Shawn Dirksen breaks down what he likes about his Reliable Controls System.
Regional sales manager: Brian English
I studied electronic engineering in college. My first job after that was at an electronics manufacturing company that designed and built printed circuit boards. After that I got into the HVAC industry, working for a company that designed and built air-handling units (AHUs), boiler systems, etc. Eventually I got into the controls side of things. In 2005 I started my own company, and it’s been purely controls and automation systems since then. Every job requires a different strategy. There’s so much variation from day to day, so it’s a job that never gets boring. I enjoy keeping my mind active. When I’m not working, I like hiking and anything outdoors that gets me away from a screen.
Maintaining customer satisfaction. When a customer presents me with a problem, I enjoy finding a solution for them or helping make their system more efficient by coming up with smart controls strategies that reduce their running costs.
There are four of us in the company: three controls engineers and our admin person. I have always seen jobs through from beginning to end—designing, building, wiring, programming—and don’t see my role changing anytime soon. We’re overly busy at times, but this works well for us.
The best way to understand your customer’s needs is to look at the job in its entirety—from meeting the customer and deciding on the best approach for that project to the building of panels, wiring, programming, going to the site, and commissioning. The whole sequence of events needs to be in your mind. If you focus on just one aspect, like programming a controller to do a specific job, you could miss little things along the way. It’s very time consuming to look at the whole system from beginning to end, but it makes a huge difference. When the customer is happy with the result, the system is efficient and saves them money. That’s a success for us.
When we first started LCS Control Systems and were looking for a controls solution, we tried a number of systems—Honeywell, Siemens—but nothing impressed us. We searched online and came across the Reliable Controls website, and it looked very interesting. The first thing we noticed when we started working with the Reliable Controls system was how user-friendly everything is. Thanks to the way a system is built in RC-Studio®, and the ease of writing a program in Control-BASIC, we can design a complete controls solution in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take with any other brand. Everything is seamless. It is exactly what we want.
We’ve stuck with Reliable Controls because its attitude has remained the same—the entire Reliable ethos is just so efficient! The website has everything we need—any kind of technical information is right there (data and submittal sheets), and the site is easy to navigate. The regular graphics updates keep everything relevant. If we’re looking for any kind of graphic or solution—if there’s some piece of equipment a customer wants to see on the screen—more often than not it’s available and very easy to use. And the online ordering system is fantastic! Again, it’s easy and quick. We just go to the site, click what we want, and it’s done.
One of our clients had an educational facility with AHUs that were very old but mechanically sound. Before we started working with them, they had been told they’d have to strip out all the units. Essentially it was the (lack of) controls system that was letting them down; it was all analog stuff. They came to us for advice right when they were about to buy new AHUs. With a few minor mechanical changes, and by installing the Reliable Controls system to each of the AHUs, they didn’t have to replace anything or shut down their building. It was labor intensive but worked out very well. The client was more than pleased to save so much money.
Another client, with a huge pharmaceutical plant, also ran into problems with an AHU that was controlled by a different brand of controls. Our controls were also in their plant, managing a different system. When they heard they’d have to wait 3 weeks for a representative from the other company to show up, they turned to us. That length of downtime would have cost them dearly. We couldn’t work with that other system, so we offered to replace all the controls with Reliable Controls products. It took us a full day and night, but we managed to get the job done and have the AHU up and running again. They were extremely relieved and impressed by how well it worked out. We’ve had lots more work in this plant since then.
Modern controls systems can provide huge amounts of information on the controlled equipment, which greatly reduces the time required to physically inspect that equipment. When a system has a lot of moving parts, there will always be times when we need to physically check a piece of equipment to know exactly what’s going on. A faulty sensor could be sending back incorrect information, which might not be noticed until the equipment is inspected with the naked eye. It would be a huge benefit to customers if we were able to log on to a system and see a live video feed of the equipment and be able to zoom in and out to get a detailed look at various parts without having to actually go to the site.
RC-RemoteAccess® changed our company completely. Being able to view sites remotely is very effective. We’ve reduced our travel time by half. Ireland is not a big country, but driving from one end to the other can take 6 or 7 hours. The time we save thanks to RC-RemoteAccess has allowed us to keep the same number of employees yet increase our workload and take on far bigger projects. If a site doesn’t have Wi-Fi, we put our own router in the panel and leave it there for weeks or months to ensure the system is running effectively. For every job we do, we have remote access to it. We also do a lot of our programming and graphic design remotely. Very little time is spent on site now. I simply can’t praise RC-RemoteAccess highly enough!
The fact that all Reliable Controls devices are backward compatible is hugely beneficial. We love saying to customers who want to upgrade their system that they won’t need to strip anything out and place a whole new system. Being able to connect a 20-year-old controller to the newest device, and trust they can communicate, makes things very easy for us. Which other controls supplier does that?
Our client with the pharmaceutical company requested information for their QA documentation about how a particular feature within a sensor worked. I explained it to them as best I could, but wanted more information so posted a question on the Reliable Controls Dealer Forum. Greg Bates, from application engineering, was so helpful in describing exactly what goes on within the sensor and how the feature works. He also put me in touch with Lyam Witherow in the technical support department. I sent Lyam data logs from the sensors, which he interrogated to see exactly what was going on within the sensors. We emailed back and forth for a number of days. Both Greg and Lyam provided me with so much in-depth data that I could formulate and send to the customer, and it blew the customer away. They were so impressed by the support Reliable Controls gave us, to provide them with exactly what they had asked for and more. It was really helpful!
Every job brings new challenges when you start out. That can be daunting at first. You need to keep learning and stay up to date with the latest technologies; otherwise you’ll fall behind.
We’ve created a way for potential clients to explore existing live systems without them needing to physically visit sites. Our current hospitality customers (hotels and leisure centers) are more than happy to show off their modern systems, so we create dummy accounts and send those links to potential clients. This allows them to browse around, understand how the software package works, and see all the data without upsetting anything. Especially when we show them RC-Archive®, they can see all the data from previous years and how the system is operating now. It’s the best way of showcasing what a system can do, and potential clients love it!
Trevor Lucey and his partner, Elaine Walsh (LCS Control Systems office administrator and graphic designer)
Shawn Dirksen breaks down what he likes about his Reliable Controls System.
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