Innovative thinking

Schaefer notesI received a gift this week, a really meaningful gift. In the process of preparing to move to our new corporate headquarters, someone discovered one of our company founder’s original engineering notebooks, and I was given the privilege of leafing through it.

For those of you who don’t know much about our company history, Franklin Electric was founded in 1944 by two men with a shared entrepreneurial spirit. One of those men was Edward J. Schaefer. Graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 1923 from John Hopkins University, Mr. Schaefer worked for General Electric for a number of years before he and T. Wayne Kehoe started this company and named after Benjamin Franklin. Today, we’d call the Franklin Electric they founded  a “start-up”.

Mr. Schaefer was always thinking, inventing, solving. Within a few years, he had patented the first reliable submersible motor designed for residential use, and Franklin Electric submersible motors were soon providing a better way to deliver groundwater than other solutions available at the time. Even today, despite many improvements added along the way, Franklin Electric submersible motors still retain much of Mr. Schaefer’s engineering design and thinking. After retiring as CEO in 1985, Mr. Schaefer continued to work essentially full-time at Franklin Electric until his death in 1991 at the age of 90. Over his lifetime, he was awarded over 80 patents.

Looking through the pages, I was in awe. Reviewing page after page of meticulously handwritten notes, I pored over  calculations, graphs, and drawings on electrical motors, their properties, and how to improve them. I found myself steeped in history–and in the presence of a true visionary. Here’s a glimpse of what I saw:

  • A page of differential equations on the “ACCELERATION OF MOTORS” from January 21, 1929.
  • A page of notes and calculations on “REVOLVING FLUX WAVES IN MOTOR ROTORS” dated January 3, 1930.
  • An entire section labeled “MOTOR ACCELERATION KINEMATCS” from 1943.
  • From 1973, several sheets of notes and calculations with the title, “BIMETAL THERMAL TIME DELAY GATE SUPPLY FOR THE TRIAC WINDING CONTROL.” (This is the basic design for the BIAC switch still used today in Franklin Electric 2-wire motors.)

The list goes on and on. The book is packed with designs and calculations done with only the benefit of a slide rule–no pocket calculators, no computer-aided-design.

Open any business publication or advertisement today and you’ll see terms like entrepreneur, innovation, and forward thinking. Today they are part of our accepted business vernacular. Personally, I doubt if Mr. Schaefer ever used the word entrepreneur; I understand that he considered himself to be an electrical engineer first and foremost. But his pages of notes over 44 years remind us that innovation and entrepreneurship are not new. In all fields, our innovations today stand on the innovations of others. People like Edward J. Schaefer brought us this far. It’s our job to do the same for the next generation.

If it’s not right, it’s wrong

440x380_acAwhile back, I was attempting to plug my phone charger into a dimly lit wall outlet in a hotel room. I wasn’t having much success, and only when I realized that the outlet had been installed upside down did I understand why. And not only was the outlet installed upside down, but it was also crooked and the screw on the cover plate had been torqued down to the point that the plate was cracked.

In any case, I got my charger plugged in and never gave it a second thought until a couple of weeks later when I spent a couple of long days in a meeting facility. I happened to notice that every single outlet and switch cover screw in the room were perfectly aligned in the vertical, even those close to the floor that you couldn’t really see.

This practice that makes things look a little better has a name in woodworking: it’s called “clocking”. But is it worth the bother in this case? It certainly doesn’t make any difference in the functionality of the product. And my guess is that I’m the only one who has ever sat in that meeting room and taken notice.

So in the scheme of things, is it a big deal? I think it actually is. It tells me that the electrician who installed these outlets took pride in what he was doing. He took that extra half second to get everything as perfect as he could even though the pay was the same. What’s more important is that I can pretty much guarantee you that all the connections and wiring behind that cover are first-rate and done with the same precision. The attention to detail inspired confidence.

When you think about it, that outlet isn’t much different than a wellhead. People can’t see what’s down in the well. They can’t see your splices or pump alignment or whether you’ve used a flow sleeve. They can, however, see what’s at the top. And if what they see at the top looks sloppy, well, they’ve got to wonder about what’s below. On the other hand, if the workmanship above the ground is precise and well-organized, chances are they’ll make the same assumption about the rest.

There are lots of analogies that we can draw from this, but to me it’s another example of what defines a professional versus someone who is just going through the motions. A professional is willing to take the time to get things right. Not just the big stuff, but the details as well.

That first electrical outlet that was upside down with the broken cover? I have no idea what was behind the plate, but it sure didn’t inspire confidence in the integrity of the rest of the product.

What changed?

Last year, I posted about the value of Franklin Electric’s Form 2207 – Submersible Installation Record as a tool to document a submersible installation for later reference (Inspiring Confidence). Picture1

The other day, I was talking with a drilling contractor and he related that a key piece of information that his company records at the completion of every installation is how much current (amperage) the motor is pulling while it is delivering water.

Down the road, whether it be a few months or many years, if he gets a call about an issue with that installation, that’s a key piece of information he pulls from the file. It’s also one of the first things his crew checks on site (after they’ve eliminated a few of the most obvious causes). The question is, how does the amperage compare to when the installation was new? Is it the same, higher, or lower? Measuring this takes just a couple of minutes but armed with this piece of data, it leads to a very simple decision tree. If the current (amperage) is the same as before, the motor and pump are most likely good, and it’s time to look elsewhere.

But if the current is significantly higher and the unit is still delivering water, that means the motor is working harder than it was when it was installed. That leads to the conclusion that either more water is being pumped (perhaps a broken pipe downhole) or something is making the pump drag.

On the other hand, if the current is lower, that likely means that less water is being pumped. That could be a pump issue (non-working impeller perhaps) or something is blocking the flow of water.

But as he explained, the key is knowing what the amperage was when everything was new and working perfectly. And of course, this piece of information has to be integrated into the bigger picture.

In any case, after presenting the above at countless Franklin seminars, it was good to hear that it’s being put to good use and I wanted to pass that along. After all, it’s one thing to get technical advice at a Franklin seminar, but sometimes hearing that it’s being used in the field every day is even better.

Opportunities abound

carlosNote: Tammy Davis, Director of Corporate Communications at Franklin Electric, provided this week’s post as a guest blogger.

Last week was spring break, and despite my daughter’s protests that “it didn’t sound exotic enough” (yep, that’s a quote), I took my kids to New York City to get a taste of the Big Apple. My son, a huge fan of the TLC show Cake Boss, immediately recognized the city’s proximity to New Jersey and campaigned for a jaunt to Hoboken as part of our adventure. Two trains and a short walk later, we stood in front of Carlo’s Bakery, home of Buddy Valastro the Cake Boss.

A few hundred other people stood in front of Carlo’s, too. Enough to make for a two-hour wait on the sidewalk. Even so, my kids enthusiastically confirmed that they indeed wanted to wait for the chance to get inside the shop; seeing it from the street wasn’t good enough. Thankfully, the weather was good and the people around us were pleasant, so we settled in to wait.

Not long into our confectionery odyssey, I looked up to see a man methodically working his way down the line, group by group. When he got to us, he explained that he worked for Fran’s Italian Deli, a local establishment that offered great sandwiches on the world’s best homemade Italian bread, cold drinks, and free delivery. In fact, he said as he handed us a menu on which he had written his cell number, he would be happy to deliver to us in line. As incentive, he added a discount code to the menu. I thanked him and told him I appreciated his inventiveness, and he moved to the next group of people.

Shortly after he left, I saw this man come back, this time with food. As the line progressed–the wait really was two hours long–I saw him several more times, passing out menus and delivering snacks, sandwiches, and cold drinks to my fellow Carlo’s groupies.

I loved it.

Here was a guy who didn’t bemoan a long line of people waiting to go to somewhere else. He didn’t begrudge the success of a fellow businessman and grumble, Why can’t this be me? Instead, he saw an opportunity, and he capitalized on it. He got creative, and instead of bringing people to his business, he brought his business to them. He assessed their needs and figured out how to address them in a way that meant success for everyone. It gave the people in line something to do, satisfied hungry bellies and thirsty mouths without forcing people to lose their places in line, and it gave the cash coffers of Fran’s Italian Deli an upward bump.

Now contrast this scene with a couple of the other storefronts along the same sidewalk. Employees from those businesses periodically came outside to shoo us waiters away from their doors to accommodate customers who might want to come in. Instead of seeing a potential audience, they saw a definite nuisance. What a missed opportunity.

Which kind of business person are you? The kind who waits for customers to come in? Or the kind who goes to them? The kind who looks for new and creative ways to satisfy people’s needs? Or the kind who does things the same way they’ve always been done? Food service or groundwater service, opportunities abound; go out and get them.

Ten things I wish the public knew: the final four

IMG_1599We’ve finally arrived at the third and final installment of my short series on the Ten things I wish the public knew about our industry. The last two posts covered one through six (Ten things #1,  Ten things #2). So current sporting activities notwithstanding, here are my final four:

7. Most well owners love their water systems.

Ask most private water systems owners what they think of their well water and they will tell you “I love it!” They like the taste, especially as opposed to chemically-treated public water, they like being in control of their water system, and they like the feeling of not being tied to the whims (and invoices) of a water authority. To many, a private water system symbolizes independence and self-sufficiency–and good, clean water.

8. That bottle of spring water you’re drinking? … It’s well water.

You know those bottles of water you buy at the store  labeled natural spring water? That label makes for good marketing, but the truth is that is spring water is simply groundwater, and there’s a good chance that water came from a well. Private well owners get all the natural spring water they want virtually for free–straight from their well. Of course, labeling a bottle well water just wouldn’t have the same ring to it.

9. Even where groundwater isn’t perfect, we can usually fix it.

In certain regions, the groundwater may naturally contain high amounts of iron, sulfur, or other minerals, making it less appealing for drinking and household use. In these cases, there are plenty of safe, effective, affordable technologies out there to address and remove these components, leaving the homeowner with a high quality source of water. These technologies don’t have to involve chemicals, either (e.g. reverse osmosis, filtering systems, etc.).

10. Well water makes environmental sense.

One might believe that having a common water infrastructure in the form of public water would be a more efficient delivery system than lots of private water wells. The fact is that it’s not, and there are two big reasons. First, it takes a lot of energy to move water through all those miles of pipes–pipelines that in many cases don’t exist today. Second, pipes have lots of leaks. It’s estimated that literally millions of gallons of water are wasted each year due to the aging infrastructure of public water. Pumping groundwater right from a well at the source is far more efficient and, well, greener.

There you have it. It may evolve or expand over time, but that’s my current list of the ten things I wish the public knew and understood about groundwater and our industry. I’d love to hear your commentary.

Ten things I wish the public knew: #1

In my job, I do a lot of airline travel. Although I’m generally a limited talker with whomever ends up next to me, I often get the question, “So, what business are you in?” From these and other random encounters with the general public, I’ve built up a sizable database of its perceptions of water wells and the groundwater industry.

Drinking_waterWhat follows isn’t a revelation by any means, but I’m continually amazed at how little the general public knows about groundwater and the groundwater industry. Even end-users such as homeowners and farmers who have their own private water systems generally have little knowledge of how water gets to their tap.

Given this, I’ve decided to write a short series around the ten things I wish the public knew about our industry. You’ll find the first three below, with the rest to follow in subsequent posts.

1. Chances are, your water comes from a well, even if you don’t know it.

I consistently hear: “I’m on city water; I don’t get my water from a well.” Actually, there’s a good chance you do. For example, I live in a good-sized city with several water sources, including a river and a couple of reservoirs. However, my city also has numerous large water wells, and a significant amount of our water is supplied from those wells. But ask any of my neighbors where their water comes from and they would never think that it comes from a well.

2. Groundwater is important. So important, in fact, that we literally can’t live without it.

The general public has no deep appreciation of groundwater’s importance, and therefore the importance of the groundwater industry. Only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater and of that, 69% of that is locked up as ice at earth’s poles. What’s left is surface water and groundwater. Between the two, surface water comprises only 0.4% and the rest of groundwater. That’s not nearly enough surface water to supply the needs to humankind. Not only does much of our clean, fresh drinking water come from the ground, we have to have it to survive as a civilization.

3. Groundwater contractors are experts with unique professional knowledge.

Not only do groundwater contractors have to be good business people, they also have to have very specialized technical expertise. Drilling contractors, for example, often maintain more than a million dollars worth of equipment, with more bells, whistles, levers, and buttons than most people can imagine. They have to understand geology and hydrology. Pump installers have to have an outstanding working knowledge of electricity and hydraulics, and more often than not, electronic technology as well. Not everyone can do this job.

Stay tuned for more Things I wish the public knew  next week.

When things go wrong

Presentation1This week I attended the Pumper Cleaner Environmental Expo in Indianapolis. By all appearances, this is a very well-managed convention and here’s a concrete reason why I can say that.

I was especially looking forward to one of the seminars on Tuesday. The timing was somewhat inconvenient, but I adjusted my schedule to make sure I could attend. However, when I arrived at the designated room at the appointed hour, a “SEMINAR CANCELLED” sign had been placed outside the door.

The first reaction of course was irritation and several of us gathered inside the meeting room expressing our mutual annoyance. Then however, someone from the show’s management appeared. To begin with, he apologized and then went on to explain that the speaker had gotten caught up in the blizzard back home in the country’s midsection. The speaker wasn’t going anywhere for at least a couple of days. Then, he projected on the screen several on-line resources that the speaker had recommended in lieu of his presence. He also recommended a couple of other seminars down the hall that were happening at the same time.

Once again, it showed that when things go wrong, there’s a good way and a bad way to handle them. The easy thing for this individual to have done was to just leave the sign there and not deal with it. However, by showing up personally and explaining what had happened and offering alternatives, no one left the room grumbling. A job professionally done.