The Blueprint: Victaulic's Eric B. Luftig
Examining Victaulic’s immense efforts to promote STEM education with Eric B. Luftig, vice president of marketing
Editor’s Note: Every successful project starts with a framework. A vision statement. A blueprint.
The editors of Engineered Systems are proud to introduce The Blueprint — a Q&A interview with HVACR engineering’s leading voices. These one-on-one discussions will examine the trade’s history, current industry trends, and the factors shaping the sector’s future.
Engineered Systems: According to a recent API report, STEM careers are expected to grow nearly 9 percent from 2014-2024. Based on your experiences at Victaulic, what do you attribute this growth to?
Luftig: STEM careers will continue to grow at Victaulic and within the construction industry as we continue to turn to innovative technologies to increase productivity at all phases of a project. We anticipate double-digit growth in the next five years. Considering seven out of 10 of the largest STEM occupations are computer-related, Victaulic’s Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) team utilizes STEM professionals to design and manage projects using 3-D modeling software and virtual reality technology. Victaulic is committed to collaborating with our customers and providing engineering confidence — looking to reduce installation time, reduce risk, and provide value throughout the life cycle of the project, resulting in cost savings.
Engineered Systems: Victaulic is leading the charge with a number of initiatives. In 2017, Victaulic welcomed local high school students interested in engineering careers to its facilities via a project called Exploring Post 1919. Can you share some more about this event?
Luftig: Victaulic’s Exploring Post 1919 provides exciting activities and one-on-one mentorship for youth looking to discover their future. Victaulic is pleased to partner with Scouts BSA once again to offer this program throughout the school year to local male and female high school students interested in STEM careers. Students learn about topics like engineering design, mechanics, and chemistry before working in teams to complete hands-on challenges. They also tour Victaulic manufacturing facilities and connect with our HR professionals to learn about internship opportunities.
Engineered Systems: In July, Victaulic hosted a “Let’s Build” session for girls of the Let’s Build Camp in the Greater Lehigh Valley. What did this entail?
Luftig: In its second year, Let’s Build is a week-long camp inviting high school age girls to explore the construction trades, architecture, engineering, and construction manufacturing through hands-on experiences and field trips. Victaulic hosted 20 girls for a half-day event focused on virtual design and construction (VDC), product design, and installation technologies. Many of the girls were largely unaware of the technology opportunities within construction, and their interest was piqued when competing in a pipe-building video game designed by our VDC team. They also got “job site” experience using impact drills to install Victaulic products. The event wrapped up with lunch and a panel discussion on careers featuring Victaulic leaders from across engineering, manufacturing, and VDC functions.
Engineered Systems: This year, Victaulic also helped sponsor a SeaPerch underwater robotics club at a local middle school. Start them young, right?
Luftig: Yes, and we just kicked off our second year of SeaPerch at Saucon Valley Middle School this October. SeaPerch is actually a global program created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the U.S. Office of Naval Research to address the national crisis of decreasing college enrollments and careers in science and engineering. Students engaged in this program learn critical thinking, hands-on technology, and important life skills while working with mentors and peers locally and during regional and international competitions. More than 30 students participated in Saucon’s inaugural year, and the interest level has sustained for this year’s club. Showcasing STEM opportunities to students at a younger age at least gets these types of careers on their radars. Plus, this early exposure may help reduce the STEM gender gap, as was evidenced by Saucon’s all-female team who represented them in the recent regional SeaPerch competition held at Temple University.
Engineered Systems: Over the past five years, Victaulic has participated in the Lehigh Valley’s What’s So Cool About Manufacturing, helping to raise awareness of the trades. Can you share what’s so cool about this project?
Luftig: Victaulic is one of about 30 Lehigh Valley manufacturers that opens its doors to middle school students to let them film, edit, and produce a two-and-a-half-minute video about career opportunities within manufacturing. It’s been fulfilling to watch what started as one small local video competition launched by the Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC) in Allentown, Pennsylvania, grow into what is now 15 statewide competitions adopted by groups in 11 additional states. We’ve enjoyed showcasing different locations and departments as well as highlighting a wide variety of jobs and cutting-edge manufacturing technologies. Our employees have also really enjoyed starring in these videos and sharing their talents. Each year, the Lehigh Valley contest garners more than 100,000 votes, which shows our community is engaged in the contest’s mission: to change students’ perceptions about manufacturing careers. I think it equally raises awareness for adults too.
Luftig: With several great colleges and universities, the Lehigh Valley offers connections to and from Victaulic. In addition to feeding our intern program (70-plus interns each summer, many of whom become full-time employees), these institutions reach out to corporations, like Victaulic, to support their summer programs through sponsorships and partnerships. Just this past summer alone, we worked with Lehigh University and Penn State University for three events. Lehigh University’s Summer Engineering Institute visited us twice, bringing a fresh group of pre-engineering high school students to tour our engineering lab and learn more about career opportunities. To a small group of aspiring entrepreneurs at Penn State’s Teen Entrepreneur Summer Challenge, two of Victaulic’s business process team members presented on lean concepts, and through hands-on activities, showed how to improve efficiency and reduce costs and working capital, which is highly applicable for STEM professionals.
Through the personal philanthropic efforts of an employee in our VDC department, Victaulic teamed up with Community Bike Works’ Youth Leadership program to help a dozen middle and high school students explore virtual reality tech careers. Members of the VDC team guided students through a virtual project model of a hospital in Australia and presented them with a scan of a project in Indiana, created by a VDC associate using a Faro® scanner.
Our summer 2019 calendar is also quickly filling up with opportunities to promote STEM opportunities in our community.
Engineered Systems: While API and others are reporting growth in STEM careers, there is still an enormous need for qualified workers in the industry. And while you’re doing your part, it’s going to take an army to make a difference, isn’t it?
Luftig: Key to Victaulic’s success is our dedicated, hardworking employees; they are our most valuable resource. A variety of skilled and professional employees have helped us dramatically grow our company. As Victaulic continues to invest in our workforce, we will need to attract and maintain an enthusiastic, productive set of employees with varied skills. We’ve independently partnered with other local manufacturers and neighbors at Follett Corp. and Crayola, right here in Easton, Pennsylvania, to host additional STEM events. I feel this collective impact and investment in future STEM professionals will pay off.
We also just took part in National Manufacturing Day on Oct. 5, opening our doors to students from Northampton Community College (NCC) to showcase manufacturing jobs. This is part of an ongoing relationship with NCC to support their educational programs.
One of my “nighttime” jobs is serving on the board of directors of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. (LVEDC), a public/private partnership that is responsible for marketing the economic assets of the Lehigh Valley, where Victaulic’s global headquarters is located, by creating partnerships to lead the recruitment, growth, and retention of local employers. This organization is equally committed to supporting the skilled and prepared workforce needs for companies like Victaulic.
Engineered Systems: In other news, I see Victaulic is opening a 3,205-square-meter branch facility in Eagle Farm, Brisbane, Australia. What facilitated this expansion down under?
Luftig: Part of Victaulic’s global expansion strategy is to be close to our customers. Australia is one of 130 countries where Victaulic actively supports customers today, and adding a third branch there helps us better serve their growing markets while also providing our customers a more responsive and agile product supply.
Engineered Systems: Victaulic also brought some more jobs to Pennsylvania by adding a second shift at its Forks Township manufacturing plant and the construction of a state-of-the-art, 400,000-square-foot facility at the Hecktown Road Business Park facility. Was this facilitated by demand, and how many jobs did you add?
Luftig: Set to open in 2020, the new facility accommodates customers and increased demand as well as a need for additional employee office space. It will further Victaulic’s capabilities for our pipe-joining solutions through robotic and optical technologies. In conjunction with staffing at our existing Forks manufacturing facility, this new facility should create dozens of new jobs.
Engineered Systems: Let’s talk about HVACR engineering as a whole. Obviously, the explosion of technology through sensors, the advent of the IoT, etc. has really reshaped the industry. Fill me in on how Victaulic is keeping up with this metamorphosis?
Luftig: Victaulic is at the forefront of integrating with Autodesk Revit®, a BIM software program for designing building systems using 3-D smart modeling. Victaulic Tools For Revit® increases productivity through custom add-ins to automate tagging, drawing, assembly, and fabrication for projects of all sizes. It has now become commonplace to see members of our VDC team sitting in a conference room with VR goggles on, speaking to a customer from another part of the world while virtually “walking” their project with them. VR is an incredible tool that gives engineers the chance to immerse themselves in a project in the design and preconstruction phases to avoid costly re-work.
Engineered Systems: In 2016, Victaulic introduced its “Intelligent” Roll Groover RG5200i, a multi-faceted, fully automated, computerized grooving tool. Tell me more about this tool and its role in the Industrial IoT?
Luftig: Victaulic’s RG5200i Roll Grooving Tool is the first product in its class to offer automated quality assurance processes for customers that remove risk, increase safety, and improve the accuracy and consistency of the pipe-end preparation process. We designed this to focus on the “ARTS” (Accuracy, Reliability, Traceability, and Safety). This tool represents the perfect union of state-of-the-art, hands-on industrial problem-solving with the integration of internet technology. Our company invented roll grooving in the 1940s, and this method was overdue for an upgrade — we added internet connectivity, superior quality, enhanced operator safety, ease of use, and time-saving capabilities to the RG5200i. With software created specifically for the tool’s applications, clients can export grooving data internally or externally. The tool allows customers to store all data related to their pipe preparation, and it allows Victaulic to conduct remote troubleshooting via IoT connectivity and other types of services, such as managing software revisions and adding tool functionality. Quality and traceability of the customer’s grooved pipe are high priorities. Additionally, if a customer has an issue with a groove, the problem can be reviewed and resolved remotely in real time. All of these features enable our customers to achieve higher quality in their own facilities.
Engineered Systems: Seeing that it’s been two years since its release, how has the tool evolved?
Luftig: We continue to see customers around the world moving to this new technology to further improve their own in-house quality, productivity, and safety. Our sales and engineering teams continue to listen to our customers to better understand their needs and further develop new features that can be automatically downloaded to these units, leveraging internet technology.
Engineered Systems: What other exciting products is Victaulic devoting R&D time to right now?
Luftig: Victaulic is working closely with our customers and markets around the world on opportunities where we can bring valuable solutions to the construction industry. Some of these areas include:
- Increasingly, designers and contractors are turning to materials like high-density polyethylene, CPVC, PVC, PP-R, and others for a variety of system applications. Victaulic continues to develop innovative, unique mechanical joining and flow control solutions for all piping materials that are designed to increase productivity while reducing risk.
- Victaulic pioneered grooved pipe joining technology over the last 100 years, and it has been strongly adopted in the fire safety sprinkler piping industry. Many of the pipe joints in those systems are still threaded, which is an inefficient process susceptible to damage and leaks. Victaulic has set out on a series of product innovations with more planned in the future to eliminate threading on the job site and increase productivity, quality, and safety.
- As construction industry engineers and contractors look for gains in quality and productivity through modular designs, Victaulic is right there with them, offering modular system solutions. Larger equipment components sold right from our standard catalog will streamline design, installation, and maintenance and increase profitability and performance for our customers. Performance benefits include noise and vibration attenuation.
- Based on customer feedback and requests, Victaulic recently commercialized a grooved mechanical piping solution designed for use on commercial and industrial condensate, saturated steam, and chemical service piping. This revolutionary offering eliminates the need to weld steam and chemical service piping.
- Victaulic’s VDC team works closely with our customer base to build new features into our software platform (Victaulic Tools For Revit). As mentioned above, Victaulic is not just a hardware manufacturer but a cutting-edge publisher of software components to help owners, engineers, and contractors achieve their BIM goals. This is more than a product offering, it’s a philosophy of working in a connected, coordinated construction industry of the future. This gives our customers the ability to more efficiently plan, design, and construct.
These are just a few of the many technologies and areas in which Victaulic is investing. Each of these technologies fundamentally focuses on enabling construction productivity while reducing risks such as job site hazards and financial costs from delays.
Engineered Systems: It’s crazy to consider how much the industry has changed in the last 10 years. Looking forward, what aspects of the industry do you think will evolve the most 10 years from now?
Luftig: The construction industry has and will continue to look for ways to drive productivity while not compromising reliability and safety. Two notable evolutions driving productivity are front-end design analysis and the move to modular construction. The good news for our customers is Victaulic is committed to both of these areas through products, services, and solutions.
Victaulic will also support new STEM professionals entering the industry through training and development efforts and consultative engineering services to support system design.
Engineered Systems: If you could relay one message to consulting and/or specifying engineers, what would it be?
Luftig: More than 1 billion Victaulic products have been installed and relied upon throughout our history (celebrating 100 years of innovation in 2019). We are the ideal partner for consulting and specifying engineers, as we design and sell full-system solutions that reduce risks and meet their needs.
Engineered Systems: Anything else we need to know?
Luftig: Victaulic is a company that looks to the future and is excited about the next wave of technology innovations currently being developed in our research labs. We are committed to collaborating with customers in the construction industry to accelerate productivity and reduce risk.