Rebirth: AVG recovers from fire to launch eight EZAutomation product lines

Bettendorf, IA—Following a devastating fire almost one year ago, AVG Uticor has rebuilt and expanded, and AVG Automation has launches its EZAutomation division, which features 10 product lines.

By Control Engineering Staff January 18, 2005
Leon Brower, VP of operations for AVG and EZAutomation, shows the difference between the AVG Uticor two by 20 character marquee and the newly designed EZMarquee from EZAutomation, about one-third the size and price.

Bettendorf, IA— A year ago Feb. 21 the AVG Uticor manufacturing and engineering center went up in smoke, halting production here. Thanks to state and local assistance, activity resumed a few days later in a nearby closed food store. Now, after millions in new investment to rebuild and expand the plant, and hire additional staff, AVG Automation launches the EZAutomation division, with more than 400 new products, a 340-page catalog featuring 10 product lines, and a direct-sales and support model with value-added resellers (VARs), ready to sell, ship, and support $2 million in stock.

The company invested $5 million in the new division and product line expansion, an additional $3 million in building expansion, and received $500,000 in local and state-based assistance for fire recovery. Personnel also expanded by 80 to 150 in the Bettendorf, IA, location. Seven VARs are on-hand now, with more expected, says Shalli Kumar, AVG’s president and CEO. The company’s also putting multi-millions into a three-month advertising promotion and research effort, to help get the word out, starting in January 2005.

The eight new product lines include marquees, micro-modular PLCs, I/O devices, text-panel PLCs, touch-panel PLCs, touchscreen PCs with a Microsoft Windows operating system, touchscreen PLC/MS Windows CE computer, and flat-panel monitors. The two enhanced products are EZPanel and EZText. The eight new product lines are EZPLC, EZI/O, EZText PLC, EZTouch PLC, EZTouchscreen CE Computer, EZCE Touchpanel, and EZMonitor. The two Microsoft Windows CE-based lines are scheduled for a March release, Kumar says.

EZAutomation’s Brower holds an EZMarquee board in front of the open back of the Uticor design, showing how one source of savings is redesign of electronics; three boards of circuitry now fits into one, well under 1/10 of the real estate, using a Freescale Semiconductor Coldfire processor. The board, with minor modifications, is also used in other product lines.

Having supplied EZTouch touchscreen technology and related customer support to AutomationDirect for five years, Kumar has great respect for the sell-direct model. ‘AutomationDirect’s Tim Hohmann has done great emulating the Dell model for automation. We’re like Dell at Best Buy.’ That requires experienced VARs, Kumar says; one was in training during an exclusive Control Engineering Jan. 12 facility tour. A new area for customer support, engineering, and 6,000 square feet of warehouse addition were among highlights of the largely rebuilt 50,000 square feet structure. The nearly renovated plant got back into almost full swing in early December 2004, although until product launch, some work was set aside. The test lab, for instance, is still working in a temporary location in the old cafeteria until there’s time to complete the new lab.

Engineers on staff have been working on the multi-line launch since January 2004. Kumar gathered plant-floor employees for a September 2004, announcement about the expansion. Many have been working 75 hours a week for the last six weeks in the final push, now just seven days behind what he called an aggressive timeline. Kumar says he’s been working 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. regularly. Daljit Sabharwal, senior VP, lives in Chicago and commutes to Iowa and back for the workweek. ‘We’re 98.8% done,’ Kumar noted with excitement and some relief.

Customer service representatives, nine in all, will be available from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. central time for orders and until midnight for support. Three labs were set up to support technical support at $50,000 each, along with a new phone system and customer database. Goal is to answer calls in 30 seconds or less. Orders will be shipped same day, if placed by 7:15 p.m., Kumar says. This model also is a turnaround for the company; it wasn’t unusual for Uticor to ship in the old industry standard four to six weeks.

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Mark T. Hoske, editor-in-chief