Host Engineering: Supplying PLC Software and Hardware is Their Mission
It is said that home is where the heart is. And, the heart of Host Engineering is certainly at home in the rolling foothills of Tennessee on its 50-acre campus. Surrounded by cow pastures and small ponds, the site houses the company’s headquarters, shop buildings, parking lot, basketball court, and two of the founders’ private homes. “I can almost coast to work down my driveway and into the employee parking lot,” said Bob Oglesby Founder and President of Host Engineering.
During that 800-foot commute, Oglesby might see deer, raccoons, wild turkey, coyotes, and the occasional bear along the ridgeline. Or, he might pass by employees shooting hoops or taking a run around the campus. Creativity and quality of life are essential parts of Host Engineering as employment there is viewed as more than just a job — it’s a mission.
Home is also what many of the Host employees would call the campus since most have been with the organization for more than 10 years. A few of the reasons employees choose to stay there is the company’s vision and the relationships they have developed over the years. What they also share in is a desire to create and build a quality product in an environment that is like family.
It would seem that the founders of Host Engineering have built something special. Oglesby describes it as “not the products we’ve developed but the people we’ve assembled” as a means to their success. The talented staff at Host shares in the company’s common vision: solutions designed with spirit. Oglesby explained: “We’ve given our employees a great place to work with other people of good ethics and character. As we’ve come together to work we play off each other, developing ideas, solving problems, improving quality through a common language. We also love to quote Star Wars, C.S. Lewis, and Star Trek during our discussions — we have our own corporate inside jokes.”
Host Engineering was created in 1992 with three people writing a piece of programming software to support Koyo Electronics Ltd. of Japan. Koyo contracted Host to create a PLC programming package in coordination with the launch of PLCDirect by Koyo, now AutomationDirect.Com. The result was DirectSOFT; the first Windows™ based micro-PLC programming package. Oglesby, Don Hardcastle, and June Sheppard were the three engineers who came together to create the software, and soon after to develop their first hardware product called the H2-EBC (an Ethernet I/O slave module for the DirectLOGIC PLC). After the first product’s success they went on to produce a full line of Ethernet products as well as high-speed counters for many AutomationDirect PLCs.
Today Host offers a number of products including enhanced PLC programming software, data servers, human-machine interface products, PC-based control, Ethernet, Profibus, and motion interfaces to encoders and drives. They look to actively develop products that cover the control and communications sectors of the automation world as software and hardware engineers who have designed the Do-more PLC, DirectSOFT, CTRIO, ECOM100, ERM, and EBC modules for the DirectLOGIC PLC line.
In 2006, Host Engineering shifted its focus from software to more hardware development. At that time, the company began to manufacture its own products as well. Maintained as a separate entity, VinTech is the manufacturing plant that handles all of the product assembly for Host. By keeping the manufacturing local, VinTech allows Host to better monitor quality and improve overall costs for its customers. Oglesby explains: “We found that outsourcing product assembly didn’t make sense so about seven years ago we decided to bring that part of the business close to home. We found the right person to run that operation nearby. Mark Sitter had the skills needed to make sure our products were being built properly and to the highest standards. That’s my school of thought on managing people — find someone better than you are, empower them, and then get out of the way. Then, I get to concentrate my time on creating products — I like to code myself happy,” continued Oglesby.
This type of management philosophy has served well for Host Engineering. In the 21 years the company has been in operation, only two people have left for other jobs. Even during the recession, Host saw a drop in business but managed to keep everyone working. The company has come through the downturn and has improved its earnings each year since then. Through the good times and bad, employees stay because they enjoy the work environment. “We treat each other like a mom and pop business,” said Oglesby. “But we work like a professional business. We develop relationships with our employees and our customers — they buy into the vision of Host. We’re fortunate to have hired the right people with some who have stayed with Host since its inception in 1992.”
The organization’s name, Host, is an acronym for the company’s founders’ last names: Don Hardcastle, Bob Oglesby, June Sheppard, and the ‘T‘ is a cross. By no coincidence, the word host has a religious meaning which can be used to describe the faith-filled way in which Host Engineering operates. “We’re not shy to represent ourselves as a Christ-centered company,” said Oglesby. “We use our devotion as the basis for how we act toward each other and our customers … and we tithe 10% as a company to help with mission work,” he continued. Host Engineering also has a way of making everyone feel welcome just as a good host should. From the founders and engineers to the people who answer the phone, all are treated with courtesy and respect, that’s the Host way of doing business.
Looking to the future of Host Engineering brings both excitement and challenges for Oglesby. As one of the characters in C.S. Lewis’ final book in the “Chronicles of Narnia The Last Battle” announces: “Further up and further in!” According to Oglesby, that’s where Host Engineering is headed next. Based on the success of the Do-more technology, they will have to grow. The company plans to take the current products and build new platforms making the products more mainstream and inventing new versions for the future.
That will also mean becoming a larger company both in terms of people and space. “Growing organizationally. That’s what keeps me up at night,” said Oglesby. Even though the company has gracefully grown from leasing a small office in Johnson City, TN to the sprawling campus they now call home, Oglesby feels compelled to maintain the company’s culture. “How do we preserve the ‘Host-ness’ of Host Engineering as we grow? We’ll need to raise up a new generation that has respect for the past but will also embrace the future. We have a special team with special talents. We have to challenge ourselves to grow but at the same time keep that culture,” said Oglesby.
Oglesby looks to AutomationDirect for answers. The two companies have been working together since they both launched back in the early ’90s. The relationship between Oglesby and Tim Hohmann of AutomationDirect goes back even further with the two having known each other from working at Texas Instruments. Oglesby explains: “ADC is like a big brother to us. We turn to them for advice and direction on future growth and integrity. They’ve gone through the growth periods and come out with their corporate culture and quality intact. Our challenge will be to keep our own Host culture while growing to keep up with future demand.”