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Member spotlight: JCA Electronics

Published by CME Manitoba on October 05, 2017

JCA Electronics is an Electronic Integration Centre (EIC), specializing in the design and manufacture of electronic control systems for OEMs. JCA strives to not only understand the design and function of customer products, but also the company that produces them. JCA’s innovative devices incorporate wireless technology and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, to enhance customer’s time to market and the experience and productivity of their end users. 

CME connected with John Andersen, Founder and President, on JCA’s rapidly expanding operations at home and abroad. 

 

Can you tell us more about JCA and how technology plays into your vision and business story?

JCA Electronics has over 85 employees, with strong manufacturing and engineering capabilities and is becoming a world leader in autonomous control systems for mobile machines. JCA manufactures wire harnesses, controls panels, and electronics for OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) in the agricultural, construction, mining and transportation industries. We have an engineering team of more than 30 engineers with expertise in electronics, embedded software, tablet/smartphone app development and machine controls.

Practical integration of the right technologies into the control systems we develop, as well as into the processes we use to design and manufacture the products, is central to our strategy. As our company has grown, we’ve been able to offer increasingly higher capability of products and services for customers. This grew from wire harnesses to control panels to electronics on the manufacturing side, and services grew from manufacturing services to increasing capabilities in engineering services.  We’ve also now developed our own product lines that facilitate control and telematics systems for highly automated and autonomous machines.

 

What elements of technology are most exciting for you? Where do you see the most potential for your business? 

The most exciting aspect of technology today is the coming together of many powerful and cost effective elements. The proliferation of smart devices (phones and tablets), wireless communication protocols, the cloud, open source GPS and the storage and analytics of data have all enabled JCA to offer ever more capable (“intelligent” one might say) control systems. We’re also able to serve a market that not only includes the larger OEMs, but has become particularly attractive to the small and medium-sized players. JCA has been successful at integrating proven, leading-edge technologies into our customer’s vehicle control systems. Another exciting point is that the end user is not the only beneficiary of these advances. Distribution players and the OEM can also strengthen their customer service and product life-cycle if done well.

In the automotive market, the objective is people and cargo transportation. In the off-road market, the objective is workload, measured in terms of cycle efficiency, payload, power output and precision. In the case of autonomous agriculture equipment, we no longer need to build a tractor around an operator. The implement (the device that carries out the work on the field), which before was controlled by the tractor/operator, can now manage more of its own functions and be integrated into higher-level farm management systems to optimize efficiency. The best path on how these implements can do this is not always clear, and JCAs greatest opportunity is to guide innovative OEMs wishing to use these technologies, and provide the hardware, software and harnessing to cost effectively test proof-of-concept designs as well as deliver fully-integrated production ready systems. 

 

Autonomous vehicles have been in the news a lot lately, mostly from a consumer perspective (i.e. self driving cars). Can you tell us more about their other applications? 

The high volume, lucrative automotive market is driving significant development and testing of autonomous technologies. Other markets can take advantage of these maturing technologies and facilitate many more applications. Agriculture for example is not just concerned with the transportation of goods but with all of the farming (field) processes. Agricultural tractors have had high levels of automation in the cab for years, but can now take the step of full autonomy. Precision agriculture has evolved over the last 20 years to make the introduction of fully autonomous operation a natural next step through the use of data analytics and sensor technology. Together, the evolution of these technologies not only removes the need for an operator in the vehicle, but also facilitates greater yield and reduced input costs. Greater efficiencies in the work done can occur and must occur if autonomous equipment is to take hold.

I believe that we will soon see a greater percentage of fully autonomous equipment on the farm than what we see on the roads. There are many factors that play into this. While there are greater financial means for technology development in the automotive industry; regulations, safety considerations and other hurdles to implementation will slow the actual introduction. However; the technology development arising from the automotive industry is still highly relevant to other industries like agriculture, where there is a lower need for regulation. The use of autonomous equipment in agriculture is also driven by the favorable economics that promote it to happen.  The constant financial pressures, the decreasing availability of manpower, and the financial burden current equipment places on the farmer are some of the factors that further promote this as a needed change. 

Other industries such as mining and material handling have had autonomous technologies applied with success, but again this is specific to moving material.  In the construction industry there are signs of moving in this direction, but it will tend to trail agricultural applications because its DNA is not pushed to evolve as aggressively.

 

The theme of this month’s newsletter is trade and business development – what role do new markets play in your plans? 

New markets are very important to JCA and are a natural outgrowth of our business model. Our approach allows us to grow both our national and international presence.  We are just starting to tap the US market and its potential is very big. New industries are slowly opening up as technologies are becoming understood and utilized and shown to be valuable to not only the end user of the equipment but also to the distribution channels as well as to the OEMs themselves.

As we develop our technologies and capabilities, our offering to currently served markets also evolves and we become a more significant partner, which changes who the key decision makers we connect with are within a company. As JCA grows, we’re working with larger companies that have more complex organizations and decision makers at higher levels in the company. My customer interfacing role has changed over the years; from working with the engineer that needs a particular part, to dealing with project managers on a larger program, to today, where I spend time fostering relationships with the CEOs and leaders of organizations, collaborating on strategies and working on long-term plans.

 

Tell us more about the DOT project you helped unveil last July? What was your role? What makes you most excited about this project?

We were honored to have been chosen as the major controls partner for the DOT product (www.seedotrun.com).  I feel we were chosen for a number of reasons: our practical and structured approach to developing an advanced control system; our strength of experience in drive-train, hardware and precision software tools and our ability to incorporate third party devices/technologies.  We offer a controls expertise that is enabling the company to realize their objectives.

What makes us most excited in this project is the feeling that we could be part of something that could really make a difference in the world.  The world is going to need to produce radically more food from its limited source of land and DOT puts forward an economically attractive shift in crop production that should do just that:  It is a precise power unit that is designed around efficiency and cost effectiveness, and creates a platform that adapts to many different implements that invites all OEMs to design for.

 

How does CME support you when it comes to sales and business development? 

CME is good at bringing us together with the right contacts and allowing us to grow our business through learning from other manufacturers’ experiences. It really promotes interaction with various different groups for guidance and validation, allowing companies to apply those principles to their own operation. I as well as other managers at JCA meet with other leaders in companies on a regular basis, where we each discuss our current challenges and provide insight and advice for each other.  The networking CME promotes as well as the seminars and training programs it regularly holds are some of the most valuable tools to growing my business.

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