One wouldn’t expect to find the headquarters of a high-tech global manufacturer and supplier tucked away in a patch of bucolic Upper Bucks County countryside.
But that’s exactly where NovaTech LLC can be found. The company’s Pleasant Valley headquarters occupies an office surrounded by cornfields and flanked by a row of solar panels on land set back a bit from the main road.
Though the company has only about eight employees at its headquarters, it employs 260 worldwide and sells its products across the globe. The company needed more space in Pleasant Valley and converted the property’s barns to office space this year.
Since the 1980s, NovaTech has been supplying automation and engineering solutions for the electric utilities and process manufacturing industries. Through its technology, the company strives to make power grids and process facilities around the world more reliable, efficient and secure.
The utilities and process manufacturers that NovaTech serves provide essential services around the world, from energy and food to medicine and fuel. Such reliability means the company’s products have to serve computer systems that are continuously redundant and need to perform even in harsh environments.
“You could lose millions of dollars if the computer shuts down in the middle of a process,” said Jeffrey Lindtner, senior vice president of NovaTech LLC. “If you have full redundancy on the system, you can eliminate a huge portion of the risk.”
A division, Bitronics LLC, makes power measure instruments for utilities at its Brodhead Road facility in Hanover Township, Northampton County, where it employs about 50 and produces all key components for every NovaTech product. Primarily, its end users are electric utilities around the world.
Bitronics began in 1908 as the instrumentation group of Roller-Smith in Bethlehem and carries on that tradition, Lindtner said. At that time, it supplied government, telecoms and mining operations with highly reliable, precision measurement devices.
NovaTech began when Volker Oakey, chairman and CEO, invested in a buyout of a small company in 1980 housed in a three-story brick building on Goepp Street in Bethlehem called Bitronics. He soon became a major investor.
Bitronics mainly was an analog business, Oakey said, and “we wanted to install a digital instrument on a substation in Alaska.
“From that point, we started to get acceptance of this technology and we slowly built up some volume and got more utilities into that,” Oakey said.
By 1989-1990, NovaTech was in a good position in the utility market, Oakey said.
Shortly after, the company began introducing other products.
DIVERSITY OF PRODUCTS
NovaTech’s other products include the Orion substation automation platform family, based in Lenexa, Kan., and the D/3 DCS (distributed control systems) family based in Owings Mills, Md.
The D/3 DCS, which debuted in 1981, is designed to automate and optimize batch and continuous process facilities worldwide.
Its Orion product line works by gathering information on a substation and transmitting it to the control stations. Then, NovaTech began creating process control devices that command the processes that occur in factories. These products became the D/3 DCS line.
D/3 DCS products can be thought of as a complete control system, said Jeff Zola, vice president of process marketing for NovaTech.
“It includes software, mobile apps, analytics, a lot of engineering expertise,” he said. “Each one is unique to that customer’s plant.”
About six years ago, NovaTech began getting more international clients, Oakey said.
Since then, it has seen continued growth internationally, serving major companies in China, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Europe and a host of other markets as process partners and utility partners. In China alone, NovaTech’s products serve about eight facilities, Oakey said.
The company has numerous sales offices throughout the nation and overseas.
With major areas of Africa installing electrical grids, Oakey said, he sees continued growth for his company’s products on that continent.
“Sometimes, it will take a couple of years to find a partner, then you have to find someone who is not going to go into competition with you,” Oakey said. “We are a lead player in the U.S. It’s a four- to five-year process before you get some sales.”
Oakey sees a major change occurring that could lead to even more international growth for NovaTech. In many countries, utility equipment that has been installed is in need of being replaced and/or becoming more secure.
“That would give us a good opportunity to grow,” Oakey said.
In the utility market, there’s big pressure to move into cybersecurity, and countries that are underdeveloped are looking to electrify their grids.
STABLE WORKFORCE, SUCCESS
Many Bitronics employees have been working there for 15 years or longer, Lindtner said.
Manufacturers Resource Center in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, has been a valuable component to NovaTech’s success and helped it develop an effective production line for Bitronics, Lindtner said.
A NovaTech representative has been serving on MRC’s board of directors for more than 20 years, said Jack Pfunder, president and CEO of MRC.
MRC has completed lean manufacturing work for Bitronics, as well as training in International Organization for Standardization certification and helping it find customers, Pfunder said.
“They are a good, solid company,” he said. “Their culture is good; they seem to be growing.”