We recently had the possibility to go to Middleton, a quiet town in Wisconsin, where the headquarters of ETC are located, and where we had the honour of being invited for an exclusive tour. ETC were perfect hosts and for us it was a privilege to be able to spend an entire day with Fred Foster, CEO but, above all, “spiritual guide” of this incredible company.
What a surprise! Walking around ETC …
Spending two days at ETC – as often happens with this type of experience – was really “enlightening”, not only because we were able to see how production is carried out, but also and above all to really find out about what’s behind the brand, one of the most well-known and appreciated of the sector.
Our tour around the production unit with the team showed us clearly how the passion for this profession can also be found among the machinery of a production line, cand not only at the console during a rock concert.
And unfortunately what we are saying can only be explained by direct experience in the field, as on paper it does not give the complete idea, but we would, in any case, like to try to give our readers an idea with this ‘story’ about our two days in snowy Wisconsin.
We’re going to start right from Fred Foster, CEO and Founder of ETC. Fred – as he prefers to be called – is a really nice person, with a true ‘human’ vision of the company he has created and still manages. His office has a sort of ‘garage’ look and the door is always open to his employees who want to speak about an idea or need suggestions. Most of the offices of the company are on the first floor and are uncluttered, informal and liveable. It was interesting to see that the offices with the most light and with a nice view are not those of the management team, but are used by those who “really work”, as Fred told us jokingly – but not too much.
This same company vision is represented and duplicated exactly in the reception area at ETC, a real meeting place for employees, and which is similar to a town square, with a bar, restaurant, merchandising shop, and even a bank and a travel agency for domestic trips – not at all like the usual production unit we are used to visiting. There’s space to relax and meet people, ‘living’ in the company and feeling part of it, and not just a cog in a wheel…
It wasn’t difficult for us to see, as a direct consequence, that in this type of environment everybody is really motivated to do their best and reach the highest results in their job.
We also have to say that what we saw during our trip to Middleton is, in a certain sense, different from the extremely professional and sometimes ‘serious’ immagine that we have always had of ETC.
With regards to technical aspects, the production areas are really organized and each and every part – even those where ‘heavy’ machinery is located – seems to be clean and well organized, also thanks to the typically-American amount of space, which is not so common for European companies due to the higher costs involved.
We are also extremely sure of another aspect after our visit, which is that ETC manufactures its equipment entirely and exclusively at its production unit in Middleton, with the exception of LED lamps and light bulbs chosen as per their use, and chassis made by partner companies.
In fact, as Fred explained to us, company policy is and has always been that of identifying interesting activities and, and when possible, take direct control and thus obtaining immediate benefit in terms of know-how and direct experience.
And as an ‘extra’, during our tour we had the chance to see ‘inside’ some of the most famous products and we were really surprised to see how a really ‘simple’ idea can have generated so much success, confirming that sometimes the most fantastic ideas are also the less complicated ones.
Lighting and much more…
In fact, ETC does not only make equipment for lighting distribution because, as we all know, right from the start it has always been active in the controller sector too. But the most recent news is about ETC’s acquisition of a company specialized in motors and hoists that has enabled ETC to provide new opportunities and technology to its tried and tested Prodigy line.
Up to now, ETC has invested heavily in this new business, to be able to offer its clients a continuously expanding choice of equipment not only dedicated to the theatre sector.
Another important aspect is the company’s ability to respond quickly to clients’ demands. In fact, product orders are accepted and fulfilled quickly thanks to the availability of material and to efficient logistics which, other than the US, can also count on large and efficient hubs in Europa such London, Ede (The Netherlands), Holzkirchen (Germany).
ETC guarantees assistance 24/7 and 365 days a year on all its recent and not so recent products. We all know how difficult last-minute situations can be, with just a few minutes before the show and for some strange reason something stops working the way it should. Panic takes over and we can’t think clearly to be able to solve the problem. Fast feedback and the correct support is fundamental in this case.
The technicians that man ETC’s help-desk are chosen with this type of situation in mind, and come from the sector, with the right level of knowledge about this type of work, able, therefore, to handle certain types of problems.
During the early years of the company, Foster actually did this job himself using his home phone, which rang at any hour day and night. And it was not long before he convinced himself that handing the job over to someone else would be a good idea …
Do you wanna a lime?
Speaking about products there are very few people in this industry who don’t know the SourceFour, Classic and LED line or the more recent Selador technology with 7 LED sources. These products are universally recognized and used in almost all high-level productions.
Being more connected to theatre and TV illumination rather than the pure effects of rock concerts, one of ETC’s main goals has always been to create natural illumination able to enhance colour hues of objects and people in the best way possible. And to be able to get the best possible level from a LED source, EYC created Selador in 2009, which, for the first time, used 7 colour LED sources, with excellent performance levels.
At the same time, ETC was also aiming to enter the market of ‘budget’ products, always maintaining the quality standards of its products. And this led to the creation of the ColorSource PAR line, with a particular LED configuration taken from the second series of the S4 LED. Other than using classic RGB bulbs, it is also used in combination with a lime colour source and doubles the quantity of red LEDs. Using Lime LEDs in particular can provide a double advantage, with higher luminosity and a wide range of colours. In effect, Lime LEDs have an emission peak that almost coincides with the wavelength with which human eyes are more receptive (in daylight conditions) and the same emission has a much wider course compared to any other colour used in LED fixtures, which, on the contrary, tend to have a peak curve. The photos of this article give a much better idea of this.
During our visit we really appreciated how at ETC, which has built its reputation on incandescent lights, great care and attention is paid to the development of LED die products as far as colour and luminosity consistency are concerned.
To be sure that the two projectors that receive the same levels of DMX generate the same colour, before being packed, the projectors are calibrated using an instrument that measures the real emission level of each LED, and stores the information in each single projector.
It’s a well-known fact that the luminosity of LEDs decreases when the temperature increases, and this can cause both a drop in the projector’s global intensity, as well as a change of colour (red LEDs, for example, lose their luminosity a lot faster when the temperature increases) just after a few minutes of working.
Thanks to a particular compensation algorithm, used by all ETC’s LED products, this effect is counteracted, thus producing the same identical level of light at the beginning of work and at the end.
Great importance has also been given to the Dimmer curve and to the possibility of simulating the typical behaviour of tungsten lamps, that heat up when intensity decreases. These functions enable ETC LED projectors to be used alongside traditional lamps.
But who better than Fred Foster can explain even more what’s behind this brand? We go back with him over some of the most important moments of ETC’s history, with some stories directly from him …
ZioGiorgio.com: Fred, do you still have the same passion for lighting that you had when you started out on your adventure with ETC?
Fred Foster: let’s just say that my passion has changed over time. When I started, I had an endless passion for the technical world of lighting, while now I have to say that I’m more interested in expanding and growing ETC, making it efficient and, above making it a pleasant and liveable place for those who work here. And this means that I think that the passion for lighting comes more from them than directly from me, and this is something that makes me really proud, because it means that they are truly involved in their work and that they feel at home and at ease in the company. These are very important aspects today.
ZioGiorgio.com: so what does ETC mean for you after these 40 years?
Fred Foster: this company, and the lighting business market in general, have made an important mark on my career and life, and that is certain. I this is the only work I have ever had, I founded the company in my garage when I was 18 years old … Today it is a work opportunity for smart people and who I work on projects with, also from a human point of view. As I have already said, I have become more interested in these aspects in the last few years and not the rest.
ZioGiorgio.com: which is the product that you have created that makes you proud and, on the other hsnd, which is the competitor product you would have liked to create?
Fred Foster: my answer to the first part of the question will probably surprise, because the product I am proud of the most is the it’s the SourceFour Mini. I need to tell you that we worked and studied this product for about 10 years before we actually started to make it, and during these 10 years I personally presented the project to every meeting – and continuously getting negative response from the marketing and production departments who said that no one would ever need this type of product. And so I decided to speak to my partners (there are three of us) because I was convinced that the company didn’t understand what I was trying to say with this product. We were therefore convinced and in turn we convinced our marketing department, to start work on and launch the SourceFour Mini. The rest is history … because no one expected it to be such a big success.
If I have to speak about a product I would have liked to create, there are honestly a number of competitors who I admire. And if I have to choose one in particular, I would certainly say the first VLs by Vari*Lite, a product that has changed the idea of way of professional lighting and with quality standards that even today are absolute reference points.
ZioGiorgio.com: Fred, let’s speak about something that is really important for us all. What is ETC’s policy and what is the company doing with regards to energy saving and safeguarding the planet?
Fred Foster: well, if you’ve been around the company you’ve already seen things that will have given you an idea of our policy and commitment. First and foremost, we recycle a great deal of materials that are re-used in the production cycle, resulting in both economic savings and in reduced environmental impact. We also pay great attention to painting, with all products being water-based, without any use of toxic materials.
With regards to energy savings, I would like to say something that I’m really convinced about. It’s clear to see that our sector is obviously not the one that will save the planet, because in any way, the professional lighting sector makes great use of energy, but it’s also true that the use of LEDs has considerably reduced energy demands and, in my opinion, this is one of the most important aspects of these last few years.
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