In Hot Pursuit: Promethient inks vehicle seating deal with OEM for launch in July
Promethient is ready to step into the spotlight.
The Traverse City-based technology company, founded in 2012, has been working for years to develop and perfect its proprietary conductive heat transfer technology.
Called Thermavance, the energy-efficient tech is poised to be used in car seats, office furniture and steering wheels and other applications.
Where most heating and cooling applications occur by way of convection – or by heating or cooling the air – conductive heat transfer works by touch. By adding Thermavance technology to, say, the seats of a car, Promethient could change the way temperature control happens in the automotive industry.
Bill Myers, the company’s CEO, calls the concept “human-centered climate control,” an idea that would give each person in a vehicle more freedom to manage their individual temperature preferences.
After years of development, 2020 could be Promethient’s year. According to Myers, the company is working with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) that intends to debut Thermavance-equipped products in its showrooms by the end of July.
While Myers is not yet able to share many details about its customer or the upcoming product launch, he notes that the client falls into the automotive niche that Promethient has been pursuing for years.
“What I can say is that (the project) is vehicle seating … that’s exposed to the elements,” Myers said. “Say you have someone who has to mow golf courses in Florida in June. Regular air conditioning isn’t effective for that because that seat is outdoors. (With our product), you’ve got something that can actually cool your body down in that environment and it does so rather efficiently because it’s a conductive approach.
“Instead of blowing air on you, it’s a surface that physically gets cold.”
Other potential applications for Thermavance in outdoor vehicles could include agricultural tractors, construction equipment, motorcycles, ATVs or golf carts – though Myers declined to confirm which specific products Promethient’s customer will be taking to market this summer.
In any case, the forthcoming OEM rollout means a big, busy year for Promethient. Myers says the customer is planning to launch four different vehicle platforms by the end of July, all with Thermavance technology in the seats for heating and cooling.
As a result, Promethient is in the process of ramping up manufacturing capacity to hit customer quotas. The need to scale quickly led Promethient to make one of its biggest hires ever in March, when the company appointed Jon Dreher as its director of manufacturing operations.
Dreher is best-known to Traverse City locals as the former executive chairman of the Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council. He also worked as the vice president of manufacturing at TentCraft from 2014 to 2019, helping the company scale during a crucial growth stage. Dreher’s background includes everything from aiding startups to developing manufacturing processes for aerospace giants like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Now, his mission is to get Promethient ready for the big time.
As the director of manufacturing operations, Myers says Dreher will have three core responsibilities: streamlining the production process to boost capacity, ensuring quality control in the manufacturing pipeline and managing the supply chain. It’s a job Dreher says he is looking forward to, in part because he says he believes that Promethient’s product design and existing manufacturing processes already have so much potential to make a mark on a global scale.
“The very core of manufacturing is where product meets manufacturability,” Dreher said. “The team that Bill has assembled at Promethient has created great functionality between product design and manufacturing process design. When you have that sort of cohesiveness between both product and process at the infant stage of the business like Promethient does, that creates a very exciting opportunity – the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Dreher’s first focus will be on safety. Because Promethient’s OEM customer has essential business status, Promethient was able to make the case for its manufacturing operations as essential as well. As a result, the company restarted production in late April after a brief pause, bringing back a skeleton crew to fill on-hand orders and to begin ramping up capacity.
Dreher has worked to reorganize the production line to allow for better social distancing, along with implementing other policies such as mandatory masking, daily temperature screenings and regular health questionnaires. Dreher says the protocols have worked so well – and have caused such little disruption in Promethient’s pursuit of production goals – that the company got noticed by its OEM customer as an example of health and safety for manufacturing during COVID-19.
“Our customer actually wants us to send some examples of what we’re doing so they can talk about that to the rest of their team,” Dreher said. “So we’re pretty proud of the safety practices that we’re putting into place right now.”
The next step is expanding Promethient’s production capabilities. Up to now, Myers says the company’s manufacturing line was never strained. It would largely operate on an on-and-off process, with production runs lasting one to three weeks. That period of start-and-stop production is likely over for the company, not just because of its main customer. Myers also notes that Promethient is currently eyeing other accounts – one for aviation seating, another for motor coach seating and a third for baby seats.
“We’re expecting as we go through the launch process this year that we’re going to have orders on the table at all times,” Myers said. “So we need to scale up production, we need to do so efficiently, we need to produce a defect-free product, and we need to get it to our customer on time.”
Monitoring the launch of the product and the general public’s response to it will follow, Myers says.
“We’re very optimistic about market acceptance because we’ve had a great deal of interest not only from our OEM customer, but also from their supply chain, about what we’re doing and how it works,” he said.
The result, Dreher says, is that Promethient is likely experiencing the calm before the proverbial storm. Right now, he’s working to automate key pieces of the production process, eliminate waste from the manufacturing approach or product design, align the supply chain with the production schedule, and lay the groundwork for future scalability.
If all goes well, those efforts will not only launch Promethient to a nationwide or global stage, but also make the company Traverse City’s next high-visibility driver of jobs and economic development.
“A goal of mine is to create more opportunities for people to work here and raise their families here,” Dreher said. “Promethient could be one of those opportunities for our region in the future, as it’s tied to so many different industries, potentially, with a really innovative product to offer. I see a lot of opportunity for our area to rally around Promethient as a next shining star for our local manufacturing and tech scenes.”