Partners for Progress: Taco continues dedication to innovation through customer engagement, new Askoll collaboration
As building systems become increasingly sophisticated, the demand for improved efficiency grows. Engineers and owners are always looking for ways to save energy, water and other resources in the design and operation of buildings. There are many approaches to efficiency, but it's becoming more apparent that simply choosing the "most efficient" individual components is not the most effective approach. The different parts of a system have to work together to achieve the best results.
This is a concept long held by the engineers and product developers at Taco, Inc. Through initiatives like the company's new Innovation and Development Center and a wide array of education programs, Taco has a history of engaging with customers and always pursuing continuous improvement and further refinement of its product offerings. That dedication took yet another step recently when the company announced a strategic collaboration with Italian pump manufacturer, Askoll. The companies will work together to exchange technology to produce ever more efficient products and systems.
With the AHR Expo on the horizon, Plumbing Engineer took a moment to talk with Taco's Mark Chaffee, vice president of Brand Marketing; Eugene Fina, senior product manager of Engineered Products and Systems; and Chris Integlia, executive vice president of Residential Divisions. The staff shared their thoughts about pumps and circulators, new technology, system efficiencies, and Taco’s new relationship with Askoll.
PE: What can we look forward to seeing from Taco at the AHR Expo?
MC: Since AHR is a more commercially focused show, we’ll be talking a lot about commercial pumping technology and ways Taco can help trade pros control costs, save energy and to reduce design time. We'll be showing off a broad range of innovations, apps, software and educational offerings.
EF: This year, we've expanded on the balancing capabilities of our SelfSensing ProBalance technology. We've improved its usability, efficiency, and speed of set up. This is also associated with the broader integration of our iWorX technology.
MC: Taco acquired the iWorX Technology several years ago. The backbone of which is the capability for complete building management control of HVAC and hydronics systems. It simplifies all facets of connectivity and control — we enable users to easily set up and control equipment over the web while enhancing operation of all the parts, and the system as a whole. An example is BTU metering or optimal balancing of commercial pumps to enhance energy efficiency.
So, what Eugene is talking about is the innovative combination of our iWorX controls platform and ProView user interface with our SelfSensing ProBalance pumps. We now have automatic balancing of a pump – and by extension, the entire hydronic system – with one click of the mouse. Our new pumps now also have plug n’ play connection with all major building automation systems.
PE: How difficult is it to strike the balance between efficiency and usability to make it as efficient as possible within a system? How much do you engage with customers to develop the usability aspect for your products?
EF: Every other week during the summer we have engineering firms from around the world in here. Through their feedback about what they need in a product – and what they disliked about other products – we've fashioned our pumps and other technologies for them. Obviously with the pump efficiency and the system, it’s about how you install and commission the job faster, or how to improve things for the contractor or engineer. It's taking it to the next level through dialogue with lots of people.
MC: Taco's Innovation and Development Center is a living laboratory. We have engineers and mechanical contractors come in for educational programs. They get to touch the products, work with them and offer solutions or advice to us. We embed that feedback within our engineering teams – asking ourselves what we can do to continuously improve the product. And in this case, with ProBalance, what can we do from a software and hardware integration standpoint to make pump balancing faster, better, and more efficiently?
PE: How much has the software technology revolutionized the way you look at your pumps?
CI: It's brought the concept full circle. Building controls bring all the individual system components together to work efficiently. We go from being a supplier of efficient components to a supplier of efficient systems that includes both control of real time adjustments and also validation. When we built the Innovation and Development Center, we achieved LEED Gold [green building certification from the U.S. Green Building Council]. Along with LEED Gold, came new measurement, diagnostic and verification requirements. Our iWorX building automation systems allowed us not only to control and manage all the equipment to get the energy savings, but also to meet the LEED measurement and validation requirements.
PE: What part of your product innovation comes from your own team and how much of it comes from engineers responding to how things are working? I assume it is a mix of these things?
MC: It’s certainly a mix of the two; it has to be.
CI: One of the greatest aspects of the facility and what Taco's been doing for many years is that we invite contractors and a wide variety of trade professionals here. We also send our guys out into the field to visit with contractors, engineers and architects. Getting different viewpoints is an important part of our development process. Our recipe for success has been to learn from others; it's a very important part of Taco's culture.
The Innovation and Development Center has certainly energized that type of learning for Taco. Through the years I've found personally that most learning takes place outside the classroom. So in this case, we have our classes and then afterwards people are walking around having coffee. It's in those conversations where some of the greatest ideas are shared. We intentionally designed our building to promote that type of interaction.
PE: Do you find some of that kind of conversational education taking place at AHR? Do you get good engagement at the booth when you go out and exhibit?
MC: Yes, it's just not as deep; people have a lot to see when they come to a trade show. AHR is a great way to introduce people to Taco and to start conversations. But we focus our efforts, throughout the remainder of each year, on in-depth work and development with the goal of meeting – better exceeding – the needs and expectations of engineers, contractors and building owners. And that brings us to the focus of our AHR Expo exhibit: offering key customer groups real solutions for saving time, energy, and money. At the core, it's all about product and process innovation.
PE: Can you tell us a little about your new relationship with Askoll? How did this originate?
CI: One of the greatest things about [Taco CEO] Johnny White is that Johnny's out and about. He's always traveling around meeting people. He's a great representative for the company, but he also loves to just stop by simply to say, "hello." One of the greatest things I've learned from him is the value of dropping in on somebody and saying hello without an agenda.
An example of this is how he made the connection with Askoll. While at a trade show in Milan, Italy, he just had a brief conversation with Askoll representatives and put some intriguing ideas in motion. Later, plans were made for Johnny to visit Askoll's facility in Italy. I was lucky enough to go on that trip. We had no agenda other than to say, "Hi, what can we do together?" Johnny did this knowing that he may end up on a plane two hours later going back home with nothing. We just sat down and talked to them; through a conversation about mutual needs and desires, the relationship blossomed. It isn't easy to describe, in fact, I was shaking my head asking what just happened.
PE: I did wonder whether this was a partnership you sought out to fulfill a specific need, or whether it happened organically. It sounds like it very naturally; almost unexpectedly.
CI: Chance favors the prepared mind; Johnny is a fantastic exploiter of that phrase. He's just always talking to people. He's truly interested in other people and through that he learns how to help them, himself, and the company. In turn, employees and customers are benefited.
PE: Can you talk a little bit more in depth about the relationship itself? How are Taco and Askoll helping each other?
CI: It's really a relationship based on mutual interests and values.Both companies are family owned and both companies are interested in improving the financial welfare and well-being of their employees. And, as [Askoll President] Elio Marioni very effectively stated, Askoll never intended to enter the HVAC market in the U.S. Yet, they have technology that's applicable here, and Taco can benefit from the use of that technology. It's a good relationship based on mutual need. They are allowing us to have access to the technology that they already have. As the relationship evolves, we are going to work together to develop that technology as it takes shape in the form of new pumps and circulators. The ultimate goal is that all of the pumps that we build through this collaboration will be manufactured here in the U.S. by Taco.
PE: Some of that is already taking place, correct?
CI: Yes. We're actually doing some assembly, pressure and the electrical tests here at Taco now then we'll start bringing in all the manufacturing equipment to build a complete pump.
PE: Will that be done at Taco’s main facility in Rhode Island, or someplace else?
CI: It will be at our plant in Rhode Island.
PE: Do you have a time line yet?
CI: We have a macro time line.The goal is to make sure that we supply the market appropriately; Askoll has the manufacturing capacity right now to do that effectively, and to produce the pump assembly. So, for the time-being, we'll do some light assembly and the final testing here. In the meantime, we're working toward bringing in the necessary manufacturing equipment to perform all facets of pump manufacturing here; 18 to 36 months is the general time line.
PE: What can contractors and engineers expect to see in the product that comes out of this collaboration?
CI: That's easy: seamless, innovative continuation of Taco quality and the Taco brand with products manufactured here in the U.S.
MC: As always, we're really trying to provide the best solutions to move systems forward for energy efficiency and increased performance. This technology becomes a platform that allows us to do that in the near and long term with product and technology integration across a broad range of pump sizes, types and styles.
PE: Any additional comments about Askoll?
CI: With the presidents of Taco and Askoll, you have two guys that for all intents and purposes don't have to do anything they don't want to. They both decide for the betterment of both companies and their employees to make a deal that allows them both to grow and prosper. On Taco's side, it puts more jobs and more opportunities into the U.S. and facilitates Johnny White's promise to his employees that he will protect the financial welfare of the company as he moves forward. It's an amazing thing. And, this results in tangible products that benefit the company and people in the industry.