Switched on, and an international success

Switched on, and an international success

How does a company based thousands of miles away from its suppliers and its main customers become an international success? As James Wills discovered when he spoke to Michael Slater, President of electromechanical switch manufacturer E-Switch, some companies can make it look as simple as pressing a button. 

IN 1884, engineer and inventor John Henry Holmes, who was working in Shieldfield in the UK, invented the light switch. His device allowed the quick separation of electrical current whereas previous attempts had caused electrical arcing, often causing fires. 

Fast forwarding to 1979, E-Switch was formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Operating under the third generation as a privately held company, E-Switch today offers one of the broadest electromechanical switch lines in the sector. E-Switch is a wholly – owned subsidiary of Stein Industries, which has been providing various services and quality products to a multitude of industries since 1907. 

For most people, switches are barely given a thought; they are so commonplace in our lives. We simply pull them, push them or move them without a second’s thought that we are actually interacting with an electro-mechanical device. 

E-Switch’s catalogue of such devices runs thousands of products in 16 broad categories. These range from tilts, toggles and triggers to detectors, anti-vandals and snap actions. They are used in a perplexing array of sectors and sold right across the globe. 

Selling millions of switches worldwide 

The company’s president, Michael Slater, said: “As a privately-owned company in a competitive industry, the precise sales data of our company is confidential, but safe to say we sell many millions of switches every year to tens of thousands of clients in dozens of countries.” 

And one might similarly presume selling so many, E-Switch’s biggest market would be in the consumer sector – light switches for homes for example. 

But Mr Slater said: “Industrial customers represent the biggest share of our turnover. Most industrial products have circuit boards inside them and every board typically has a reset or test switch, a safety switch, the machines have off and on rocker switches, they may have switches to adjust output… so you can see, this industrial sector is a massive one for us. Our other major sectors, such as consumer, medical and communications make up another large share.” 

It is fair to say that without doubt, this Minneapolis headquartered business is truly an international entity. 

Mr Slater said: “Electronics are designed all over the world and two thirds of the world’s electronic manufacturing is in 

Asia so it is critical that we are near where our biggest customers are. As well as our American headquarters, we also have an office in Singapore and warehouse and other facilities in Hong Kong. 

So how has the company prospered being so far away from its manufacturers and largest customers? 

“From day one our company has always been focused on three principles: selection, service and speed,” he explained. “Selection is offering the highest possible number of clients the best selection of switches, then giving them great service and getting the products to them quickly. We also have a global reputation for excellence, reliability and value. 

Mr Slater said engineers and sales professionals are always on hand to provide specifying assistance and quick response to 3D model requests, price quotes, inventory and access to a significant sample program that allows engineers to examine and qualify switches for their end product applications. 

The company has grown an impressive online presence which today includes a complete product catalogue, detailed specification documents, product schematics and 3D models. Product modification and customisation expertise is available and can be applied to many of E-Switch’s product lines and switch series. 

Holistic solutions 

“We offer holistic solutions to clients – for example when a manufacturer is looking to introduce new technology, we will work with them on the switch aspect from day one – and we also typically introduce 12 new switches a year in direct response to our customers’ needs,” he continued. “They might be facing challenges about space, design or cost pressures, and we always do our utmost to give our customers solutions to their switch problems within the highest safety parameters.” 

Cost is also key. Mr Slater said: “Switches typically contain precious metals, special plastics and resins and so the price of raw materials can fluctuate and there can be shortages and dramatic fluctuations in availability of supply. There is often more demand in the electronics sector for raw materials than capacity, and so we work hand-in-hand with customers to find them the best value.” 

In terms of the company’s challenges, Mr Slater said there is one perpetual problem – finding the right talent. 

“You can never have enough talented people. Because we are in the switch business, we need a specific type of engineer that understands both the electrical and mechanical requirements of the customer’s application. Our sales people also require a technical background to understand the 

customer’s exact needs and effectively bring them the right solution. These are niche roles and it can be difficult to find people so we often have to hire people and then develop their talents.” 

Playing its part during the pandemic 

An even bigger worldwide challenge since early 2020 has been Covid, and E-Switch was proud to play its part in fighting the virus. 

“Because of the pandemic, there was an immediate sharp rise in demand for certain products like ventilators, cleaning and hygiene equipment, many of which contain switches,” commented Mr Slater. “Fortunately, we were immediately able to respond very quickly and meet the demand for such critical equipment. 

“As a company, we take very seriously our commitment to our employees, clients, customers and the community and we were glad we were able to do our bit in helping those at the frontline against Covid-19.” 

Mr Slater remarked that Covid is changing the way companies look at how switches are used in their product line. 

“We all know how difficult it is to not touch hundreds of items in everyday life and not touch your face,” he said. “Because of concerns over touch transmission of the disease, manufacturers are looking at products that are rated IP67 for dust and moisture protection, so the switch can be sanitised and wiped clean.” 

E-Switch offers numerous IP67 rated switches especially in the anti-vandal product line. We have a large assortment of toggle, tact, rocker, pushbutton and dip switches that are sealed and can be wiped down. To reduce the fingertip touch activation, some of the company’s switches can be actuated with your elbow for a hands-free operation. 

“We have a client that manufacturers walk-in coolers and refrigeration equipment to restaurants. Often the employees are moving large tubs in and out of the cooler, so they can open the door by pushing the switch with their elbow,” revealed Mr Slater. “We always explore new technology with our manufacturers to fit the needs of our customers.” 

So, as they already sell tens of millions of products every year, how does E-Switch intend to continue to grow? 

Mr Slater said: “We want to continue to increase brand recognition. Our website and social media platforms have already pivoted to become an educational resource for people wanting to learn about switches – what the terminology is, how they work, etc.” 

He concluded: “When engineers need switches, we want them to think of E-Switch. We will continue to create new products and offer a wide range of products to all our customers, combined with the best customer service. 

“If you would like any additional information on E-Switch or any of our products, please contact us at salesrequest@e-switch.com.”


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