Digital Control Inc. Focuses International Attention on Service
The international market has always played an integral role inDigital Control Inc.’s strategic plans with regard to selling and distributingits locating systems and accessories. As the directional drilling marketflourished in the United States and outside its borders, the need to have aphysical, rooted presence in Europe and other continents became vital to respondquickly and efficiently to customer needs, as well as the market’s needs.
With that perspective, DCI’s first international service andcustomer support center opened in 2000 in Germany — called DCI GmbH Since thattime, other DCI satellite service offices have opened their doors across theglobe to meet the expanding needs and inquiries of DCI customers.
The thought behind bringing DCI to its customers was simple: tobetter serve its growing customer base around the world.
And with its service centers and personnel successfullyestablished, it brought increased interest and popularity to its newer productsalong the way, such as the DigiTrak Eclipse when it was first introduced to theworldwide audience. “The mantra for DCI is service and support,” says ChrisWeise, DCI director of sales, marketing and technical support. “We offer thebest technology and the best support and service…DCI customers are never withoutsupport.”
Currently DCI has service offices in Germany, Australia, India andAsia to meet the growing demands of the industry. Others are in the works, suchas in Russia. Why? Simply because DCI’s international sales accounts for asignificant percentage of its total sales and company leaders see thatincreasing in future years. To meet that demand, it’s critical to have aphysical presence and local operators to bring the company to the customer.
“It’s huge,” Weise says of the international market today. “We areall happy that we’ve done what we’ve done and spent the time and money overseasto keep the business going because right now, overseas business is growing at abetter rate than the U.S. [market]… If you look at some of the developingeconomies, such as India, they are growing at a rate that [the United States]was growing eight or nine years ago. It’s the same with China. It’s growing soquickly. I see growth overseas overtaking the U.S. market.”
DCI is known for its high-quality locating systems such as theDigiTrak and Eclipse systems. An addition to the product line is the TensiTrak,which was introduced in 2002. It is a prime example of a company working withthe needs of its customers. In this case, the TensiTrak product was born out ofconcerns by gas suppliers in Europe that the pipes installed using HDD werebeing overstressed and stretched in the process.
“The TensiTrak is a product that the HDD market in Europe isseeing as a means to improve job quality,” says Roger Dietz, DCI GmbH technicalmanager. Dietz has been with DCI since 2002. “With the number of HDD drillingrigs growing in the market, many are always stretching pipes and not doing agood job. Now gas suppliers are recommending — and even demanding — that therebe some type of tension measurement in order to get the quality up to 100percent. When they are pulling in the pipes for the bore, the TensiTrak willmeasure forces.”
But during its research, DCI took the idea one step further bydeveloping the TensiTrak into a fully functioning downhole tool that alsomonitors mud pressure. “We added the fluid pressure as well so that thecontractors have much better feel of what is going on downhole,” Weise says.“They know way before there is frac-out. They can read rising pressure andrising tension. This is great information for the operators in order to controlthe installation of the pipe much better… This gives you lots of good downholeinformation to make better judgment uphole when you are pulling in yourproduct.”
The TensiTrak is used in conjunction with DCI’s Eclipse; thedownhole tool provides information to the Eclipse unit, which in turn reads theinformation coming out of the TensiTrak. The tool attaches between the productpipe and the back reamer.
DCI is now gearing up for a new product launch, its DigiTrak LTLocating System. “The new locating system is designed for maximum versatility inHDD operations,” Weise says. “It’s lightweight, very fast and very simple to useso training is not a big issue in putting it to work quickly in Europe andsubsequent markets around the world.”
The DigiTrak LT Locating System was recently launched in theUnited States and Weise says the system will become available very soon to therest of the worldwide market.
A Little History
DCI was founded in 1988 by John Mercer and Peter Hambling todevelop an advanced HDD drill head locating system. Headquartered in Kent,Wash., the co-founders wanted to produce the highest quality locating systemavailable. They achieved their goal in 1991 with the release of the DigiTraklocating system. The DigiTrak was followed by the Mark II and Mark III models ofthe DigiTrak receiver.
Over the years, DCI has continued to evolve its product line ofreceivers, transmitters, remote displays and data mapping systems — becoming aleader in the HDD industry through its engineering and product lines. TheDigiTrak Eclipse System was launched in December 2000 and was the first of itskind to display the drill head location and locate points in a “real-time”bird’s-eye view.
By the time the DCI name was becoming known throughout theworldwide HDD industry, thoughts turned to servicing the international customer.By 1996, DCI had two field service representatives handling the internationalcustomer support and service inquiries — Steve Edwards and Bill Ettel. Both menhad an established background in the HDD industry as both worked at FlowMole inthe early 1990s. As the market grew and DCI dealers sold more products, thedemands on this two-person service team — which was traveling all around theworld — became unmanageable and impractical. A more permanent solution wasneeded.
“By 1999, Steve [Edwards] and Bill [Ettel] said it was too busyand they couldn’t keep up,” Weise says. “They told us that [they needed] aproper office where we service and support the equipment instead of trying tosend it back to the United States to get it repaired.”
So that’s what DCI set out to do and created a central location inEurope. Considering the vast geography of Europe, Germany was deemed central andthe Town of Bischbrunn was in excellent proximity to Frankfurt. “The DCI teamwould have quick access to a major airport and autobahns and would not be boggeddown with the traffic of a major metropolitan city,” Weise says.
Ettel, Edwards and Edwards’ wife Claudia were key to establishingthe DCI GmbH support office. No longer officially with DCI, the Edwardses arenow working as independent consultants for DCI, operating out of South Africaand recently assisted in establishing the DCI India office this past summer.
Other key personnel in the Bischbrunn office include Dietz,Michael Reinhart, in charge of European customer service, and Vanessa Vaeth, theoffice administrator.
Market Dictates More Offices
Eventually the German office was outgrown, as customers on theother side the world required attention as well. Two years later, DCI opened itsAustralian office to serve Australia and New Zealand — the move was inevitablegiven the logistics of trying to support those two countries from Europe.
In recent years the HDD market has expanded and exploded inpopularity in other countries, such as China and India, where the infrastructurewas in shambles from age and neglect. The introduction of HDD in those countrieshas been key to their revitalization and has been an economic boon to HDDmanufacturers of all types of equipment and contractors. DCI knew it had to havea presence in those countries.
“I realized a few years after that with the Asian [HDD] marketstarting to boom that we needed [a presence] there as well,” Weise explains. “Weestablished an office in China four years ago.”
In addition to the offices in Germany, Australia and China, DCIopened an office in India during summer 2006 and is close to opening one inRussia. “Russia, that’s kind of the new frontier,” Weise says. “There’s so muchnew infrastructure going in over there. Right now, our customers in Russia arebeing serviced by the Bischbrunn office. But due to the number of customers,vastness of the geography and the difficulty in getting equipment in and out ofthe country, an office in Russia is necessary.”
What’s next for DCI? “Russia and the Middle East are probably thenext steps and Russia is on its way,” Weise says.
Weise, who started as a field service representative for DCI 11years ago, believes that the company’s success overseas stems from keeping itsinternational offices focused on service and support, instead of sales, which ishandled through the U.S. office. He notes that it is a challenge to besuccessful in an international market.
“The markets are certainly different because the people and thecultures are different,” he says. “Each country has its challenges. Things aredifferent in India than they are in Europe. In Europe, you are looking at allthese different countries — how we do business in Italy is completely differentthan how we do business in Russia.”
And that includes how the equipment is used as well. Weise notesthat in Siberia, for example, it’s so cold in the winter that DCI has installedlittle heaters in the Eclipse to heat the screens to prevent them from freezingand becoming inoperable. On the other hand, in countries, such as Saudi Arabia,where there is extreme heat that can cause havoc on the contrast of the Eclipsescreen, the software has been upgraded to handle that situation.
Employing the local workforce is also a key part of beingsuccessful wherever DCI is. “Our objective is to ensure service and support allaround the world,” Weise says.
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless TechnologyInternational.