CENTURION Mini Product Catalogue

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Soul of a New Machine: The Legend of the D5-Evo (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, we embarked on the first leg of our journey into the storied history of the hugely popular D5-Evo sliding gate motor. We delved deep into its illustrious past, exploring how it came to be the vanguard of a new, intelligent generation of gate operators and came to define innovation in gate automation.

In this exclusive interview, R & D director Robert Dickens takes us back to those halcyon days. As always Rob writes compellingly, almost lyrically, and this is one interview you don’t want to miss.

“It’s hard to know exactly where the story begins, or at least where the story hits the cusp, the proverbial fork in the road, that led to such a radical shift in CENTURION’s trajectory. Perhaps, as I reflect on it now, it wasn’t a single discontinuity, it was the sum of many disruptive technology hops that ultimately, and ostensibly magically, allow us to appear where we are today.

At least in terms of CENTURION’s culture of driving paradigm-shifting innovation, we need to start right at the beginning. Gate operators in their crudest form are actually far more mechanical than they are electrical. Provide the simplest of contact-based logic, that in combination with two end-of-travel limit-switches that inhibit the operator from driving a gate beyond its mechanical limits, and you have a working automatic gate… And so begins CENTURION’s inexorable genesis. Pat [Dickens, CENTURION MD] and Richard [Rohman, CENTURION marketing and sales director) with their respective electrical and mechanical backgrounds developed operators that fell into this class of automation – just opening and closing a gate with the crudest of remote control stimulus.

But competition was fierce back in those days… Or so it is regaled in folklore! In truth, the barrier-to-entry was just very low. You didn’t need much technology expertise to get into the game. Out of this free-market primordial soup came the DNA for CENTURION’s later prominence in the access automation market – a deep commitment to constantly innovate! I recall Pat investing hundreds, if not indeed thousands, of hours developing the logic, that back in those days was entirely implemented using CMOS logic gates, to design gate controllers that evolved beyond crudely opening and closing gates. I believe that CENTURION’s long-standing alpha-characteristic of developing feature-rich products became part of our genetics at this formative point in our history.

So too with Darwin’s Finches, we built on this genetic blueprint fairly linearly and organically over the next of several years. Change is inevitable though… As the business grew, Pat and Richard had less and less time to invest in the development of new products. Enter Ian Rozowsky! At the time, a young and fairly recent university graduate with a new technology skillset. He radically changed the landscape with the introduction of microcontroller-based controllers. Recall, up until this point all behavioural logic was implemented using logic gates. Logic gates in their own right are ingeniously clever, but they don’t scale well with complexity. At least not when functional behaviour is built by hand, gate by gate. For us, microcontrollers represented the next technology discontinuity in our evolutionary development. In R&D we often discuss what is referred to as a ‘technology enabler’. 

The term describes a concept, entity, technology, paradigm, etc., that does more than address the direct requirement for its existence. Of course, it must address the direct and immediate requirement that justifies its initial existence, but often its real value lies in its indirect and often subtle merits. It ‘enables’ entirely new ways of conceptualising, implementing, and developing systems and/or products. Microcontrollers for CENTURION were, and still very much are, one of the most significant ‘technology enablers’ we’ve leveraged to create our strong lineage.

Microcontrollers rapidly accelerated our ancestry all the way to the point where we introduced the CP80 sliding-gate controller. Without doubt, it was a product well ahead of its time. In fact, it was functionally so far ahead of its time, that it got a bit ahead of itself. The functionality it offered far exceeded the user interface we’d provided in support of it. It was this genetic misstep that was one of the primary drivers in the ultimate development of the Evo platform.

Our history becomes a bit disjointed at this point; because the Evo didn’t evolve linearly from the CP80. Strange as it may seem, it actually evolved from a parallel genus in the form of our swing gate operators. For largely circumstantial reasons, the business was developing the Vector swing gate operator at the time. Mechanically this operator, for reasons that will make for a story for another day, required a controller that fundamentally controlled the operator in a radically different manner to the manner in which we’d been controlling motors up to this point. CENTURION, as it had done numerous times before, disruptively innovated; developing a new way to control motors in the context of gate automation. It was a subtle but disruptive paradigm shift that closed the control loop giving us full control to not only accelerate a gate, but decelerate it too, in a deterministic and controlled manner. To this day, we remain at the apex of motor control technology in the world of gate automation.

The Vector also introduced a far more sophisticated user interface in the form of an onboard LCD. Over the years we’ve identified the LCD as another significant ‘technology enabler’. It’s directly addressed the non-intuitive configuration weaknesses we had historically introduced in controllers like the CP80, but it has facilitated so much more. It’s enabled the ability to configure advanced parameters like precise operator speeds, and introduce advanced features like time-barred, and auto-activated access (that appeared in the Evo platform).

The Evo therefore inherited the intelligent design of the Vector platform, and subtly built upon it. 

Logic gates had given way to microcontrollers; and even though we’d been using microcontrollers for nearly two decades, we’d always used them fairly conservatively. Again, for reasons that extend beyond the horizon of this story, even the Vector had evolved on the back of fairly conservative design paradigms. The Evo became the first platform therefore to break this design thinking. And this change has become another ‘technology enabler’ that has enabled new and innovative ways of designing and manufacturing products that offer strong value propositions. For example, this change in thinking has facilitated support for multiple languages on many of our newer generation controllers.

The development of the Evo platform could not stand in isolation. Indeed it stands on the shoulders of many giants before it. It is an incremental evolution of product design in CENTURION’s long lineage of creating compelling products. Disruptive innovation has always been a defining characteristic in CENTURION’s DNA. I suspect the Evo, for all that it is, is currently the canon realisation of that intangible.”

Read part one of the story of the D5-Evo here.

Monday 19 September 2016

Who is FAAC? An Interview with Jacopo Malacarne

If there’s one word that perfectly describes the recent joining of forces of CENTURION and global access automation powerhouse FAAC, it’s heritage. With eighty years’ industry experience between them, both of these companies have come a long way with the markets that they serve, and their names have become synonymous with innovation, with reliability and with service excellence.

Or perhaps the word is legacy: a word that looks to the future rather than the past. What does the road ahead look like now that South Africa’s leading access automation manufacturer is part of the largest access automation brand in the world? Who exactly is this powerful multinational machine that has its roots in 1960s Italy and today, half a century later, has branches all over the world?

One thing is certain: when European flair meets African strength and endurance, it’s pure magic.

In this exclusive interview, FAAC Group Business Unit Director Jacopo Malacarne tells us more about what the future holds.

Charl Mijnhardt: FAAC has been around for a great many years. What would you say is the secret recipe that has enabled it to withstand the test of time?

Jacopo Malacarne:
FAAC SpA was founded in 1965, or 51 years ago, by a stroke of genius of Mr Giuseppe Manini. At the time, the Italian economy was growing very quickly, companies were founded, new products and services were offered for the first time and families were looking for a better life style and convenience. Of all those newly-born companies, not all followed the growth strategy of FAAC, some of them later disappeared, and therefore FAAC must have really had some positives in its value proposition. I would say a) the capacity to attract talents and motivate people around the founder b) steer from a family-owned company into a professionally-structured company with clear skills and responsibilities c) technical intellectual curiosity that paved the way to multiple patents for new state-of-the-art mechanical and electronic solutions d) a sense of pride.

CM: That’s quite a story. If you could give us the “executive summary” of what FAAC’s core business is, what would it be?

FAAC was indeed born as the first national manufacturer of slide and swing gate openers for residential applications. Slowly, over the decades the business scope expanded to include vehicular and pedestrian access control solutions in commercial and industrial applications. As far as vehicles are concerned, automatic barriers, motorways barriers, industrial doors, fast rolling doors, automatic retractable bollards were all developed internally over the years. For pedestrian use, it is worth mentioning the development of swing and slide automatic doors, innovative complete automatic doors, hospital doors as well as software-based hands-free or tag-based access control solutions.

CM: What was the main driver that led to the decision to acquire CENTURION, a South African manufacturer?

We recognised some time ago that, as an international company with more than 24 commercial subsidiaries worldwide and the necessity to diversify revenue generation, FAAC was not present enough on the African continent. We should either have developed a tailor-made product offer for such a continent, and later have built a commercial presence, or we were to acquire a local successful company. Our first thought was of CENTURION who, before developing into an independent manufacturer, was a customer of FAAC’s in the early ‘80s. CENTURION has, since then, become the clear market leader not only in South Africa but also on the African continent below the Saharan belt. The match was perfect, in other words. 

CM: Are you expecting to bring any new products into the African market? Are there solutions that could be a good fit for this market?

Yes, we believe that certain selected products may be brought to South Africa and the surrounding countries and distributed by Centurion Systems. FAAC has developed for other markets’ needs a full complement of security-related vehicle access control solutions; automatic bollards, of different sizes, crash-rated automatic bollards, for counter-terrorism purposes, capable of stopping a 7.5 tonne truck driving at 30mph (48kph) or 50mph (80kph) are fully available to CENTURION. Additionally, high-performance barriers are now available for sale to Africa.   

CM: What about taking South African products to new markets? Do you foresee CENTURION growing its footprint internationally?

The exercise is two-fold . Some products by CENTURION may indeed be distributed by the FAAC sales network in selected countries. We are studying this at the moment and the results will soon be effective. We also want to offer CENTURION FAAC’s technological competence and off-the-shelf solutions to short-cut development processes to embark on as well as access to international subsidiaries to fasten its commercial development outside South Africa.

CM: What are the main benefits of two “superpowers” like CENTURION and FAAC joining forces?

An enriched product offering to meet larger customer base demand, stronger technological competencies and skills in mechanical and electronic design and manufacturing, economies of scale in managing the supply chain, wider commercial network to channel FAAC and CENTURION products.   

CM: Do you foresee any challenges? What are they?

JM: Acquisitions in general may change the scenario for the companies involved: market, customers, products and sometimes people. Change, per se, is not loved by everybody, some fear negative consequences more than the future benefits discussed above.  In our case it is different. Relying on apopular saying from the world of sports, “a winning team, like CENTURION, is never changed”. The challenge therefore is to communicate effectively to CENTURION employees, suppliers and customers that the acquisition by FAAC, in our very specific case, not only will maintain the business scenario as before, but will only enhance and accelerate CENTURION’s future growth opportunities.  

Want to know more about the FAAC acquisition? Check out this interview in Hi-tech Security Solutions.