Ensto is gaining traction in the US market. It recently rolled big in Las Vegas.
Finns are not known for beating their chests and making a lot of noise. (Tarzan was an American invention.) But Ensto has had a quiet presence in the United States, selling e.g. connectors for decades. In 2011, it opened its first office in Atlanta, from where it served as a private-label switch provider for companies like ABB, Siemens, Hoffman, Danfoss, and Eaton’s Cutler-Hammer.
"A lot of people have used Ensto products in the US without knowing they’re Ensto products," says Michael Eck, Managing Director of Ensto Smart Buildings in the US. "We operated under the name EEC, Energy Efficient Components, until we changed it to Ensto USA in 2015."
One client well aware of the Ensto name is Watchfire Signs of Danville, Illinois. Watchfire selected Ensto’s Cubo O enclosure for use in the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas. The Fremont Street Experience is an LED canopy sign, 420 meters long, with a 30-meter arc length, suspended 27 meters in the air over the heads of pedestrians in downtown Las Vegas. It is 12,000 square meters of digital signage consisting of 16.3 million pixels and 49 million LEDs. Adjacent to 10 casinos, the canopy attracts over 20 million visitors per year.
It’s the largest sign anyone has ever done," says Rhonda Brown, of the 30-million dollar project. Brown is Materials Project Manager at Watchfire Signs, the company that designed and created the screen. The 350-employee company has engineered, produced, sold, and serviced signs since 1932, but Watchfire has likely set a world record with the Fremont Street Experience. Fremont says it’s the largest LED signage in the world as far as they can determine.
To build the structure, Watchfire designed 27-millimeter custom modules and mounted 64,000 of them on a canopy built of steel. Watchfire designed the sign from scratch to meet project specifications. Production of modules began in December 2018, installation in May 2019, and it will be completed before the end of September.
Sometimes success comes down to being in the right place at the right time with the right product. Michael Meyer, Ensto’s Sales Manager in the US for Ensto Smart Buildings, had toured Watchfire with his distributor, Bodine Electric, five years prior, though Meyer was working for another company at the time. “I remembered their enclosures,” he says, “but they were smaller sizes, and my company at the time had nothing to offer them. But when I came to Ensto I immediately thought of Watchfire.”
Watchfire says that Ensto’s Cubo just happened fit the bill. “The size was right, customization was good, it was just a really good fit,” says Rhonda Brown. “Ensto was flexible, they could meet deliveries. Their distributor Bodine was willing to stock for us.”
Ensto produced the Cubo for Watchfire in seven different styles, some boxes requiring one to five holes, others taking as many as 15. Ordering was done in three waves, with an engineering change made midstream. “We added some cables which meant changing holes,” says Brown. “Ensto was able to make the changes and meet delivery schedules.”
An additional feature that appealed to Brown was an optional tether, Ensto’s part number OLSH1. “The Cubo O lid can be hinged or screw-on, and Watchfire went with the latter. But since you’re 90 feet in the air with pedestrians underneath you, we had to build in safety factor and so tethered the lid to the box.”
Recently, Ensto took an additional step to improve its position in the US market: In January 2019, it introduced the Ensto PolyBox, a cousin of the Cubo O, and its first product created for the US and other markets that use the system of imperial units. (The PolyBox is slightly larger than Cubo O, measuring 12 x 10 inches to Cubo’s 12 x 8 inches.)
The Polybox provides superior protection over competitors' products at a highly-competitive price. After a series of design meetings where stakeholders articulated must-haves and like-to-haves, the innovative box was born. It features a corner elevator system for adjustable hinged-front panels, an outward-swinging inner door. It uses slotted-shelf technology, and a robust, non-metallic latch.
"It shares similar features with the Ensto Cubo O and W series," says Ensto’s Michael Eck, "but the slotted-shelf technology allows it work in a truly innovative way." (See sidebar!) The PolyBox is currently available in four sizes.
One might think manufacturing the PolyBox in Europe could present challenges to meet lead times, but Watchfire’s Rhonda Brown says sourcing globally has not been an issue for her company. Still, says Eck, the American culture is that the customer usually wants it now. To compensate, Ensto keeps some inventory in its Norcross facility in Atlanta. Additionally, it’s added a CNC machine to customize smaller orders for quick turnaround on location.
Eck says about half the challenge doing business between Finland and the US is the time zone difference. “There’s a seven hour difference between Atlanta and Porvoo, so we have to make sure we plan properly to use the two-hour overlapping communication window each day.”
Ensto Smart Buildings’ focus is currently on enclosures, but they’re also selling couplers to Konecranes, the Finnish subsidiary in Wisconsin, as well as wiring harnesses for specialty lighting products. It also offers connectors, as well as EnstoNet. “We’ve been asked about floor heating and EV chargers,” he says, “but the UL listing and voltage requirements of the US grid are currently an issue.”
As the Ensto name gains prominence in the US through customers like Watchfire and the Fremont Street Experience, new opportunities for growth will present themselves. “Ensto quality is noticeable,” says Eck, “and we’re very well priced.”
The fundamental difference between the Cubo series and Ensto’s new Polybox is a corner elevator system in the PolyBox: it uses slotted shelf technology for adjustable hinged front panels. The slotted shelf technology not only provides solid hinged front surfaces that are easy to install, align and keep level, but it also allows for a back panel to be raised off the back of the enclosure.
“We also use the standard back panel for the hinged front panel,” says Ensto’s Michael Eck. “This allows for easy replacement of the hinged front panel if a mistake is made in drilling.”