ECR International, Utica, N.Y., is in a region that was instrumental in the growth and development of the Erie Canal, the great shipping route constructed to move goods to and from Atlantic Ocean seaports across New York State west to Buffalo, and Lake Erie and beyond, utilizing the Great Lakes.
For 90 years, ECR International has had an impact on this historic commercial region and has built a strong history of its own in the heating and cooling industries.
In 2015, ECR International, Inc. became part of world condensing boiler leader BDR Thermea Group, a Dutch heating products group with global headquarters in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. Today, ECR provides heating and cooling products under a family of brand names in North America. ECR operates facilities in Utica and Dunkirk, N.Y. and serves customers from distribution points throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Contracting Business and CONTRACTOR visited ECR International’s facility in Utica to tour where Dunkirk’s oil-fired, gas-fired, condensing and combi boilers are manufactured, and to learn about this company’s great past, vibrant present-day activity, and ever-promising future.
“In peak heating season, production will ramp up as cooling demand comes down,” said Mitch O’Connor, Director of Operations. Dunkirk boilers are manufactured on up to three shifts using an eight-day production cycle.” On the day of our visit, production was at 107% of planned efficiency.
Quality is Expected
At ECR International, quality is an expectation, “and we strive to meet that expectation,” O’Connor said. “I believe that if somebody tells me they make quality products, my response is, ‘isn’t that your job?’ A manufacturing company should not get credit for something every customer expects.
“How do we continue to make quality products? By having process control built into the manufacturing lines and encouraging any employee to raise quality concerns and stop the production line. For instance, we have Gemba boards on our assembly lines that allow all employees to post any production issue,” O’Connor explained. “This process then requires the team to immediately develop and implement countermeasures to quickly address the issue and improve the process. In terms of response speed, think of it as a 'STAT' process in a hospital setting. That’s the difference between companies with a continuous quality improvement process and simply saying, we made a great product,” O’Connor said.
All products are subjected to testing during the assembly process as well as post-production audits.
“We test all facets of the boiler: combustion, pressure vessel, electronics and piping connections. When the boiler leaves here it has already been put through its paces and set to parameters that meet most installation requirements, so the contractor should not have to do much tweaking. Of course, our DCC and DCB units are equipped with our artificial intelligence (AI) control and gas adaptive technology, which self-adjusts to meet the conditions of the operating environment, making it simple for contractors to install.”
In August, ECR International celebrated its 90th Anniversary, which was marked by a picnic for employees.
“Our 90th Anniversary event in August was enjoyed by all employees and was a source of pride for the contributions we and our predecessors made to our company, communities and the industry,” said Joe Langlois, marketing manager. “We look forward to another busy heating season when we all get amped up, along with production,” Langlois said.
ECR International’s brands include:
• Airco oil furnaces, manufactured for more than 60 years
• Argo, a line of switching relays, zone controls and multiple boiler system controls as well as 100% efficient electric boilers
• Dunkirk: residential and commercial, hot-water boilers, steam boilers, and indirect water heaters
• EMI ductless split air conditioning systems, and ductless chilled/hot water fan coils
• Olsen oil furnaces and central air conditioning
• Pennco gas and oil-fired boilers
• RetroAire “Thru-The-Wall” PTAC’s, VPAC’s and water source heat pump consoles
• Utica Boilers: residential- and commercial, hot-water boilers, steam boilers, indirect water heaters.
“We see ‘smart technology’ in all sorts of different industry segments. Auto manufacturers have used it for years; they’re not communicating directly with the end-user, but they offer service recommendations based on data,” Langlois explained.
“At current efficiency levels, gas boiler combustion systems have pretty much reached their maximum achievable levels,” Langlois said. “The next advancements will be focused on electronics, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and remote communication."
New Products Utilize Artificial Intelligence
"For Dunkirk, we have already entered this technology stage with our AI control platform available on our DCB and DCC (combi) products," Langlois said. "The AI control enables the boiler to self-commission, self-diagnose and self-correct. When we add our soon-to-be-released remote communicating T-stat (currently in field test) we will enable users and installers to manage the living environment while the boiler exports messages regarding its status, maintenance needs and provides pre-failure notification to the contractor.
“The AI control tells you what’s going on inside the boiler. It will communicate when the boiler has entered any service mode that requires attention and will even provide pre-failure notification. Again, the information is communicated and delivered through a connected thermostat, to the homeowner and/or contractor,” Langlois shared.
Langlois’ overarching message to heating and plumbing contractors is that the ECR International family of products offers everything from traditional cast-iron boilers to high-efficiency condensing combi boilers, all of which are designed and manufactured with precise goals in mind.
“For over 90 years we have led innovation in the cast-iron boiler industry. A new age of innovation, backed by parent BDR Therma Group, is focused on condensing boilers and system products, always with the same level of quality, concern and consideration for our contracting customers. We really believe we’re making products here that make the contractors’ lives easier, by embedding technology that now allows for self-diagnostics to take place. Contractors can understand what is going to occur prior to leaving their shops on a service call. That speeds the resolution for the contractor as well as their customer.”
In 2008, long before the BDR acquisition, ECR invested $14 million dollars to renovate ECR’s Utica and Dunkirk Facilities. The renovations included a new 25,000 sq. ft. stamping plant in Dunkirk and new machining equipment. A 30,000 sq. ft. expansion was added to the Utica manufacturing facility and a world class research and development lab for hydronic and air source equipment design and testing. Last year a new CNC punch and laser were added to the Dunkirk fabrication center. Continued investment into Engineering and Manufacturing has helped ECR to remain innovative and competitive in an ever-changing industry.