Peak of condition

Published: MEA

Peak of condition

While all audio equipment can benefit from the use of power conditioning equipment, the supply of electricity in some territories makes their use particularly advisable. Furman’s DAVE KELLER talks about power and business in Asia

The acquisition of Furman by Panamax in January of 2006 brought together two of America’s top manufacturers of power management solutions in an alliance that extended across applications from project to big professional studios, live sound and A/V. Between them, these companies boast more than 70 years of engineering expertise, with Panamax’s roots in office and telecom equipment contrasting with Furman’s in protection and filtration for music industry and pro audio applications. Both are innovators in their respective fields.

Among their achievements, Furman was the first company to create a rack-mount power/light module, while Panamax pioneered the design and manufacture of power management solutions for residential theatre and custom installation applications. Furman created a product line for this channel as well, re-engineering its technologies for recording and mastering studios to provide maximum performance and protection for home theatre systems.

Panamax CEO Bill Pollock has been with the company for more than 20 years, and it is his leadership that has given Furman the kind of managerial stability it previously lacked. ‘Furman had a fairly tumultuous period over the past several years, going through several upper management changes that resulted in a lack of focus or direction for the company,’ Dave Keller, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Furman Sound, agrees. ‘With our new structure, we are much more strategic, and our focus has led to improved products and service for our customers.’

Pulling the two engineering teams together meant reconciling teams that had been on different but similar paths for more than 30 years apiece. ‘Their extensive combined knowledge has made the two pieces into a much stronger whole,’ points out Mr Keller. ‘As members of the Linear Home Technology family, Panamax and Furman are a part of the most respected residential custom installation community in the industry. Furman has also been able to maintain a strong connection to its music industry and pro audio roots. Many employees – from engineers to sales to customer service – are active musicians or recording engineers in their off-hours.
‘Doug Penna was brought in as vice president of engineering, and he’s done an amazing job in merging the two engineering teams into a single, strong unit, and fostering communications and the exchange of ideas. Chris Swan, our vice president of operations, has had a remarkable effect on our product development time to market and the efficiency of every aspect of our operations, which was something that Furman really needed prior to the acquisition. And as senior vice president of sales and marketing, I have creative and energetic sales, marketing, and training teams that are passionate about what they do.’

As part of the acquisition, Furman moved into Panamax headquarters – which wasn’t too difficult as they were literally facing each other across a street in Petaluma, California. Panamax renovated the building to make room for the new employees, and a lot of thought was put into arranging everything to promote teamwork and communication between both sets. ‘The mantra from day one was “One company, two brands”,’ Mr Keller says. ‘The central area of the headquarters is our engineering department – kind of the hub of the building, which was an intentional move, because we are an engineering company and everything revolves around the products and technologies our engineers develop.’

Here the engineers use the latest design software and equipment. The CSA-certified laboratory is equipped with a KeyTek surge generator, high-voltage probes, network analysers, digital oscilloscopes and computer-controlled AC power sources, as well as a variety of custom-made surge equipment and loads to ensure designs can be verified to current UL standards. ‘The lab’s CSA certification allows us to perform much of the same tests products receive during safety agency testing prior to sending the products out for approval,’ explains Mr Keller. ‘This speeds our time to market, and gives our engineers more freedom to creatively design safe and innovative power management solutions.’

Recent advances have also seen international markets opened, through the introduction of new models and the adoption of further certification. ‘For the past several years, Furman didn’t have 220V/240V versions of many of our technologies,’ Mr Keller explains. ‘This is due to a variety of reasons, chiefly the fact that we took some time to get set up for RoHS compliance and much of our new product development efforts were going into our 120V line. In 2008 and into 2009, however, we completely overhauled our 220V/240V pro product line. Last year we introduced the Merit Series to overseas customers – these are our entry-level, rack-mount power conditioners that have been incredibly popular in the US. We also overhauled our advanced Series II power conditioners to become the Classic Series, which offers improved industrial designs and new sets of convenience features such as switchable meters, USB front panel chargers and removable power cords, as well as our non-sacrificial SMP surge suppression and LiFT linear noise filtration.

‘Most exciting, however, is the Prestige Series that we are launching throughout 2009, which includes our most advanced technology. The P-1400 AR E and P-6900 AR E are voltage regulators that operate at 10A and 30A capacity, respectively. These are products our overseas customers have been in need of for some time. Voltages can be very unstable in many regions of the world and this can cause major problems with sensitive A/V gear. Commercial voltage regulation units are not acceptable for use with A/V equipment, because they are simply too noisy and unreliable. Our new regulators not only provide full power protection and conditioning, but our new True RMS Voltage Regulation Technology is incredibly reliable even under extreme conditions – such as power coming from a generator, which can be very difficult to get into a stable regulation. These products will save installers a lot of headaches caused by poor power quality in troublesome installations. More Prestige products are launching throughout 2009, and we are proud to offer our overseas customers a complete line of power protection and purification solutions using the most advanced technologies on the market today.’

In keeping with these developments, Furman and Panamax have both signed up new overseas distributors. ‘We are very pleased with our international growth, and there have been a number of key factors in our success overseas,’ Mr Keller reports. ‘First of all, I cannot understate the excellent job our international sales representatives – World Marketing Associates in EMEA and Russia, S~Wave Marketing in Asia-Pacific, and Electroclub in Latin America – have done in getting us brand recognition in new markets. While we certainly enjoy a dominant market position in many pro channels in the United States, we are not as well known elsewhere in the world. Our reps have been working hard to change that.

‘Another important factor is simply the increasing need installers have for our products. The worsening power quality due to the age of the grids and growing populations, combined with the increased sensitivity in today’s A/V components to even the smallest power aberrations, have led to serious problems for many installers. Failure of equipment or sub-optimal performance results in dissatisfied customers, which jeopardises the installer’s reputation. As a result, more installers are seeking out solutions for these problems and finding that Furman provides them. Now that we have an expansive line of solutions for overseas markets, there are more reasons for installers to specify our power management solutions into their installations.’

Kris Jackson and his company S~Wave Marketing were appointed in May 2008, plugging the gap the company had in the Asia-Pacific region. ‘I was handling those customers myself along with many other responsibilities,’ Mr Keller recalls. ‘I wasn’t able to provide the sales support and training I wanted, and it was very difficult for me to seek out new customers in the Asia-Pacific region. Kris and his team have extensive sales, marketing, and engineering expertise, and really understand the needs of customers. They have been instrumental in growing our presence in Asia-Pacific and increasing the level of support we are able to offer our customers.’

Another key move was the establishment of a warehouse in Amsterdam. One of the largest challenges facing US manufacturers that export to other countries is logistics – customers expect the same delivery times and levels of service that more local companies provide, and should not be charged a premium for it. ‘When shipping out of the US, we had to deal with a slew of taxes and import fees with each distributor, says Mr Keller. ‘These costs were often too much for us to absorb and led to higher prices for our distributors and customers. We have now established a strong enough presence overseas to warrant a European warehouse. This is managed by DSV Solutions, an ISO-9001 certified logistical support firm, and is located in Moerdjik, Netherlands, near the port of Rotterdam. We began operations in February, and it has proven to reduce turnaround times and transportation costs for our customers. I am very pleased with the efficiency of the logistics we now employ, as well as how quickly our own operations team was able to get everything in order. This shows our commitment to our overseas customers, and is providing them with much better support at lower cost.’

Further east, the company also now operates a factory in Shenzhen – Hourui Linear Electronics, a wholly owned subsidiary of parent corporation Linear LLC. Established in 1981, the factory has become one of the leading manufacturers in the home technology industry. All products are manufactured to ISO9001: 2000 standards. Furthermore, in order to meet European market standards requirements, the factory is CE and ETL certified. ‘All of our export products are RoHS compliant,’ Mr Keller confirms. ‘The Hourui Linear Electronics engineering team allows for complete, full product development or specific contract design services. We design and engineer all our products at our US facility and then release the designs to our overseas factory for manufacturing. By integrating design and development with our manufacturing infrastructure, we lower costs and reduce time-to-market.’

Published in PAA September-October 2009