Automation Direct Field Trip!
Last week I had the privilege of visiting Automation Direct near Atlanta. I was hosted by Chad Crowe, who does online marketing and social media for the company. He contacted me a month or so ago after my post on Automation Direct/Koyo PLCs and offered to give me a tour if I was down in that direction; since I am only a few hours away I took him up on the invitation.
The first thing I noticed when arriving was the huge American flag outside the building; in fact I saw it before I even saw the building itself. Chad explained that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Tim Hohmann (Founder and Company Captain) had gotten stranded in the Middle East for a while. After returning to the U.S., he had the biggest flag he could find flown outside the building in honor of those who lost their lives.
The next thing I noticed upon entering the building was the big display case in the lobby. I am in the process of designing a leak test controller using a Click! PLC and had meant to ask a question about compatibility with a specific operator interface; right there in the case was a click connected to the HMI I had chosen! So much for that question…
It was also hard to miss the paintings on the walls throughout the building. Does anyone remember the cool Trans-Am that used to run in NASCAR races in the late 1990s? The painting to the right is also in the lobby. The whole facility is like this; lots of surprises around every corner.
Tim Roberts, the business development manager, took me on a quick tour of the warehouse and shipping/receiving areas. Since most product with the exception of enclosures ships out of this location, it should come as no surprise that the warehouse area is pretty huge. Lots of flow racks and powered conveyors carrying product to be packed and shipped. Tim also mentioned that they are currently undergoing a pretty major expansion. A new warehouse is being added to the end of the existing facility, in addition several new buildings are being built on a nearby 18 acre expansion plot. Tim Roberts is also in charge of the integrator program and was a controls integrator himself, so we had lots to talk about!
I met with some of the product managers for the Do-More platform. This is a new generation PLC that runs on the DL205 platform as well as having some new “stackable” components. This system has been mentioned by a couple of guest posters, Tony and Steve, who had some good things to say about it, but I haven’t used it yet so all I really know is second hand. I plan on writing an article after I buy a processor and download the software, but this will be several months down the road.
I did discuss Do-More with the product guys and they were able to fill me in on some of the details. As Steve mentioned in his post, Do-More uses more strict data typing than the older DirectSoft package, as opposed to everything being addressed as V and C memory. Data can also be somewhat structured per IEC-61131, though this will be enhanced in the next release. Speaking of the next release, I was told this will probably be later this year or early next year. As is the case with other software releases though, the date is uncertain. Though Do-More currently supports Stage programming, subroutines won’t be available until version 2.0.
As Tony mentioned in his comment on Koyo PLCs, the software is a free download and includes a simulator. Because it can also be used to drive remote I/O from a computer, they had to make the simulator shut down after an hour of use so people wouldn’t just download it and use it for control applications.
Steve also mentioned Host Engineering as being the developers of the Do-More platform and other control software for Automation Direct. The product guys mentioned that they spend a lot of time interfacing with the designers at Host and drive up there often. I was surprised to discover that Host Engineering is located right here in Tennessee, in Jonesborough!
After a great discussion on Do-More, Chad introduced me to Tim Hohmann, founder and company captain of Automation Direct.
In addition to Tim himself, who is a very dynamic and interesting guy, his office was nothing short of amazing. It is hard to tell from this picture, but the office has a science-fiction theme reflecting elements of some of my favorite movies. I guess I’m a bit of a nerd that way, but I thought it was pretty cool.
The first customer training session for Do-More was being held while I was there. This and several other Automation Direct product classes are taught by Doug Bell. Several students I have add in my Automation Training classes have attended his classes also and have had nothing but good things to say. I could also see some of the product support offices on the upper floors from the lobby. Though I didn’t visit any of them on this trip, I have heard that when a customer calls needing support, specialists are able to connect up and simulate your application using the hardware and software in these rooms. In addition, many of them have software and hardware setups at home for the same purpose.
Overall my impression was that Automation Direct is a much more intimate family-oriented company than an international firm of its size usually is. Everyone seems to know everyone else and there are a lot of employee perks such as a gym and cozy cafeteria in the facility. Not to mention all the cool artwork and painting. I am glad I got to check it out, thanks Chad, Tim and Tim!