NORTHFIELD, Minn. – Mark Wegner, president and co-founder of Northfield Automation Systems (NAS), knows well the difficulties, the pressures and the stresses faced by process engineers and others wrestling with precision automation challenges.Why? Because, he points out with a smile, he has lived on that side of the fence.
As a former Process Engineering Manager and R&D Engineer for Sheldahl, Wegner was a key part of a roll-to-roll flexible electronics manufacturing culture. He worked to identify and implement the new technology that would help his team meet the tighter tolerances required by the industry.
Today, at Northfield Automation Systems, Wegner directs a highly qualified team of engineers – engineers who have significant expertise in manufacturing – as they create high quality, precision process automation solutions. NAS designs, engineers and fabricates automation machinery for OEMs and high-volume, custom manufacturers. The company’s engineers provide consultative support for streamlined manufacturing processes with turnkey, integrated equipment.
“Without a doubt, my time spent as Process Engineering Manager helped me to better understand our customers’ goals,” says Wegner. “We seek to identify and understand their end goals, so that we can help them to be successful in the long haul, not just the short-term. It’s about more than just designing and engineering equipment… it’s about being a side-by-side partner and an enabler to our clients.”
The we’re-in-this-together approach has allowed the company to continue to expand its business during a challenging economy. “We’re having a solid year,” says Wegner, “but since we started the company 10 years ago our goal has always been to achieve long-term, sustained growth. And the work we’re doing now – and, more importantly, the work we did in the past two years – has put us in a position to achieve that type of growth.”
Part of the reason Wegner is optimistic about the company’s future is the fact that he and his team have identified and are successfully reaching into new and emerging technology fields. Flexible solar cells, batteries and displays, along with smart sensors, are all areas where NAS is achieving significant market penetration.
Wegner continued, “It’s clear to us that these emerging markets will continue to see growth. Our approach, our expertise and our experience make us a perfect fit for companies looking to realize efficiencies in these areas.”
Wegner goes on, “The team we’ve built excels at helping customers to identify the ‘sweet spot’ for automation. NAS takes great pride in our customer support and looks to be an extension of our clients’ engineering teams. We bring to bear our extensive process knowledge – understanding thermal limitations on materials, etc. – so that we can provide a complete, turnkey solution.”
Despite the move into the new emerging markets, Wegner is quick to point out that these new areas of focus are not intended to fully replace previous lines of business.
“We talk about the need for strategic growth,” he says. “We definitely want to leverage our expertise in these exciting new areas, yes, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that the ‘small guys’ – in many cases, the true innovators – are equally exciting. We never intended Northfield Automation Systems to be a thousand-person behemoth of a company. We take great pride in the fact that we have both the horsepower and consultative approach to provide extraordinary value to all our clients.”
Another key to the success of the company, Wegner points out, is their absolute commitment to customer service. “I can confidently say that we are second to none in this area,” says Wegner. “I am extremely proud of how hard our team works to make sure our customers are beyond happy. There have been instances – one very recently, in fact – where we were able to solve complex computer issues basically overnight – issues with equipment other than our own – with the customer missing zero production time. That’s our goal… to keep our customers up and running.”
With more than 18 years of roll-to-roll engineering and process equipment manufacturing experience under his belt, Wegner’s enthusiasm for his work hasn’t waned a bit. “I get to work with exciting, cutting-edge technology on a daily basis,” he says. “And I get to do so alongside some of the greatest minds in manufacturing. I love every second of it.”
He continues, “You know, I sit in sales meetings with process engineers today and find myself looking at us through their eyes… I consider our experience, our approach, our capabilities, and our knowledge of the situation. I listen to the questions we ask and ideas we offer. I see our commitment to helping solve a problem, not just make a sale.”
“And you know what?” he says. “I would have hired us.”
Founded in 1995, Northfield Automation Systems, Inc., designs, engineers and fabricates automation machinery for OEMs and high-volume, custom manufacturers. Its engineers provide consultative support for streamlined manufacturing processes with turnkey, integrated equipment. The company’s vision is to become the global leader in web-based, high-precision, roll-to-roll processing of thin-film applications, including flexible electronics, display, solar, flexible battery, and organic electronics. Northfield Automation has nearly 75 years of combined experience in roll-to-roll thin material handling, and can work from lab scale to high-volume production. The company is located in Northfield, Minn., which is 35 minutes south of the Minneapolis/St.Paul metro area.