ needs.
“Our high-speed wire cutter/ stripper and additional presses and dyes for terminals vastly expand our harness capability while reducing costs,” Schiff said. “We have also invested in quality, with better ESD (electrostatic discharge) protection and improved inspection equipment.”
Adding the plant equipment required Intellitec to create a new manufacturing layout. Schiff used lean principles, which he said has greatly reduced labor and cycle time to manufacture printed circuit boards and harnesses to complete products.
The equipment investment went beyond the printed circuit boards and additional presses, though.
“The tools we invested in for (Engineering Manager) Austin Ciambriello and his team include new software, specialty power supplies, test equipment, a laser cutter/engraver, a UV printer and 3-D printing,” Schiff said, adding that the team uses the new equipment to develop prototypes, without outsourcing to a third party. “The new equipment increases our vertical integration and improves our quality, which reduces cost and cycle time.”
As a result, the engineering and manufacturing teams are achieving tight new product turn around times, Schiff said, providing customized solutions to customers in weeks.
Investing in new equipment is not the only change happening at Intellitec.
Schiff considers adding quality personnel to the company crucial to the overall business plan. Intellitec’s latest hire is Vince Pesce, a marketing specialist tasked with improving marketing efforts and creating product/service demand, including contract manufacturing of boards, harnesses and control panels.
In the first quarter of 2021, the company will launch a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, an additional recapitalization investment. The system will provide real-time information on materials, production, shipping, finance and customer activity.
The result will be faster, more accurate data for customers, Schiff said. The upgrade will also lower company costs and drive efficiency, as ERP impacts every aspect of the business, from initial inquiry to invoicing to field support.
“The availability of business information from real-time data, trends and forecasts will allow us to better manage our business,” he said. “This will result in identifying problems with first pass yields, scrap material, etc. … improved material and production planning and reducing lead-times.”
Talking About Productivity
Communication is another major factor Schiff cited in Intellitec’s potential to grow. The management team fosters a company-wide culture that values clear, frequent communication between departments and within each team, an approach rarely seen in the industry, Schiff said.
“We do not have fiefdoms or silos, which are prevalent in other organizations,” he said. “I have seen where sales say ‘yes’ to whatever the customer asks, throws it over the fence to engineering, who then designs what they think the customer needs and subsequently throws it over the wall to manufacturing to figure out how to get the materials and build the product. The result is always a disaster.”
Intellitec’s approach requires the involvement of all departments at the conversation’s start – engineering, manufacturing, purchasing and quality control. By including each department in customer discussions from the beginning, Schiff said the team ensures that they can meet customer requirements, have materials available, and complete the projects on time and within a budget.
Communication between departments is frequent and sometimes constant, he said, continuing into nights and weekends as needed. Schiff also credited work from Applications Engineering Manager Jeff Caudill and Sales Manager Nick Collins, whose RV electrical system knowledge and contacts enabled Collins to identify current and future market needs to drive product development.
Before the plant expansion, Intellitec launched tow new products earlier in 2020, the Battery Guard 1000 RV-C and Smart B.I.R.D RV-C. The battery management products are the first to include electric current monitoring, status and fault indication, and RV-C communications, Schiff said.
“The information they provide allows the RV OEM to prevent dead batteries and to extend the batteries’ lives,” he said, “resulting in much happier customers.”
The new battery management systems are indicative of technology required to meet present-day OEM and consumer needs. Multiplex interfaces must be intuitive and attractive, Schiff said, be it a switch panel, LCD display or smart app. Multiple power sources, including lithium ion batteries and solar, present interfacing and control challenges as well.
“The complexity of the DC systems and the need for all the devices to communicate seamlessly is important,” Schiff said.
Other complexities arise because consumers more often choose to use smart devices to operate their power systems. Accessing internal power systems via the internet of things (IoT) presents a new level of convenience, but Schiff said that approach poses security concerns.
“This is a popular subject in the RV-C technical committee,” Schiff said. “The RV is considered a home, (and) we should treat it in the same fashion we treat our homes. Since an RV is mobile, there are additional risks and safety-critical features (leveling, generators, etc.) that need to be protected. Encryption and security are critical for dealing with IoT.”
Schiff’s plan for the company’s future starts by understanding the marketplace. He said working closely with customers is a bigger challenge today because of newer technologies being developed.
With new tool in the company toolbox and a staff focused on solutions derived from its engineers, Schiff said he has Intellitec prepared for an explosive growth stage.
“We have to have knowledge and a level of expertise in a wide variety of technologies,” he said. “We work differently, clearly defining the customers needs from performance, cost and time-frame standpoints. This is the key to our future success.”
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