Driving forward with the digital revolution
University can help shape our futures in many ways other than academically. For Jim Hargrove his involvement as a member, and ultimately as president of the sports car club at the University of British Columbia sparked a lifelong passion for the motor sports industry, which has helped fuel his career for more than thirty years.
Today Hargrove is president of Vancouver based Analytic Systems, the company founded by his father Lloyd Hargrove in 1976, and his first employer after graduating with a BASc in electrical engineering in 1981. After a 10 year stint designing and building marine automatic pilots beginning in 1983, Hargrove returned to take over control of the company from his father in 1994. Refocusing the company as a manufacturer of power conversion products, it serves five key markets – military, industrial, transportation, marine and telecommunication. The company is very much an international one, with military and industrial clients around the world.
“We are approved by the Controlled Goods Program in Canada which is the equivalent of the International Treaty for Arms Reduction (ITAR) and is a critical component of being able to do business with any military organization or military contractor in the western world” says Hargrove. But reduced military spending, particularly in the USA, has had an effect on business, as Hargrove explains. “The last few years have been very difficult. Virtually every military budget around the world got slashed. So in response to that we took the decision to really refocus the company on our commercial industrial product line and leveraged the transition into digital power electronics. We are now seeing an upsurge in sales because of the investment that we have made in technology over the last few years.”
Evidence can be seen in the number of orders taken. In the week of October 31st, 2015 Analytic Systems had orders on the books equal to about two weeks’ worth of work. By October 31st, 2016 this figure had rebounded to over three months’ of work. “Part of that is because of renewed military spending, but more importantly it is because people really like the new products we have developed” says Hargrove.
This is not the first time Analytic Systems has hit troubled waters and came out of it stronger. Back in the early 80s interest rates went through the roof and it nearly destroyed the company. “No sooner had I started working for the company than my dad said – I can’t pay you anything” reminisces Hargrove. But he was proactive. One of the products he had been working on at Analytic Systems was an automatic pilot for steering boats, the world’s first digital automatic pilot for steering boats. Along with an investor he set up a spin off company ComNav Marine to sell the product and left Analytic Systems to become vice president of engineering at ComNav at the age of 26. Ten years later he sold his share of ComNav Marine and returned to become a majority owner of Analytic Systems, and worked alongside his father for the next ten years until the senior Hargrove slowly began to retire. Jim also brought his own ideas and experience to the company. “When I rejoined Analytic Systems in 1994 my father was still doing custom engineering. It is a very hand to mouth type business. So when I took the company over I said - let’s leverage the intellectual property in power conversion products you have developed over the past 16 years and design and build a line of products. So we turned Analytic Systems from a custom engineering company into a power electronics products company. It has grown from two partners in a 1200 square foot warehouse in 1994 to over 50 employees and 45,000 square feet of electronics design and manufacturing and CNC machining space today.”
Hargrove’s interest in the motorsports industry resulted in the company designing products for motorsports starting in 2000. “Our first product was a Total Discharge Controller that allowed a race car to be run off a battery only without the need for an alternator” explained Hargrove. To complement the Total Discharge Controller the company developed high performance battery chargers to swiftly and accurately recharge the race car battery while it was in the pits. These products were marketed under the ‘RaceEnergy’ brand. More products followed but Hargrove is proudest of being selected by Indycar to provide battery chargers to all the of the official Indycar support series in 2013. “We used this opportunity to develop our very first all-digital battery charger that allowed any kind of race car battery to be properly and fully recharged in the least amount of time”. Each of these motorsports products also created industrial and military spinoff products that have created millions of dollars of additional revenue for the company and sparked the wholesale conversion of its product line to digital control.
Two years ago the company decided to spin off the motorsports business and created a sister company called RaceEnergy Performance which specifically caters to the needs of the motor sports industry. In addition to continuing to develop and support the power conversion electronics, RaceEnergy is now designing an electric race car. Hargrove reports: “It is a small part. There are only three people in the division, but they are so busy right now that we can’t keep up. We have been contracted by a company that is developing an electric vehicle here in Vancouver to create and build a racing version of that car, so we have been designing our own battery systems, our own motor controllers, our own charging systems, not to mention all the mechanical parts such as suspension systems and all-wheel drive. It is more aligned with the formula racing world than with mainstream electric vehicle world because all your charging systems in the race cars are off the car. You charge the batteries outside of the car and you just plug them in and go.”
Having recently changed registrars and re-certified to ISO9001 the company is looking ahead to where the market is going. “We are very proud of the conversion to digital technology and we see digital technology growing because of the fact you can put so much of the functionality into the computer chips and it increases the range of applications you can manage with a smaller number of products,” says Hargrove. Today they pride themselves in being able to offer both standard and custom power conversion products. “What we find is that a lot of customers say – ‘I like what you have done here but…’ and where we think we differentiate ourselves from other companies is that when the customer says ‘but’ we say “yes, we can make that happen’,” says Hargrove. “So we will very often take a standard product and modify it and add extra functionality, whether that is digital displays, communications, special connectors or specific footprint the customer wants to have or environmental protection, all the way up to IP67 which means that the unit can operate up to a meter under water. Alternatively if none of the company’s standard products are suitable for the customer’s application, a completely new product can be designed from the ground up.
The company is very much a one stop shop; they do everything but manufacture the actual printed circuit boards, with assembly, design, manufacturing and testing all conducted in-house including aerospace quality CNC machining of components in their Metal Action Machining sister company. This, says Hargrove, is what they are most proud of, the fact that all work takes place at one of the finest design and manufacturing facilities in North America. “100 percent manufactured in North America - that is one of our hallmarks.”
“We plan to continue the digital revolution, in terms of more products that are digitally controlled, to continue to increase the power density - more power, less space.” Currently the company is moving the battery charging technology up into the 5 kilowatt power level, and are looking to the future.
“We are never ones to be at the forefront of dollars per watt race. We are never going to be the cheapest, but we like to think that as we continue to work to produce higher and higher quality products, we are one of the best,” summarizes Hargrove.