What i3 Product Development means to Helios clients

Helios calls move a “flywheel acquisition” to help it say “yes” to more customers

When Helios Technologies Inc. added i3 Product Development to its portfolio of companies in 2023, it called the move a “flywheel acquisition.”

“We are purposeful when it comes to mergers and acquisitions,” said Doug Conyers, senior vice president, Innovation and Technology, Helios, Sarasota, Fla. “We look for two types of acquisitions: transformational (greater than $100 million in annual revenue) and flywheel (everything smaller than $100 million in annual revenue). Acquiring i3 was a flywheel in which we did not skip a beat to maintain its momentum and incorporate it into the Helios family. We were closing integrated sales opportunities only a few months after finalizing the acquisition. That is what ‘flywheel’ means to us.”

Remote support software

Helios Developed and patented by i3 Product Development and now part of Helios Technologies, the Cygnus Reach remote support product is used in applications ranging from consumer to industrial. With it, technicians can essentially work alongside a customer in real time and service their product in the field. The mobile app can be private labeled. (Photo: Helios)

Headquartered in Sun Prairie, Wis., i3 is a custom product development firm with more than 55 engineers on staff that specialize in electronics, mechanical, industrial, embedded and software development. The company works with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in many market segments, including marine, powersports and off-highway equipment as well as medical devices and consumer products. In 2019, it created and patented Cygnus Reach, a software platform for the remote support of IoT products. That product line was spun off into Cygnus, a separate business that offers software-as-a-service. Located in i3’s IoT lab in Middleton, Wis., Cygnus was part of the Helios acquisition, as well.

The addition of i3 is expected to augment the other businesses in the Helios portfolio, which include Enovation Controls, Faster and Sun Hydraulics.

“We believe i3 equips Helios with significant value-added professional services capabilities to solve our customers’ most complex needs,” said Josef Matosevic, President and Chief Executive Officer, Helios, in a statement released at the time of the acquisition. “In addition, they will provide customization to our platforms and solutions. i3 fits perfectly into the telematics and data analytics roadmap we have articulated, and their culture is very aligned with ours.”

Industrial design

By maintaining a focus on its founding principles of innovation, inspiration, and integrity, i3 said it generated more than $13 million in revenue during 2022. It has served more than 450 clients and completed over 4,000 projects in its nearly three-decade history.

“This acquisition was significant for us,” said Conyers, “and it focuses on system sales and being able to tell our customers ‘yes’ when they ask us to deliver solutions beyond our current catalog items. We already consider ourselves to excel at meeting customer demands, and now Helios will be even better positioned with dedicated talent, facilities and prototype equipment. We see i3 as playing a pivotal role in the transformative process, converting products from our catalog into comprehensive system solutions designed to fully meet customer needs.”

“We can now provide our customers with ideation — the industrial design side of the house — taking their problem statement and working to craft a solution beyond their wildest expectations. Delighting the customer is what we’re all about, and we are constantly motivated to exceed expectations by finding new ways to achieve these goals. That’s what i3 specifically brings to the table for us.”

Dane County Cygnus is run as a separate company that offers software-as-a-service. It is based in Middleton, Wis., at i3’s IoT lab. (Photo: Helios)

Meeting at the show

For i3 and Helios, the matchmaking process began innocently enough during a normal day at the 2022 Equip Expo, the annual landscaping equipment tradeshow held in Louisville, Ky., in October.

“We had a booth at the show to promote our Cygnus Reach remote support product,” said James Grogan, general manager, i3. “And I demonstrated it using the state-of-the-art display technology that Enovation Controls is known for. I knew they were a leader in the field, and we had run across them many times — we were already working on a couple of projects that integrated Enovation displays.

“I was super excited that they had just released a Linux-based application which unlocked a lot developer capability, and I believed our Cygnus Reach remote support could be seamlessly integrated into those displays. These displays will go on a lot of different equipment with a lot of different companies, so the possibilities were massive.

“That’s what started the conversation. As we talked, we realized that there was so much overlap between our clients. There were numerous opportunities where if we partnered, we could achieve great things together.”

“I often feel like I have the coolest job in the world,” said Conyers. “And then I get to meet with potential M&A targets and it gets even better. As we went through the process with i3, we saw that our markets are incredibly complimentary, and that the customer set was similar. In some cases, we were working for the same customers, where i3 was working on projects in a capacity that went beyond what the Helios family of products could provide. In some cases, they were already supporting our customers.”

“And then, eight short months later, we were back in Louisville [at AEM’s Utility Expo] doing a show together, as part of Helios,” said Grogan.

Open-source operating systems

Helios The PowerView P70 is part the new Pro Series, Helios’ next-generation of display-controllers. (Photo: Helios)

The OpenView displays that caught Grogan’s attention permit i3 as well as other customers to create new applications using a variety of industry standard languages and tools. Available from Enovation Controls, the product line is based on a Linux open-source operating system. With a glove-friendly LCD panel inside an IP65-rated case, the company said they operate in sunlight and in all weather conditions. Core hardware features such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi wireless communications and CAN interfaces are designed into the platform. There are currently two models available: the 5 in. S50 and the 7 in. S70 model.

“A very exciting part of what we’re doing with the integration of the companies involves our Cygnus Reach remote support product,” said Grogan. “Having that technology combined with displays and hydraulic controllers from Helios takes a leader in the market and then significantly differentiates their products. This development holds considerable significance, and we’ve been gaining momentum as a result.”

Cygnus Reach Cygnus Reach makes remote support possible on a variety of products. (Photo: Helios)

Real time service

Adding Cygnus remote product support technology to Helios’ OpenPV software development ecosystem for OpenView displays means application engineers can add customer support capabilities directly into the software during development. With Cygnus, said Helios, support teams can remotely connect, diagnose, troubleshoot, and assist users in real-time using the customer’s mobile phone and camera.

“With Cygnus you get video streaming capability and screen sharing,” said Grogan. “As a support rep, you’re able to tap right into the device. It’s like you’re standing right there with the end-user. We’re using connected technology to solve a problem that very much exists in all the Helios industries and target markets.”

The Cygnus platform is used in applications ranging from consumer to industrial. With it, technicians can essentially work alongside a customer in real time and service their product in the field. The mobile app can be private labeled by customers.

“Adding connectivity and cloud-connected functions to products adds to their complexity,” said Conyers, “and with Cygnus, i3 turned the table on that challenge. Their problem statement was, ‘when we’re trying to support somebody, we need to have insight into their machinery and as more things are electronics-based and more complex, we to have a portal directly into those devices.’ Cygnus provides customer support capability that goes all the way into the devices. Instead of just adding connectivity for the sake of it, we’re adding capability that provides our customers with the ability to delight their customers by providing impeccable customer support.”

For i3, having full access to the comprehensive component catalog that Helios maintains is another benefit.

“Especially with Enovation Controls and Sun being leaders in their spaces, we may have not been familiar with the entire product line in the past, and now we’re getting more familiar with it,” said Grogan. “It’s very easy to integrate that knowledge into the projects that we’re doing. Working together, we can drive more component sales from the i3 side and during the design project. At the same time, Helios is a big company and there are a lot of sales from its different businesses. They’re bringing us along to be able to say ‘yes’ to custom solutions.”

Help at hiring time

For i3 itself, Grogan said one of the benefits of joining the Helios portfolio – for its customers as well as its employees – are the variety of projects that it will tackle daily. “We have a little bit of a leg up when it comes to hiring designers and engineers, because of the variety of work we get that people find very attractive,” said Grogan. “Now, being backed by a large corporation checks all the boxes when it comes to a company like ours and our ability to attract talent. I feel confident that we’re going to be successful in our growth plans, and we’ll be able to hire the best talent along the way. We already have the best talent – and we feel we’re only going to attract more of the best.”

In many aspects it’s business as usual for i3 in Wisconsin, which is expected to keep its branding as well as its clients – a strategy Helios Technologies has maintained with other acquisitions it has made throughout its history.

“It’s very beneficial for us to keep our current clients and hunt for clients that aren’t necessarily within the Helios sphere of interest,” said Grogan. “Over time we’ve worked with a lot of different industries, including those where Helios is currently not present. By bringing in these new clients, like startups in innovative technology sectors, we can take those experiences and apply them to a lot of different industries.”

This article originally appeared in the January-February 2024 issue of Power Progress.

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