It takes less space. It runs on less energy. It's low-maintenance, and it offers flexibility that is changing the way things are made.
Now the Salina company that created IntelliFinishing, a modular industrial painting system, is facing the challenge of introducing change to a manufacturing process that has stayed essentially the same for 40 years, said Doug Oliphant, vice president of IntelliFinishing, a division of Kasa Companies, 418 E. Avenue B.
"The more installs we get, the more references and the more believers there are," Oliphant said. "Success breeds success."
Oliphant said IntelliFinishing, launched in 2010, is what's known as a "disruptive innovation" for the finishing industry. He thinks it's only a matter of time before the rest of the industry adopts the technology or falls behind.
But convincing potential customers of that is the job at hand, and it probably won't happen overnight. Purchasing a system requires an upfront investment of at least $1 million.
"Other finishing companies are entrenched in the old ways, and they're not just rolling over and saying, 'That's a great idea. We're closing our doors,' " he said.
An ability to innovate in hard times can help bring back good times, and Kasa is among several of Salina's longtime industries that have survived and thrived because of their ability to respond to a changing market.
A stand-alone product
With IntelliFinishing's first two customers being Caterpillar and Raytheon, IntelliFinishing launched into parts finishing on a major scale. The systems are applying coats of paint to massive equipment parts weighing as much as 12,000 pounds. IntelliFinishing marks the first time a Kasa company has produced a stand-alone product under its own brand name, he said. It has required hiring marketing and sales representatives who know how to market the brand and educate potential buyers about the benefits of taking a new approach.
"The project at hand is a huge business model change," he said. "Now we're the lead."
IntelliFinishing is redefining business as usual for its parent corporation, and Oliphant said the timing for its launch may turn out to be "really good."
"Economic indicators are that things are coming back, and we're ready to go," he said. "Our company's philosophy is that we always have to be growing. If you're just steady, you're dying."
Kasa is looking to add engineers to the nearly 200 employees already on the companies' payroll.
Recession an opportunity
Down times in the market can offer a unique opportunity for starting something new, said Joni Cobb, president and chief executive officer of PIPELINE, a Kansas-based fellowship program that trains, mentors and connects high-potential technology entrepreneurs.
"Times of recession are often the best time to start entrepreneurial endeavors," she said. "More than half of the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list and nearly half of the firms on the 2008 Inc. list of America's fastest-growing companies were launched during a recession or bear market."
Cobb said entrepreneurs deal with constant need for change and adaptation.
"Very successful entrepreneurs are willing to constantly assess their assumptions and find new ways to approach their markets," she said. "We talk a lot about 'change' in terms of 'pivot' to an entrepreneur's business model."
What a machine can do
The need to anticipate future "pivots" is a selling point for IntelliFinishing, Oliphant said. The system offers flexibility that traditional finishing systems don't have and can be adapted to parts of varying shapes and sizes.
"It lets you take a little bit of the not-knowing-what-the-future's-going-to-bring out of the purchase," Oliphant said. "Nobody knows what they'll be doing five years from now."
Oliphant can describe multiple benefits of switching to the IntelliFinishing process:
Big transition for Kasa
The introduction of IntelliFinishing marked a big transition for Kasa Companies. Since 1974, Kasa Industrial Controls has produced programmable logic control panels that operate a variety of manufacturing systems for national and international companies. Kasa Fab also fabricates metal enclosures to hold the control panels and other parts.
"That's our major flywheel," Oliphant said. "It's ticking. It's going, so that has allowed us to invest in this as well."
Kasa usually operates as a subcontractor, designing custom-made control panels to address a specific need in a mechanical system designed elsewhere, Oliphant said.
For the IntelliFinishing product, the control panels were installed in a system that Kasa engineers spent five to seven years originally helping develop for Caterpillar.
But, will it sell?
The potential for universal applications in all kinds of manufacturing finishing processes was immediately recognized, but the decision to sell the system wasn't immediate, Oliphant said.
A consultant was hired to research paint systems currently available and what kind of market share could realistically be captured. Caterpillar, which applied for several patents in connection with parts of the system, agreed to allow IntelliFinishing to sell the modular paint system, he said.
The conveyor system, ovens and washers were developed by partner firms, but the controls and computer engineering is what makes all of it work together, Oliphant said.
"The brains behind them is what makes it unique," Oliphant said. "We're applying the control panel technology to an area that hasn't been automated to this degree in the past."
Oliphant said being in charge of IntelliFinishing projects is a nice change.
"We're really good at project management, and it's nice to be in charge of your own destiny," he said.
- Reporter Erin Mathews can be reached at 822-1415 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.