Manufacturing Revival Radio Interview with John Morehead


Machines building Machines (and we’re not talking about the Matrix)

(November, 2012)   We were happy to extend a welcome to today’s guest John Morehead, Vice President of Business Development at Dunkermotoren USA Inc. Dunkermotoren is a well recognized motor company in Europe who is currently growing their presence in North America. Dunkermotor, as they prefer in the North American market, has been in the motor industry for over 50 years.

With a real focus on automation combined with precision German engineering, Dunkermotoren has found success in a variety of industries. You’ve walked through a Dunkermotor powered door! From grocery stores to hospitals and even subway trains, it is very likely that the automatic door your are walking through features an actuator powered by a Dunkermotor motor.  In fact we were surprised to learn that Dunkermotor motors power many of Manhattan’s subway doors.  This lead us to another question regarding reliability and longevity of these motors in the face of harsh conditions such as the recent flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy.  John was quick to explain that not only do the Dunkermotors manage to thrive in these difficult conditions, but that Dunkermotoren has applied the experience of dealing with such conditions to it’s entire line of products.

We were thoroughly impressed with John’s in depth knowledge and understanding of the manufacturing world and Dunkermotor’s depth of product offerings.


A lot of fascinating topics were covered during today’s interview and there is only way that you can fully absorb all of it.  So please do yourself a favor by taking a moment to listen to the interview in its entirety. Transcription follows:

You are listening to Manufacturing Revival Radio. Spotlighting innovation, the business savvy, and the entrepreneurial spirit of manufacturers from here at home and around the world. Celebrate the ‘can do’ spirit that is bringing manufacturing back. And now, here are your hosts – Todd Schnick (TS) and Todd Youngblood (TY).

TY: Hello, and welcome back to Manufacturing Revival Radio. I’m your host Todd Youngblood, and with me on the line as always my partner, pal, and co-host Todd Schnick. Todd – we’ve got one more manufacturing expert on the line with us.

TS: Well, every show is that! The line up just continues to strengthen and get better and better with every successive episode, it’s just been scintillating.

TY: Yeah, it really does. I mean, even me, I’ve been around the manufacturing world my whole career, you know, three plus decades now. I even think that I’m amazed at how much technology and progress and innovation at a rapid pace that’s going on.

TS: Well, especially when we’re talking to a good old German manufacturer!

TY: Yeah, now let’s get into it, while we’re talking about a good old German manufacturer, I’d like to introduce our guest – Mr. John Morehead (JM), who’s Vice President of business development with Dunkermotoren USA. John, welcome to the show, thanks for joining us.

JM: Thank you Todd, it’s a pleasure to be here.

TY: Just to get us started John, could you give us a little bit of background about yourself?

JM: I’ve been in the motor industry for about 15 years, but the manufacturing world for pretty much my entire career, and previously with some fractional horsepower motor companies in the US, and joined Dunkermotoren about two years ago, and it’s an interesting opportunity because it’s quite a well-recognized motor company in Europe, but not so well recognized or at least until recent years, here in the US.

TY: Well, give us a quick 50,000 ft overview of Dunkermotor, can I shorten it, is that OK?

JM: Yes, Dunkermotor is actually the shortened go-to-market name that we use in the US, just so people don’t have to worry about how to pronounce Dunkermotoren; it’s caused a lot of confusion in the past.

Dunkermotoren was founded in 1950 by a man named Christian Dunker, who had a strong interest in the electric motor as it might relate to the then oncoming field of industrial automation, and one of the things he did early on was used motor technology to develop some of his own winding equipment, so that the winders to make the electric motors were designed internally, and that kind of stayed with the company – that sense of German self-sustainability, but also it moved into seeing the benefits that can accrue through automation, so the company has adopted a lot of automation over the years, and is very highly automated.

It’s located in a small town in the Black Forest with a population of about 5,000 people, and about 750 of them work at the Dunkermotoren plant there, but the company early on had some success in an area that’s kind of interesting in not being visible here, but exterior venetian blinds for controlling radiant heat. And in Germany, Austria and Switzerland where air conditioning is not as prevalent as it is here, it’s very normal in homes and businesses to have metallic venetian blinds on the outside that are controlled from the inside using a motor system to control the radiant heat that either comes into the building, either to bring more radiant heat in or keep it out, and that’s a large market in that part of Europe, so Dunkermotoren developed a strong position there, and that was one of its early successes, and led it into not only making motors, but also adding gearing to the motors for the actuation of the venetian blinds, and then into electronics relating to what would be limit switches and controls as well, so it was kind of a natural progression from that standpoint.

The company also has a strong position globally in terms of motors for door actuators, so today pretty much any kind of door that you go into, whether it’s at your local supermarket or a hospital, into an elevator, or a subway car or a train, it’s very likely that that door is actuated with a mechanism that has a Dunkermotoren motor in it, and that’s an area which the company has grown with globally, and it’s actually helped to expand the manufacturing footprint of the company.

The company has also gone into areas over the years that have led it today to be very much involved in factory automation, the motion control area, as well as motors used in medical and just about any kind of application you could think of.

TS: John, does Dunkermotoren focus on all types of industries or are there some specific markets that you guys really target?

JM: Well, we have what would be called segments or market segments that are targeted and that’s because the customers have become kind of global. For example, one of the market segments is ‘medical’, and the reason that is a global market segment is that a customer the company may have in Europe is likely to have an operation in North America as well as in Asia, and by having one person who is the market leader in that market segment, they’re able to co-ordinate the activities and interests of the customers in that segment, so if it’s company ‘X’ in Germany, we may also be working with their subsidiary in the US or their subsidiary in China, and we need to have a central point of coordination.

That’s one of the market segments; another is the transport or ‘motives’ segment, and that relates more to the train and subway market, as well as over-the-road trucks. We’re not in the automotive market per se, making windshield wiper motors and those kinds of things, but rather in high-value motors used in the train and other application, and the railway industry is very global in how it operates, so it’s important to have that type of global market segment manager as well, and we have that also in the ‘sun control’ area which is the external venetian blinds, as well as in the factory automation, and then another area that we call ‘basic automation’ which is pretty much every type of automation beyond factory automation, and one area there that’s notable would be solar trackers. In large solar photovoltaic fields where you’ll see hundreds of trackers there, we design and build motors for those applications, and that fits into the ‘basic automation’ [market segment].

Now, ‘basic automation’ is a bit of a catch-all, because it could also include solar-powered lawnmowers that cut the grass in someone’s front yard and are then homed to be recharged at night, so it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous in some cases.

TS: How do your motors handle saltwater? Looks like there’s going to be some need for Dunkermotoren to help out in Manhattan there a bit.

TY: [laughs]

JM: You know, it’s interesting that you bring up Manhattan because we’re actually on the doors in the subway system in Manhattan, and it was because we’d been in that market for probably 20 years and having some level of success with the motors living up to harsh winters, and blazing heat in the summer, and all kinds of moisture – to say nothing of all the physical abuse that the subway doors undertook, that when the solar photovoltaic market came along it appeared to be rather easy by comparison. A lot of what we learned in terms of protecting motors from environmental problems was applied into the solar tracker motor area as well, and we now actually have motors in the linear motor area which are produced in stainless steel, and are recognized as ‘IP69K’, which means that basically they are subjected to very high-pressure wash down with caustic and aggressive chemicals, and that’s an area if you look around the news and see about various cases of contamination relating to food and pharmaceutical areas, that it’s certainly a growing importance market, that people want to be able to thoroughly clean any equipment that they’re working with, and I think that we’ve been able to follow that pretty well by adapting the products we have for those more harsh environments.

TS: OK, we’ll back with John Morehead after this commercial break.
[Commercial break]

TS: Alright, we’re back with John Morehead, Vice President of business development at Dunkermotoren.

TY: John, during the break I was just thinking about some of the applications you mentioned, from as simple as opening the door at the grocery store to some really sophisticated motion control factory automation things, and medical applications, and running in saltwater in the subway system – it just strikes me that it might be difficult to address the requirements and the demands from your different customers because of the level of complexity; sometimes extremely complex, sometimes relatively simple, how do you deal with that?

JM: It’s an interesting question Todd. I think we look at it on a couple of different levels. Application engineering is a very important part of the company. We have a very in-depth application engineering group here in North America, and we try to get our application engineers involved as early as possible with prospective customers, to better understand what kind of situations the motors are going to be used to be in, to find out what the expectations are, and what the expected lifetimes are.

The other is that the application engineer is really the customer advocate. He wants to be able to put together the right motor solution that’s really going to be the one that does everything the customer wants, and also to be able to do that where it’s a right value proposition for the customer.

Our application engineers aren’t looking to sell anybody anything, but rather what they do at the end of the day is that they’re happy when they’ve proposed something that will do the job for the customer and not be the subject for any other problems. Now, the other is with the way that the products are designed – the company’s original fascination with automation; the products themselves are designed for automated production, so because of that they’re designed for automated production as well as assembly, and in doing that you have a very configurable product line, and a great deal of attention goes into anything that’s added to the production capability at the company, because we don’t want to add products that are going to mess up the flow of things and don’t fit with other things. What you have is motors and gears and brakes and encoders and other accessories which are all designed to be compatible with the other accessories, so you can have an infinite variation of products. The product line itself is quite large, but really there are millions of variations that are possible, and I think that that makes it better for the customer, because you’re not having to start with a clean sheet of paper; it helps them get into the market quicker, and then these are basic configurable components that are readily available.

What you’ll find is that in the plant we have production cells that are highly automated and have been designed and produced to a large extent in our own facility and many of the production cells utilize our own motors in the automation mechanisms within those cells, so those products are set up so that they can flow either hundreds or thousands of motors on a production run, or as little as 2 to 5 with very little time involved in setup and changeover. That gives tremendous flexibility in terms of working with customers and their unique supply chain demands, and it also helps ensure that we have a global position in terms of the value that we’re able to bring to customers.

TY: Well John, you’ve talked a good bit now about the sophistication of the Dunkermotor production system, I’ll call it, and the value that has to your customers in terms of the flexibility and the things you can do with application engineering, and in that context I want to ask you a question about something I read on your website, that talked about motor products in a steady evolution to become quote, ‘self-replicating’; that is, motors building motors, you need to enlighten me a bit on that topic!

JM: [laughs] Well, you know, just as in lean manufacturing you have a goal of one-piece flow, I think in the motor industry if you’re doing what you should be doing, you should be able to have motors where the production of those motors – the objective is for them to be self-replicating. Basically, what that means is we’re taking what we know about automation, and what we continue to learn about automation, and we’re applying that internally, and continuing to invest in the production capabilities of the company, so that we’re able to stay ahead of the curve in terms of what would be economics, in terms of labor and materials.

We have also rapidly and aggressively embraced automation technology in the form of controls. We were an early adopter of electronic controls being built into the motors, so that someone can purchase a Brushless DC motor that has the control already on board, rather than having to have a separate little box and a length of cable and connectors and everything else to hook the motor up; we try to make it as simple as possible for customers, and in that regard we have also advanced our sophistication in terms of software capability. The more advanced motion control-related motors are very dependent on software, so we’ve invested in software engineers and they’ve developed programs, so that we’re able to empower mechanical engineers to a larger extent. The mechanical engineer that’s designing certain axes of motion on a machine – he can use one of the Dunkermotor solutions that has the control capability already built in, and he doesn’t have to learn that; he doesn’t have to design that; he doesn’t have to waste his time on that.

The other is that even with more sophisticated (customers’) controls engineers, when we’re taking care of the motion control on the motor axes; they’re able to devote their time fully to what are the important control functions of the machine they’re building, so that they’re able to focus on what their real core competency is, rather than figuring out what’s the latest thing that they should be doing to turn that motor shaft at, say, 5 rpm.

TY: John, you’ve talked mostly about motors, but you did mention some other products – go deeper on some other things like gearboxes, and brakes, and encoders.

JM: Sure. The gearbox, that’s a natural evolution. We’re in a wonderful world to be producing gearboxes because in the Black Forest that’s where all the cuckoo clocks were produced, so you have a great deal of sophistication there in terms of gear cutting. Our gearboxes are produced on automated machinery; they’re automated in their assembly, and we’re able to offer both planetary as well as right-angle worm gearboxes, so that companies are able to lower the speed and increase the torque on the motors they use, so that they can fit into the various physical constraints that may occur. We continue to invest in this area, and to move into areas of higher efficiency gearing as well.

The other is that many motors are used with brakes and encoders, and historically companies would build a motor and then if somebody wanted an encoder, they’d say ‘well, we can source an encoder from so and so, or you can buy a brake from somebody else’, and what you run into is a lot of areas of problem in terms of the compatibility of these accessories fitting and working with the product, and then you also run into the really dreaded problem of finger-pointing if something goes wrong. So, we made the decision years ago that we were going to design and build our own brakes to go with our motors; design and build our own encoders to go with our motors, so therefore we don’t have supply chain delays in getting those products, and the customer is able to know that they are designed to work together and live together for over a long time. The same holds true on the control side of the business – that’s an area we continue to invest in, and I think that much as we said about the self-replication, the more intelligence we’re able to put into the motors; the more they’re able to do, the greater the value they provide for the customer and the greater value they provide for us as well.

TS: John, we’re getting really short on time here, but there’s one issue I’d really like to hear some perspective on from you. Todd and I hear all the time about jobs that are available in manufacturing, but the people that have enough skills and knowledge to fulfill those jobs are really hard to come by, and I’m just thinking of the level of sophistication of the products, and the services, and the integration, and the engineering that goes into applying Dunkermotor products. Two questions, one is: is that a big issue for you; and how is Dunkermotor addressing it?

JM: That’s a bit of a loaded question! [laughs] In terms of the facility in Germany, and with many German companies, we have excellent intern programs where we’re continually training young people; they go through very extensive training, and we don’t have problems at all in that regard. The other is that as we increase the sophistication in our production, a lot of it is that the people who are the machine operators; they need to have a higher level of education, math skills and understanding because the machinery is more sophisticated, but we work very cooperatively with the secondary schools, and with post-secondary education facilities as well, and I think one thing that’s interesting here is that if we look at our market in the US and what we hear about a shortage of skilled labor, is that we have to be willing to invest some level in that education of the more skilled labor force. You know, I think that there’s a bit of a tendency by some companies in the US that you hire new people in production, and the typical way to do it is to say ‘OK, Joe, we just hired you to today, now we want you to go over here and stand by Fred for a couple of weeks and see what he does, and let him walk you through how he does the machine’, and there really isn’t a great deal of formal training and education that goes with that. I think that companies today are starting to see that because their equipment has become more sophisticated, that needs to be a formal training process. There have to be specific goals and a set curriculum for doing that. It’s no more just learning by doing, but rather you have to have the skill set recognized, and then you have to work to be able to fill that.

TY: Well John, I hate to say it, but we’re out of time. Before we let you go, how can people get in touch with you, and where can they learn more about Dunkermotor?

JM: Sure, the easiest thing is on the web, and it’s just at – we made it easy with, and I think that that will give you a quick introduction to what the company’s capabilities are, and we’re here in the Chicago area for our North America headquarters, and we have sales representatives and distributors throughout North America, so it’s easy to access information on Dunkermotor.

TS: John Morehead, Vice President of business development for Dunkermotoren, it was great to have you, thanks so much for joining this afternoon.

JM: Thank you both Todds!

TS: Alright, well that wraps this show up on behalf of today’s guest John Morehead, my co-host Todd Youngblood – I’m Todd Schnick. We’ll see you next time on Manufacturing Revival Radio.