Enfield company continues to grow despite tough economy

By Jennifer Holloway - Staff Writer
Enfield - posted Wed., Jul. 13, 2011
Control Module Industries' president and CEO James Bianco shows a scanner used by car rental agencies to track vehicles. Photos by Jennifer Holloway.
Control Module Industries' president and CEO James Bianco shows a scanner used by car rental agencies to track vehicles. Photos by Jennifer Holloway.

In the 42-year history of Control Module Industries, President and CEO James Bianco has yet to find a comfortable pace. Never settling, Bianco simply says, “We go where the action is.”

The Enfield company that began in a storefront in 1969 is something of a marvel when compared to the state of many businesses in the current recession. In the last two years, CMI has grown 30 percent, and Bianco said they are poised to double in size in the next year and a half.

An electronic engineer by trade, Bianco built his company on a very simple premise: building solutions.

“I was in sales for electronic products, and my customers were always asking for something unique, something special,” Bianco said. “There wasn’t a huge market for it, but they had a problem and they needed it solved.”

Recognizing his talents and skills, Bianco was confident he could assemble a team of engineers to solve problems almost on a case-by-case basis. Some of his first customers were industry giants like AT&T, IBM and GE.

In the beginning, CMI worked with the barcode, in development, promotion and production of barcode-reading equipment and other applications. According to Bianco, CMI was the first company to put barcodes on cars to identify parts for General Motors.

From there, the company applied barcodes to time attendance terminals, which moved them into the data collection realm. This produced opportunities to develop equipment car rental agencies like Hertz could use to track vehicles for cleaning and maintenance.

“We just kept growing, solving problems,” Bianco said.

Many of CMI’s projects are mere blips on the technological radar, but constantly going after these types of ventures has proven very successful.

“We have never been out of work in the last 40 years, and we’ve made a profit every year,” Bianco said. “It’s because we take on these projects that need innovation. We don’t make the iPod or the Droid; what we make are products to solve a problem.”

When the pool of ideas begins to run low, Bianco asks customers what they need. A simple question like this allowed them to develop technology for Disney to count people leaving rides and theaters. Though not an earthshaking technological advance, it was an important undertaking because it was necessary for Disney.

Changes in state laws for truck drivers pushed CMI into truck electrification - providing heat and air conditioning for truckers required to turn off engines while sleeping. Committed to American-made products, Bianco purchased an air conditioning unit from China and had his engineers take it apart and reverse-engineer it. CMI now manufactures its own air conditioning units for its truck electrification division. Again, not a large industry, but one that led CMI to Bianco’s current niche obsession: electric vehicle service equipment, or ESVE.

Electric cars like the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf need charging stations. Bianco said about 60 manufacturers currently build these necessary stations, but none have a motorized, retractable cable like CMI’s. After seeing stations where the cord has to be manually wrapped for storage or lie on the ground, Bianco had an idea. “I said, ‘That would never work, not in New England with ice and snow.’”

To set itself apart, CMI developed different retractable cord charging stations, mainly for parking garages and facilities. To tap into the residential market where most homeowners will choose a cheaper, manual cord option, CMI developed a power share box.

Rather than paying to upgrade a home’s electrical panel to share the load of charging a car, electric car owners can use a power share box to share the breaker. Inside CMI’s office, Bianco plugged in a car charger, then moved over to an electric oven. Turning on the eye, the car stopped charging, surging power to the cook top. When the oven was turned off, the car began charging again.

Concepts like this are what have kept CMI moving forward for four decades. Recognizing we are in a harsh economic time, Bianco said his company’s success is centered on innovation - continuing to introduce new products, new methods.

“We as a nation have lost that uniqueness,” Bianco said. “We have to foster and nurture entrepreneurs.”

The green wave that his company has begun riding is one opportunity for a comeback, but ultimately, Bianco feels the country needs to bring invention home.

“We have to start developing jobs through technology, not just flipping hamburgers,” he said. “We have to start to produce products again.”

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