Huffman Engineering is System Integrator of the Year, 2022

Huffman Engineering is the 2022 System Integrator of the Year for the Small System Integrator Category. Huffman Engineering's management team discussed the company’s success and customer relationships with CFE Media.

By CFE Media December 8, 2021
Courtesy: Huffman Engineering

Huffman Engineering is a system integrator that strives to “make ideas work,” which is more than a tag line for the company. These members of the Huffman Engineering Inc. management team discussed the company’s success and customer relationships with CFE Media:

  • Howard Huffman, PE; president and COO
  • Wendy Huffman, CEO and CFO
  • Keith Mandachit, PE; engineering manager
  • Toby Varner, industry manager.

CFE Media: Congratulations on receiving the 2022 System Integrator of the Year award. Talk about what this kind of recognition means to you and your team.

Howard Huffman: After 35 years in business, it is an honor to have the effort and results of building a great company recognized. The award is outside confirmation of what we have known for several years: We are learning, growing and getting better at developing people and serving customers. We have gone through the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) certification multiple times and each time it has been a learning, growing and rewarding experience. Seeing what can be done and doing it has been challenging and rewarding.

This award is validation of the quality of work, the people we have chosen to hire and work with and the projects we have moved forward. Our focus has always been projects that make the communities we work and live in better places, and we get to do that every day. “Making ideas work” is more than a tag line for us. We take great pride in hearing what our customers’ needs are and the challenge of making that happen with great attention to detail and innovative thought. 

CFE Media: What do customers most request as a project begins? What are the keys for a successful project launch?

Toby Varner: Our customers don’t request, but rather require us to pay attention and listen to them so we can understand their ideas and business need. The true test of keeping your customers is to let them know they are valued, and we want to make them successful. Our customers seek out a system integrator they can trust to do the hard work, bring innovative solutions to the table, clear concise communication throughout the project and service that is second to none. Technology — both hardware and software — are transforming at a rapid pace and our engineers, and technicians need to be well-versed in those changes and constantly up on the latest in automation.

Our initial project meetings start with listening to the customer and hearing what they need. Being able to offer solutions to make their idea work is the greatest partnership we can form with them. Our keys to a successful product launch are: An onsite visit, including photos and videos of existing operations, a kick-off meeting, detailed documentation of the project goals and requirements and a plan for moving the project forward. All engineers are juggling multiple priorities at once, so laying the groundwork for successful project execution from the beginning makes a world of difference.

Left to right: Toby Varner, Howard Huffman, Keith Mandachit, Wendy Huffman, Bernie Lyons. Courtesy: Huffman Engineering

Left to right: Toby Varner, Howard Huffman, Keith Mandachit, Wendy Huffman, Bernie Lyons. Courtesy: Huffman Engineering

CFE Media: Talk about project management as a strategy for Huffman Engineering. Why is it important, and how does this help end users achieve their goals?

Wendy Huffman: Project management is the engine that makes our business a success. Keen attention to detail and listening and executing based on the customer’s specific needs must be the focus every day. Then, when issues arise, we have built the relationship and they trust we’re going to get it right and make them successful.

Clear communication from the start, extending all the way to the completion of the project, means our customer’s engineers and operators have a smooth transition to continuous operations of any project we do for them. Once you’ve built that trust, it’s easy to understand why valued customers return. We follow a system of discovery, definition, design, validation and production readiness with each client and that system has served us well.

You can’t have testing without the planning, and you can’t have installation without the parts, but honestly, project management is not just schedules and dollars. It’s more about caring enough about your customers to always do the right thing.

CFE Media: How are you working with your customers to facilitate their information technology (IT)/operational technology (OT) convergence efforts, while incorporating cybersecurity? How engaged are they on this journey?

Keith Mandachit: Cybersecurity has been a focus of Huffman Engineering Inc. for some time now. What many may not realize is there is a dynamic and sometimes tenuous relationship between IT and OT departments based on how upgrades to cybersecurity on one side can impact the other. Security benefits to IT, for example, if not done with strong communication and input from the OT side can have the reverse effect on production and manufacturing. It starts with bridging the gap between IT and OT so that conversation can happen, and the impact felt on production can be minimized.

We recognize and take seriously the role we often play in working with the IT and OT departments of our customers. Securing their systems necessitates an understanding of the IT side as well as an ability to merge that knowledge with the intricacies of an automation system and how interconnected various components are within a manufacturing system. Because our engineers are skilled in both sides, we saw a need we could easily fill and began by certifying our engineers in the latest ISA/IEC 62443 training to perform risk assessments.

This expertise in cybersecurity was fueled by the recovery of a valued customer’s automation systems after they were hit with a cyberattack. We understood the shattering consequences an unprovoked and unforeseen attack had on their company and being able to help them securely come back from that situation inspired us to want to help others.

Our team of cybersecurity certified experts can perform risk assessments and initiate a prevention plan that looks at the overall process and provides a ten-thousand-foot view of cybersecurity within a plant.

We like to talk about it in five steps:

  1. Educate your organization on risk mitigation
  2. Perform detailed risk-assessments with a qualified CSIA system integrator
  3. Design systems to mitigate risk and meet compliance
  4. Install or reconfigure systems
  5. Document and train on all safeguards and systems.

CFE Media: Describe how Huffman Engineering goes about forming engineering partnerships with its customers. What are the benefits of these engineering partnerships to the customer? How does Huffman benefit from these partnerships?

Howard Huffman: Huffman Engineering Inc. has spent 35 years working as an extension of our customers’ engineering group. The understanding of their processes and policies, the competency and skills used in projects, the tenure of employees working in facilities, the completeness of documentation and retention of critical records allows HEI to provide historical context of what was done and proactive ideas for going forward. The risk due to volatility among in-house staff is reduced due to our history and experiences at their facility and lessons learned from other projects. We make ideas work and others successful by getting results and building relationships. The partnerships benefit our customers, our communities and our employees by using skills and talents to improve people’s lives. We want our projects to provide a long-term profitable relationship for our customers, vendors, employees and our company.

Our focus on regulated industries (life sciences, utilities and food) allows us to develop in-depth knowledge of the requirements our customers must meet and the skills to help them meet those requirements. Working in common industries provides growth in knowledges and practices that benefit our efficiency and results.

Our hope is that our partnerships last a lifetime. We have never been and will never be known as a one-and-done integrator. Because our trained engineers and technicians are constantly encouraged and supported to challenge themselves with new training, additional degrees and a consistent thirst to learn, our team is able to meet challenges we have not even dreamed of yet. And that’s the best thing about having long-term partnerships: We dream big together and can tackle even more than we once thought possible. We take great pride in having the most competent, dynamic and innovative team surrounding every customer and we support our team in every way to make that happen.

CFE Media: Talk briefly about a recent customer success. What were some of the things you learned in success with the customer?

Wendy Huffman: Two recent successes come to the forefront. The first, a life sciences company project focused on animal health. We were able to design and implement a control system tailored to our customer’s standards and specifications on single-use bioreactors and single-use mixers. Based on the expertise deployed in this successful project, it became the standard across their system.

The second example is a multi-year clean water project with a large metropolitan city. Over the course of many years and many sub projects that live under the overall goal, we have enabled the city to standardize its control systems with the marks of Huffman Engineering in a way they will be set up for success for decades to come regardless of internal changes that may happen within their system. This proved beneficial in recent years when the city dealt with major disruption from flooding and Huffman Engineering was the control system integrator they called to help. Making that kind of a difference in the community and leaving a lasting legacy to the health and safety of every person in the metropolitan area is a reward that cannot be measured and we quietly do it all the time.

One hallmark of our success has been the focused attention we give to the end of a project. With great care, we take the time to ensure there is a complete transfer of knowledge, not only in detailed drawings and design, but also in conversation. We want to make sure our partner’s internal staff, automation group or operators are familiar with the system, so they take ownership of its functionality and feel comfortable with the work we’ve done. Our team of engineers and technicians regularly simplify the complex and help make others successful and in the highly regulated pharmaceutical, food and beverage and utilities industries, this makes us a trusted advisor to those we work with and gives us great satisfaction in making ideas work.

Author Bio: Since its founding in 2010, CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings, and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency. CFE delivers the right information at the right time around the world through a variety of platforms.