MicroEDM manufacturer seeks marketing help from micro community
By Dennis Spaeth
Any talk of the U.S. micromanufacturing market coming of age elicits a sort of bewildered sense of hope from George V. Jariabek, the president of Pacific Controls Inc., a Van Nuys, Calif., microEDM manufacturer.
As much as the 61-year-old entrepreneur says he believes in the micromanufacturing market, his silent shop remains a constant source of frustration. Why, he wonders aloud, doesn’t the phone ring?
There was a time when “the phones used to ring all the time,” recalls Jariabek. While Pacific Controls’ first forays into the microscale market began with promise in 1985, it’s been about five years since the last microscale machine sale.
Established in 1971, Pacific Controls used to bring in anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 a month, says Jariabek. Today, he views such revenue as an unrealistic dream.
In terms of micro R&D, on the other hand, Pacific Controls has had no shortage of success by Jariabek’s count. Since 1985, for example, Pacific Controls’ microEDMs have been capable of burning with 0.0001” electrodes.
So, just what’s the problem? “We have the technology,” says Jariabek. “We should be flying.”
Jariabek suspects what he needs is a good marketing or sales person to help tip the scales in his favor.
“In the good ol’ days when the phone was ringing and somebody called in, 99 percent of the time we had a sale,” Jariabek says. “We never ever lost a project because we couldn’t do it. We lost projects because the people we were working with did not have the authority to spend the money.”
Donna Bibber, a well known micromanufacturing expert and CEO of Micro Engineering Solutions, credits Jariabek with confronting what she sees as the No. 1 challenge facing micromanufacturing companies: A lack of a marketing plan or any type of gameplan. “Most people just try to dive right in and then find the market for their company,” she says. “I don’t think that’s a good way to go about it.”
Many companies trying to break into the micromanufacturing market “decide they want to be in medical because the medical market is perceived to have very high profit margins,” says Bibber, president of Micro Engineering Solutions LLC, which provides a variety of consulting services to micromanufacturing companies. “But medical is so vast,” she adds, “it’s cardiology, endoscopy … dental. There are so many different market segments.”
Companies need to decide up front which market they are capable of serving, she continues, “because if they’re not suited to make implantable devices, that’s not something that they want to say they can do. If they’re not ready for validation of an FDA device, if they’re not ready to put the systems in place that trace every single component that gets made to go into the body, I think they’re asking for some trouble right out of the gate.”
Given her experience, Bibber finds Jariabek’s interest in marketing a welcome exception to the rule, and applauds his efforts to map out a plan to market the company’s strengths.
Through it all, Jariabek remains convinced he has the products the market needs. He cites as a strength the company’s ability to build a custom machine to meet a client’s needs. “What that means is you don’t have to buy something you don’t need,” he adds.
Despite the company’s technical abilities, landing projects has proven elusive for Pacific Controls.
For instance, Jariabek remembers a company that needed a machine to make 0.002” holes for fuel injectors. Though Pacific Controls could have met the required specifications, the company instead purchased a machine from someone else that was supposed to make 0.006” holes, but instead could only muster 0.007” holes. The 0.002” holes “never came into the picture,” he says, adding, “I just don’t understand.”
Bibber understands Jariabek’s frustration, and has witnessed similar scenarios: Companies that say they can manufacture something without understanding the full implications of the specifications required.
“I had looked at a project for someone,” she recalls, “and told them what I think needed to be done and made a proposal. And someone else told them they could do it. Then they stumbled and fumbled for a few weeks. Finally, the company came back and said, ‘Geez, once we described to them what we needed for validation, they ran.’
“Sometimes,” continues Bibber, “projects die because someone stumbled and fumbled so much. That’s why it is so important to pick a company with micro experience and not just say, ‘Well they‘ve done something similar that’s a little bigger.’ Macro is not similar to micro. It’s very different.”
Jariabek, in fact, has lived through just such a fiasco. Jariabek was given 0.005” tolerance for electrodes that were to be used in a big pipe for the oil industry. Unfortunately, the company dropped about $250,000 on solutions purchased from other companies “that were junk,” to use Jariabek’s words. The company ultimately “junked the project,” he adds.
“That’s a project I would like to attack again,” confides Jariabek, noting that he hopes to bring a marketing person on board to go after that contract. In fact, Jariabek hopes this article draws out a marketing person with some answers for him.
Asked if he would bring in a marketing person as a partner, Jariabek says simply, “we can talk.”