Call Fundamentals with a technical query and your call will be answered by one of our Product Application Engineers. They not only understand power systems, but also bring personal energy and a drive for positive change to every customer conversation.
As any customer would expect, the call-taker should not only have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the company’s own products and services, but also an in-depth understanding of power systems and the application of the technology.
In the case of Fundamentals’ Product Application Engineers, they not only meet those expectations, but also bring a wealth of experience and a problem-solving ethos to match that of Fundmentals’ founders over 25 years ago. In a recent article, team member Elizabeth Macharia offered some insight into her career which started in Nairobi, Kenya. Now, she and colleagues Bob Palmer, Esra’a Sada, Abu Jalloh and Hina Sharma offer a perspective on the relationship between customer interaction and product development.
Since Bob started working full-time with Fundamentals in 2009 “when there were just five of us working in a shed”, the whole nature of customer conversation has certainly changed. “Previously DNOs were simply looking at maintenance, now they’re being more creative in their approach and looking at other avenues of how to use the network - such as regulation, load frequency response. The tech advancements have allowed them to develop leading-edge systems such as ENW’s CLASS frequency project.”
Fundamentals’ customers are well-informed from the outset, claims Esra’a: “Our customers are very knowledgeable about our products and simply contact us to verify their selection. They’re aware and interested enough to research and understand our products.”
Abu adds: “The most inspiring thing is the level of customer expertise. Often you learn from them when discussing technical issues. In turn, that triggers your passion to read more, be abreast of what's happening. At times you think you are an advisor and at times you think you are a student, it’s a real inspiration.”
Hina’s latest work on fault detection offers a specific example of customer influence in shaping not only product development, but wider change across the industry including development of hardware to work with Artificial Intelligence software. While the challenges are generally technical, sometimes they can be far less sophisticated but equally critical, such hardware being too “fiddly” when engineers are wearing thick gloves on site.
Whatever the issue, the approach to problem-solving is key, says Bob. “We can gain a great deal of information from the customer, but also our own files and experience of working with other contractors. Pooling data is essential – there could be a multitude of issues involved in a single problem, often involving integration with legacy systems”.
According to Hina: “The most inspiring element of customer engagement is what we get to learn from them. Their concerns, their issues - because that shapes our thinking in what we do.”
Taking it personally
Personal experience adds significantly to both product development and customer interaction. Including a Certificate in Renewable Energy Technologies for the 21st Century, Elizabeth has a wealth of qualifications. But it’s the practical elements that really makes the difference, such as from her previous employer; an Australian-based smart transformer development company. “As we’ve seen recently, Australia has a lot of problems relating to solar generation. This is really helpful looking towards the future and what we can do about it.” She adds: “All my experiences have amalgamated and shaped me into who I am today and I'm grateful for all of them.”
Africa’s energy challenges have also influenced Abu. A degree and Masters, led to an operations engineering role in hydro-electric power and sub-stations. Working in Sierra Leone, he witnessed first-hand the issues of an entirely manual voltage regulation system. “Operators had to constantly monitor voltage to manually regulate it if it dropped below or went above set thresholds. Sometimes they were distracted, so customers suffered considerable voltage drops.”
He gives a very stark illustration of customer relations: “An industrial customer actually turned up at a substation because he couldn’t contact the distributor. He arrived and explained what was happening to his appliances which were burning out because of low voltage. This prompted studies which led to automated voltage regulation of the country’s grid.”
Now developing Fundamentals’ automated voltage regulation systems, he states: “I fully appreciate the benefits and this helps inform my work with our customers.
Like Elizabeth, Esra’a’s past solar energy experience may now help shape power distribution systems of the future. After an Electrical Engineering degree, she joined a Jordan-based engineering and construction consultancy which allowed her to work with global clients.
Bob’s experience is very much home grown. A Wiltshire boy born and bred, he went into the construction industry straight from school, before a friend working at Fundamentals offered him some part-time installation work. “I started with the basics, mainly manual tasks, and I’ve never looked back. Now in product development and customer support there isn’t a day when I come to work and don’t learn something new – it keeps me thinking and progressing.”
Change appears to be the motivation and inspiration for each of the team members. For Esra’a it’s about understanding the customer: “You have to invest in yourself to know more about their systems and help them achieve a better experience.”
For Abu it’s about adding value to DNO’s. “I’m aiming to see how we can influence the reduction of power outages and save significant costs for DNOs. Of course, I want to do that using Fundamentals' products, but I really want to see that change happen whatever the brand.”
Elizabeth wants to take DNO change even further: “I'd like to help DNOS be a part of enabling a net zero future - taking up new technologies such as solar and wind-power, EV charging points and so on. Enabling them to change the world and make an impact.”
And, according to Bob, Fundamentals can certainly deliver industry-changing innovation. “The CLASS project with ENW is arguably the biggest we’ve undertaken to date so to implement it, support it and come out of it with a positive reputation and strong, ongoing customer relationship has made us all proud.”
Yet, despite its international aspirations, Fundamentals has managed to retain an environment and ethos that reflects its roots. “What's always been there is the family atmosphere and the family-run feel to the company,” Bob states. “I think that attitude comes across in the support customers receive and I believe it’s a fundamental reason why we have such good relationships with our customers.”