Electrical panel buyers have historically found frustration and often disappointment trying to get a quality product. We've been there, and we know how it feels.
The problem continues even today, so what can be done? Who can really do this work? More importantly, who can do it well?
Electrical panel building is a very quality-oriented task. The layout is the first and foremost area of concern. The end customer is usually an electrician or controls engineer, and we find them to be very particular people--in great part because if the circuits they are responsible for don't turn out right, they look bad.
Poor quality in a panel build inevitably means costly troubleshooting. If a machine builder gets a low-bid panel into the shop, there's a good chance he'll spend a lot of time troubleshooting the panel instead of integrating the panel. This can be an expensive proposition, as sometimes it requires checking every connection of every wire. There's little choice: Failing to do so could result in damage to components or electrical shock.
Why do these problems exist? In our view, the competitive nature of business has driven the market down to the point where some companies have resorted to meeting the absolute minimum requirements of a job, period. They skimp, sometimes unknowingly, in areas that make extra work for the end user. Labels, wire markers, and other tags are actually cheap to buy and install. However, if completeness is not a part of the mindset of a company, this detail often is overlooked or avoided to allow for a fast, cost-cutter panel build.
Special machine builders demand high quality. A special machine builder who builds an electrical panel "the way he would want it" puts working quality into the heart of the panel. Machine builders ask the right questions; they buy in on the scope of work that the customer needs to see delivered to its plant. They know the customer wants the work done as if they were building it themselves.
Our company has been challenged with buying this commodity for years. We have gone to great lengths to request quality electrical panels for the special machinery that we manufacture. We've been in the business of designing and building special machines and equipment since 1944.
"Customers have approached us over the years, asking if we do this type of work or that," our president Ted Fiock reminded me. "One day, a customer asked if we made and installed electrical panels. My reply was, 'No, but why not?'" That was the beginning point for our now-famous motto, "If you don't see it, ask!"
That type of conversation was not uncommon to many shops. It was difficult to find a "controls house" to properly work with a machine or equipment builder and achieve integration success. We mentioned to this customer that we also had trouble finding this type of service. That's when we began to realize that our company could put together a controls-building team that would be successful in the design and build of electrical cabinets. The way to solve our problem and many other firms' problems was to take the responsibility in-house.
Did it work? That was eight years ago, and this part of our business has since blossomed.
This is not to say that machine builders have to get into--or get back into--the panel building business if they ever hope to provide high-quality and dependable electric panels for their machines.
We got into it only when we looked beyond that initial customer inquiry and recognized the value-add we could bring to new and existing customers.
Maybe the point I want to make is this: Even in a tough economic climate, with a great deal of competition all around, a customer unquestionably should be able to expect no-nonsense quality, whether it's electric panels, sensors, motors and drives, or software performance.
There are companies out there that undoubtedly learned the same lessons we have. It's attention to quality and commitment to meeting customer need--not just slipping by with the minimum--that builds loyal customer relationships and creates the reputation that attracts new customers.
Ron Rosenow is sales engineer for Andersen Tool and Engineering, Andersen, Ind. Learn more about the company by browsing to www.ateinc.com.