#pAutomator: Dave Korpi, take5inc.com and tacticalflowmeter.com

Today’s #pAutomator is Dave Korpi, President of take5inc.com and tacticalflowmeter.com, USA. Korpi has more than 20 years of experience in designing and engineering of flow meters. In this interview, he reveals the advantages of online shopping in the Process Automation industry and goes on explaining why should it become a standard for the industry today. A read on…

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How did you shape your career in this industry? 

I started my mass flow measuring career with Sierra Instruments. I got my degree in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering from Berkeley. My partner, John Olin, has a PhD degree in MHD from Stanford. We were both engineer geeks. We would design flow meters on our napkins and placemats over lunch every day. 

At that time, the semiconductor industry needed a mass flow controller that did not clog up. Conventional flow controllers had very small characteristic dimensions, were not easy to clean and clogged fast.

So, the industry wanted something different. We knew how to listen to people and make products for them. As such, we listened to what they wanted and designed a simple straight sensor for their needs.

Image of #pAutomator: Dave Korpi
Image of #pAutomator: Dave Korpi

It helped Sierra Instruments to take over the Semiconductor market for a good period of time. I patented the first low-cost injection molded flow body with a novel adjustable Laminar Flow Element for a thermal mass flow meter that rapidly displaced rotameters in the industry.

Some twenty-five years ago I sold my half of Sierra Instruments. Since then, I have consulted for a number of clients, in a number of fields. I helped them improve their designs and methods to deliver what they needed to get to their customers.

Customer needs change over time because of technology changes. Basically, the technology of the Baby Boomer age utilized microprocessors that were huge, slow, expensive and had a small instruction set.

 Now, the microprocessors of the millennial age are small, cheap, super fast, and have a huge instruction set with multi-core capabilities. In my observation, most flow controllers and flow meters do not take advantage of the latest advances in technology.

I would imagine this is because many of the “Grandaddies” of thermal mass flow technology have retired and relinquished their Baby Boomer technology companies to their children who did not inherit the innovative genius of their parents. Also, they are happy to make just “enough” money without changing anything.

How would you describe your company? 

Take5inc is a small company, much like most of the flow meter companies. Flow meters are used in various industries. They are used to manufacture beer, ice-cream, pharmaceutical products, semiconductors and medical products, for example. They are everywhere.

My online site offers products that appeal to younger buyers who are tasked to buy a pressure transducer, a temperature sensor, a hygrometer, and a mass flow meter for their 1” nitrogen line. Younger buyers do not want to get a litany of questions to buy a flow meter.

They don’t expect a person to come to their factory to help them buy stuff, because they don’t have time. Many millennials don’t believe in taking “too much”  time with salespeople when they could do something online instead.

All they want is to find the flow meter online, match the photo to their needs and click “Buy Now”.

What are your daily challenges as a President of the company?

Having enough time and finding human resources to delegate specific tasks. Currently, I do design, engineering, and sales. I’m also responsible for engineering in software, hardware and firmware. Our focus is to use the “Best Practices” for Design for Manufacturability (DFM) to make products very easy to assemble.

Image of Tactical Flowmeter
Image courtesy of tacticalflowmeter.com

One example is my prior company because I have most of the patents for Sierra Instruments. Most of the things we designed there, we put in explosion-proof closures. To get the electronics out you may have to unscrew 10 to 12 screws. Frequently, when a customer gets inside the meter a screw gets lost inside, or they forget to put it back in.

An example of DFM is that we use 1 screw to take the electronics apart. The screw is captive, so it can’t get lost or float around in the enclosure. Therefore, that is a huge improvement in the technology. 

When your customers select a device, what is their biggest concern (price, delivery time, etc.)? 

I think a new company should have faith in buying from a new company, often they don’t trust new guys.

Most of our clients seem to know my old company, Sierra Instruments, and they know that I am the guy who designed most of the products they are familiar with. However, they still ask, “Are you sure I should?” 

Do you see any concerns about completing purchases online in the Process Automation industry?

I think people almost prefer that. When somebody’s task is to automate a factory, their boss could say: “Joe, I want you to buy hygrometer, pressure transducer,  flow meter, some pencils and a new half-inch wrench.” They want to keep finding the flow meter with the complexity of finding a half inch wrench.

So, the question is could I buy a flow meter online?: I think a lot of millennials buy instruments online nowadays. That is the idea behind selling flow meters online. 

So, it’s the millennials who are doing work now. They are the ones who insist on being able to buy or look something up online. They don’t want to look at a paper manual. In fact, they don’t even want to read a manual or even expect to need manual. Usually they want to watch a video instead of reading a fat manual. 

Image of Tactical Flowmeter
Image courtesy of tacticalflowmeter.com

Many times their bosses don’t know you can buy such instruments online. But, their boss is going to retire and the buyer buys most of what they need online, so why not flow meters? 

Any piece of advice for the next generation of engineers?

Design for Manufacturability, and design with current technology with the ability to support conventional technology.

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