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NOVA Automation

by Eric Peterson on June 24, 2019, 07:36 am MDT

www.novaautomation.com

Denver

Founded: 1995

Privately owned

Employees: 45

Industry: Tech & Automation

Products: Automated filling, bagging, and weighing systems; palletizers; conveyors and hoppers

CEO Paul Wegman is positioning the automation provider for dynamic growth in the next five years.

After serving in the Air Force, working in IT, and getting an MBA at University of Texas at Austin, Wegman says he "was passionate about finding a business with great growth potential and one where he could make a difference."

Fellow MBA candidate and now-COO Douglas Edasi was a customer of NOVA at the time and introduced Wegman to the company. The duo subsequently bought the business and partnered with co-founder Voit Karpala in April 2018 and rebranded it from NOVA Packaging to NOVA Automation.

Wegman says he liked the opportunity for several reasons. "In general, the automation market is really strong and continues to grow," he explains. "In addition, NOVA has a rich history of accomplishments, a very strong culture of taking care of their employees and their customers, and was poised for growth."

NOVA's vertically integrated approach was another draw. "We design and make everything in-house," says Wegman. "We're completely in control of the whole supply chain, with the exception of raw materials and parts we need to order."

It follows that NOVA's automation products are designed to work together. "That flexibility gives us tremendous capability and provides a lot of value to customers," he says.

Wegman says his background in systems integration, "which is the other half of our life here," has proven relevant. "We offer end-to-end systems that are organic -- we make everything in-house -- which is very different than the competition."

The company started in palletizers in the 1990s and continues to manufacture both traditional and robotic versions as well as pallet-wrapping machines, but bagging and filling systems now drive the most sales.

That market emerged after NOVA's founders sold palletizers to customers in the landscape materials space. "They realized there was a niche for mulch and soil and decorative landscape companies," says Wegman of the company's expansion into bagging automation.

NOVA had long relied on word of mouth, and Wegman saw an opportunity to foster growth through a boost in marketing and upgrade in processes.

Beyond ease of integration, innovation is another calling card for NOVA. Its RAW-500S pallet wrapper is highly programmable and saves users about 30 percent of their stretch film, with a better tail tuck to boot.The company's patent-pending robotic palletizer stacks up to 22 bags or boxes per minute, often doing the work of a team of six people. ("They pay for themselves pretty quickly," says Wegman.) In the works: a fourth generation of the company's form, fill, and seal bagging system with an easy-to-adjust perforator and new-and-improved sealing technology.

The strategy is to take this upgraded technology to a broader market via industries that might not be aware of NOVA's strengths. "What markets are markets we really want to go after?" muses Wegman, putting chemicals/plastics, pet food, and agriculture are at the top of the list.

NOVA's honing its open-mouth bagger, which "will allow us to provide a complete end-to-end line for seed and feed," says Wegman. "We have stock systems, but they all can be customized."

The staff has increased from 37 to 45 employees since Wegman and Edasi bought NOVA in 2018, but the growth plan involves 150 percent sales growth by 2024.

"We're investing a ton in this business right now," says Wegman, citing a new brand, website, and CloudSuite ERP system from Infor Services on the heels of an "exciting and helpful" employee training program with Manufacturer's Edge.

Challenges: "Customers are looking for systems that are easier and easier to operate and maintain," says Wegman, pointing to the difficulties passing on institutional knowledge and the skills gap. "We're having to develop our systems to make them easier to operate and easier to maintain."

Opportunities: "Filling and bagging is really where there is an opportunity to grow," says Wegman. NOVA's ability to provide an end-to-end line, no integration with outside suppliers required, is a selling point. "That's really our biggest differentiator."

Needs: If all goes to plan, NOVA will likely outgrow its 32,000-square-foot facility in southwest Denver in the next five years. Wegman says he's looking for a space close to his employees from "Golden to Littleton" in the vicinity of 65,000 square feet to accommodate a testing facility.

NOVA is also on the lookout for experienced engineers, machinists, and field service technicians. "Finding people with electrical and mechanical aptitude is getting harder and harder," says Wegman.

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