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Keeping Up With the Times

>>> Siemon Company Sees a Smart Future in Cabling Systems

By David Krechevsky
As featured in the November 13, 2016 edition of Manufacturing Today

The Siemon Co.'s Data Center Showroom includes server cabinets wired with the company's copper and fiber-optic cabling. Siemon executives say the trend today is to build "intelligent buildings" that can reduce energy by monitoring office temperature and humidity and the amount of light and adjusting to workers' needs.

The Siemon Company may be 113 years old, but the manufacturer of telecommunications cabling systems has evolved with the 21st century.

These days that means Siemon is now a leader in helping customers develop and construct "intelligent buildings," which, like smartphones and other smart electronics, help companies work more efficiently, as well as reduce their energy use and improve productivity.

Recently, four Siemon executives sat down in the company's Data Center Showroom in its facility at 101 Siemon Company Drive to discuss their latest products and services. The four executives were Robert C. Carlson Jr., vice president of global marketing; Chief Financial officer Thomas Costello; Dianne R. Veley, global human resources manager, and Brian Wheelock, manufacturing manager.

Q: So what's new at Siemon?

Carlson: There's always something new. We're always innovating, to be ahead of our competition. We want to be first to market, and if we're not first to market we need to be best to market, so we need to research what's out there and find new and better ways to do it.

One of our primary focus areas today is on the data center. We're seeing a big trend with enterprise data centers, which own and operate their own data centers, now outsourcing (data computing, storage and management) to cloud and co-location companies (which rent space and equipment).

The other big segment we focus on is intelligent buildings. We call it Converge IT, which is local area networks (LAN) plus intelligent buildings. Internet protocol (IP) applications are now running over our cabling and being powered by the network switches using Power over Ethernet (PoE). Siemon is now the only cabling system company that's part of Cisco's Digital Ceiling platform. Cisco is partnering with market leaders in PoE LED lighting.

Our cabling system and our design capabilities help to enable the "digital ceiling." Digital ceilings have sensors built into the LED light fixtures, such as for occupancy, or for temperature and humidity. It's about automation - using the building data for analysis to improve efficiency and reduce energy use.

We're very involved in the front end of that. So we're not necessarily selling our products at that point, we're helping our customers by talking about capital expenditure savings and the return on investment (ROI) that can be had from adopting internet protocol applications using PoE over an intelligent building cabling system.

Q: So you're making the cabling, but also installing the systems?

Carlson: No, we're taking a leadership role and trying to change the way our target companies go about building their buildings. Typically, you have a general contractor who subcontracts out all the different applications. These are silo applications that require specialty products, specialty cabling, specialty contractors.

What we propose is that we set up the team to design an integrated system up front, so you can use a single network cabling system to support any IP application you build, now and in the future.

Q: So how long have you been working on this?

Carlson: Technically, we've been working on this since 1997. It was called Total Building Integrated Cabling at that point. But there were so many trades that were against it, because it reduces the number of contractors involved and people have been resistant to change in the way they design and build buildings. Today, for the first time, that's really changing. We saw it change with Voice over IP, then security, wireless access, and now there are endless possibilities. The Internet of Things, right?

Q: Some people may not understand what "Internet of Things" means.

Costello: That means that just about everything can be connected to the internet. So, the lighting can be hooked up to a network cabling system, powered by the network switch over the (network cabling) rather than over electrical cable. That displaces an electrician coming in to wire the lighting; it's now the data cabling guy who's going to put that in. And you can put a sensor in so that for the people sitting close to the window, it'll sense that there's light coming in and the lights will dim, so that they'll get the right amount of light while saving energy.

That's an example of the Internet of Things. Why waste light if it's bright enough coming in from the window?

Q: So the lights get their power from the same cable that's also checking to see whether it needs to be brighter or dimmer?

Carlson: Yes, our cabling simultaneously transmits both communication and power. It's all coming from the network switch and the software. That opens the door for huge possibilities in the future. And it's all accessible, anywhere you can get the internet.

We partner with the IP device manufacturers, with the installers, with the consultants and system integrators who have experience with designing and implementing intelligent buildings, and dealing with software platforms. Honeywell offers what they call EBI, Enterprise Building Integrator software, and we actually use that here for building automation. Since we implemented that we've been able to reduce our energy costs significantly.

It's about using that data to improve efficiencies and get a return on investment. And that's what we're talking to our customers about.

Q: That puts a tremendous amount of responsibility on network cabling.

Costello: We recommend "future proofing," which means putting in state-of theart cabling systems that will allow you to run things over that system for 15-20 years.

Carlson: The cabling is the hardest thing to replace in your network, because it goes into your floors, your walls, your ceilings. With the increasing need for speed and bandwidth, installing a high-quality, high-performance cabling system is recommended to get the best ROI. If a lower-cost, lower-performing cabling needs to be replaced because it can't support your needs, it will end up costing more in the long run to replace it.

We make the cabling systems and the connectivity here in Watertown. We're very highly automated here, with vertically integrated manufacturing, from injection molding to metal stamping to sheet-metal bending. But not only do we make the products, we build and maintain the tooling and automation equipment that make the products. And when we bring customers through to see our factory, they don't see this level of control or vertical integration at our competitors.

Wheelock: There's not many left that do from design to build to automated assembly anymore. We're one of the very few around that continue to do that, especially in Connecticut.

Carlson: Most of our competitors now manufacture their connectivity products outside of the United States.

Wheelock: Exactly. So we've been competitive. We've been able to automate quite a bit, which keeps our costs down. Every time we look at assembling parts, first thing we look at is, how do we keep costs down and automate it? So we compare that to overseas costs, and usually we can beat that by automating it.

Q: Given everything you're doing now, how has that changed the skill set for your employees?

Veley: I would say the skill set necessarily hasn't changed, because we've had automation for years.

But what we're finding is it's difficult to find people with those skills locally. For example, toolmaking is a skill set we need, because we design and build the tools that do the production for us. To find people who are staying in that field and going into that field is difficult, because so many people have left.

Engineering talent is also harder to come by because there's fewer jobs. It's easier for (college graduates) to go to another state where they have more opportunity to find a job than to come to or stay in Connecticut.

Wheelock: (That's) because you had a 20-year gap where a lot of companies said "we're getting out of this and we're going to move these jobs overseas, or we're just not going to put the education into it." But that's where (Naugatuck Valley Community College's Advanced Manufacturing program) comes into play.

We have partnered with them over the last four or five years, and one of the apprentices we have now came from NVCC.

We're also trying to work on a program to increase our (employees') skill set, because we have a lot of older toolmakers. So the next handful of years we're going to need new talent with that skill set.

Q: Do you also need cable installers and IT people?

Carlson: Yes, that's where we have partnerships. We partner with a global network of about 1,500 certified installer companies. We also have programs for consultants and architects and system integrators. These are the companies that have proven experience with intelligent building system integration and knowledge of the software platforms, and tie it all together as well. So we aren't trying to do that ourselves.

Q: And your cabling systems are a key part of that?

Carlson: A lot of people treat cabling, unfortunately, as a commodity and they want to spend as little as possible for it, until you educate them about it. Siemon recommends a high-quality, high-performance cabling system to ensure maximum reliability and data throughput. Customers spend millions on networking equipment, but those who connect that equipment with cheap cabling are going to have problems.

Executives of The Siemon Co. sit in the manufacturer's Data Center Showroom is the company's headquarters in Watertown. From left: Robert C. Carlson Jr., vice president of global marketing, Dianne R. Veley, global human resources manager, Chief Financial Officer Thomas Costello and Manufacturing Brian Wheelock.

Q: Siemon is also known for being very environmentally conscious. Does that give you an edge on your competitors?

Carlson: We take the whole green message and environmental sustainability very seriously. It began with the third of our four company presidents name Carl Siemon, who started a tree farm in New Hampshire. It was 16 acres; it's now 3,300 acres. It's a private land trust that absorbs a lot of carbon. So because of that, and because of our zero landfill effort (meaning waste material is recycled, reused or repurposed) and the solar (Siemon's headquarters installed solar panels in 2009 to produce power for its facility), we're 179 percent carbon negative as a global company. No other competitor can come close to that. Just in North America, we are 330 percent carbon negative.

It helps us. If our competitor has a similar offering at a similar price, but we have this higher level of sustainability, it can give us an edge. A lot more companies care about that these days, which is a good thing.

Costello: We're also able to meet requirements when a request for a quote comes out that says it has to be made in the USA. We can still do that, and we do. We manufacture all over the world, and mostly it's to manufacture in the region that the product is needed. But if it has to be made in the USA, we can provide that.

Another point I'd like to amplify: The amount of data that's moving through networks is growing, and will continue to grow. You can just see it in the amount of streaming of movies and YouTube, and the key to having a really good movement of bits and bytes is to have a good cabling system.

A lot of people don't realize that. You can buy the very best switch or routers, but unless you have a good cabling system, the hospital that just wants to transmit an MRI image from the hospital's lab to the doctor that's got to look at it, if it's not a good cabling system there may be bits and bytes that are lost in the transmission

The need for speed is clear. Everyone's impatient with how stuff comes up on your computer and comes up on your smartphone. The better your cabling system, the faster the speeds. These high-speed interconnects and these high-speed cabling systems are critical for the future. Because we know the amount of data and data rates moving through networks is just going to keep growing.