Last month, Paper Advance had the great privilege of getting to know Esko Pacific, a leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of flow monitoring and process control equipment, and to learn more about the company’s continuously expanding manufacturing and technical services.
As the company looks toward the future by building on lessons learned and recent success, PaperAdvance took the opportunity to ask Esko Pacific about its objectives for the North American market, how it stays ahead of the technological curve, and where it plans to focus its R&D efforts.
- What can you tell our North American readers about Esko Pacific? A little bit of history.
In 1970, our founder, Esko Venalainen, moved his family from Finland to Canada. He was part of a broader trend of bringing European paper industry expertise to North America and after working on various projects with Honeywell, EuroCan, Eur-Control (BTG) and Nokia, Venalainen founded ESKO Industries with a desire to focus on marketing European instrumentation technology in North America.
Venalainen made it his personal mission to personally pay a visit to every pulp and paper mill on the continent, with the goal of sharing industry best practices. He introduced process control instrumentation to local mills, while establishing a network of agents and partnerships to serve process industries.
In 2006, with decades of experience and a solid understanding of customer needs, ESKO Industries pivoted and launched its own line of flow metering products under the name ESKO Pacific Sales and started manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest. Esko’s family and loyal employees transformed the business to include both manufacturing and technical services.
Venalainen’s son, Markku, began his career with the Company 35 years ago, and today sits at the helm, as President. Decades later, the familiar ESKO logo is featured on equipment across the continent, and businesses, friends and family fondly recall Esko’s upbeat style and energy that has, and continues to, remain a constant over the years.
- How do you define teamwork and how important is it for the growth of EP?
Teamwork blends knowledge and resources to create innovative solutions for customer needs. We listen to feedback in all areas of our business, and work together to combine technical expertise with new ideas and valuable input from all levels. The ESKO team is committed to creating innovative, cost-effective solutions that exceed customers’ expectations.
We work together to continuously improve our locally manufactured products with modular design principles. We seek to understand process optimization from the customer’s perspective, which helps inform product design at all stages. Teamwork is critical to this process; it enables us to meet unique and complex customer needs, while maintaining reliable product lines and exceptional delivery times.
Learning from our customers, working with seasoned team members and using high-quality components propels ESKO’s growth and advancement into a wider spectrum of industries and applications.
- Can you tell us more about your capabilities?
Our President has a background in computers and technology, guiding technical processes and technological product advancements. A Professional Engineer heads up our sales department to make sure it has the expertise to answer customer queries effectively and to engage in meaningful technical discussions about their needs. We have in-house experience with industrial equipment manufacturing, electronics components, mechanical engineering, quality control in manufacturing, and experienced machinists with decades of combined experience working with manufacturing materials.
Combined, these capability resources address the growing need for innovative monitoring solutions in pulp and paper and other process industries. Continuous product development provides smaller end users and OEM customers alike with state-of-the-art products and solutions.
- What are your objectives in developing the North American market?
ESKO’s vision is to supply products that minimize waste, reduce energy consumption and maximize process uptime. We want to share the means to process optimization across the continent.
ESKO believes in the power of effective communication with our clients. We facilitate the sharing of valuable know-how between our team and our customers. Our primary customer base is the pulp and paper industry, so in developing the North American market we apply our experience to connect with other process industries with similar metering and monitoring needs such as mining, manufacturing, petrochemical, food processing and many others.
We promote communication by offering highly accessible technical assistance for product selection in online resources, printed media and continuous direct customer contact. We choose to work with experienced and knowledgeable local distributors. In addition to making flow meters, ESKO offers world class in-house developed felt guiding systems and we’re getting that message out. Finally, we represent select complementary European product lines because we believe in the quality of those products and carry inventory to make them accessible to the North American market. Popular lines include: Assalub grease lubrication products, DropsA lubrication systems and Tempress level and pressure gauges.
- How does Esko Pacific stay ahead of the technological curve?
ESKO anticipates customer needs through ongoing two-way communication. Our development team works with customer feedback to undertake research, modify existing designs, re-engineer parts and offer custom calibration and other options to create new product solutions. In response to a customer request for a challenging industrial environment, we expanded our product line with our first stainless steel body seal water monitor.
- What does continuous improvement mean to you when it comes to technology?
Continuously watching manufacturing trends ensures we maintain quality in our product components and keep our prices stable. We monitor trends in process management to anticipate upcoming process industry needs. Our team identifies and makes product design improvements, tweaks component designs and works with customer suggestions to explore model variations and configurations. These continuous activities enable ESKO to consistently supply leading edge products that integrate with evolving technology. We are exploring technology trends that favor digital interfaces, real-time monitoring and collecting process information for trending and analysis.
Continuous improvement at ESKO means making things work better for us and for our customers. Our founder’s attitude to challenges was how to get something done, not whether it can be done - that legacy lives on in the way we approach technology today.
- What are your objectives for EP in the next year? Five years?
ESKO has been in business for nearly 40 years and we look proudly and confidently toward the future. Our objectives for the next year and beyond are to stay connected with our customer base, connect with new industries and emerging young professionals, all while staying ahead of the curve with what’s happening in industrial markets across the globe.
Looking at a five-year time frame, we’ve already started growing our business and manufacturing facilities to keep our delivery times exceptional and provide ongoing product service and customization. Our goal is to grow the company at a healthy pace, focussing on continuity and quality by balancing the needs of established customers with the exploration of new markets in North America and abroad.
- What percentage of your business goes towards Research & Development?
Research and development is ongoing at ESKO, and relies on customer input. Every team member contributes suggestions to component and manufacturing improvements and ongoing product innovations.
One directed area of research and development is ongoing work on optimizing oil lubrication systems. Our team is exploring and devising ways to more readily integrate our oil monitoring and lubrication metering systems with existing mill systems.
- What do your R&D efforts focus on?
A growing interest in sustainability is making an impact on industry. We are anticipating and responding to increased interest in environmental controls and adaptations being implemented across all industries. ESKO will be looking for ways to contribute to developing standards and corporate and industry initiatives in this area, particularly in process monitoring.
- What do you think is the most important quality for success?
Success is founded on vision and commitment. ESKO is passionate about our history, accumulated experience and the resulting products we make today. We place a high value on customer and partner relationships. We prioritize integrity in all aspects of our business dealings and in the way we treat our own team members. We pride ourselves on being a reliable source of straightforward information about metering, monitoring and process optimization, whether it results in an immediate sale or not.
- What trends have you seen in the pulp and paper industry over the last 5 years and what do you see being the future?
At the mill level, we’ve seen a recent shift towards cost-saving maintenance programs. Our customers are stocking spare parts and replacement meters as part of efforts to reduce unscheduled downtime and conduct efficient maintenance programs. As a result, we’re reminding our customers that we provide factory refurbishing services and spare part kits to support these initiatives.
Looking forward, as a result of the digital revolution and trend towards digital commerce, we foresee a further shift away from print paper towards packaging materials manufacturing, particularly lightweight packaging. Recyclable paper products are also surging in popularity. Industry is responding to these trends by adapting technology and processes and we believe ESKO will be a partner in those shifts at the manufacturing process level.
The use of process data as part of optimizing production is increasingly common. Artificially intelligent systems and the internet of things are developing quickly. ESKO is excited to be part of the data revolution. We’re refining methods of recording and trending process data and interfacing to existing mill systems. Real time information trending and analysis is fundamental in process management.
ESKO will continue to look to the future. The simplicity and reliability of our products is enduring and future applications are limitless. ESKO was proud to participate in one vision of the future in the making of the Universal Pictures film “Chronicles of Riddick”. In the movie, an ESKO oval gear meter formed part of the cryo-suspension system used during interstellar space travel. Perhaps this may become a reality some day!
For more information about Esko Pacific, visit www.eskopacific.com
Images: Courtesy of Esko Pacific