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January 05, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Fast-growing RDI Technologies adapts successfully to COVID-19 challenges

If you ranked number 33 on Inc. magazine’s list of the 5000 fastest growing companies in the U.S. in 2019, what do you do when the COVID-19 pandemic causes not only you, but also many of your current or prospective customers to shut facilities and have everyone work from home?

That was the challenge facing RDI Technologies Inc. in early 2020. It is the West Knoxville company that developed Motion Amplification®, a proprietary technology platform that enables users to see and measure motion that is impossible to discern with the human eye and could only be measured previously by contacting sensors.

The solution was to focus on the company’s roots as an innovation leader and the opportunities that the unexpected disruptions offered.

“We used the time to hunker down and innovate, both our processes and procedures,” said Jenna Johns, Chief Operating Officer. The result included two new software updates, a new continuous monitoring (CM) product that she said had been well-received by the company’s customers, and a new division that has opened-up additional opportunities.

The RDI Technologies team also had to significantly alter its marketing approach. “Our number one tool was conferences,” said President Bob Wilson. “They (potential customers) want to feel it, see it, touch it.”

Obviously, that all changed with COVID-19 as conferences were either cancelled or shifted to virtual delivery. RDI Technologies adapted by offering numerous webinars and virtual conferences that the company developed for its existing and prospective customers.

“We had tremendous attendance at our events (and) that helped keep the pipeline full,” Wilson said while also citing another challenge that further complicated the sales process. Most manufacturing plants closed for at least a short period of time. Even though most have reopened, many are still limiting access to essential personnel only.

“Those wanting to purchase from us still want to see how it works on their equipment,” Wilson added. To address that hurdle, he explained that one employee even did a demo of the technology for a prospective customer at a nearby hotel.

Jeff Hay, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, led the effort to develop the newest machine vision product, the Iris CM. Described on the company’s website as “the latest innovation in video-based asset condition monitoring,” the new product is unlike traditional continuous monitoring systems. The Iris CM does not have to be permanently mounted and does not have to touch any customer equipment. It also allows users to see what is happening on their equipment at any time, whether onsite or remote.

“We pride ourselves on customer feedback, and we had a lot of demand for the Iris CM,” Hay said. “It’s the building block for a platform that can continue to grow.”

He added that development of the Iris CM also led RDI Technologies to hire new employees to launch a test and measurement (T&M) team focused on innovating for the design process of the products that companies produce, not the machines that produce those products. Monitoring those machines was the idea that sparked the founding of RDI Technologies.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Hay said of the challenge that many manufacturers face in terms of the quality of the goods they produce. “It (the T&M product) gives you a lot more process, asset, and decision support information to consider,” Wilson added.

“T&M broadens our market,” Hay said. “We made a decision to not be sector specific with the product early on and develop a truly platform technology that can deployed into new markets and applications such as process, quality control, design, R&D, structures, and many others.”

As Wilson noted, “We have stayed true to our vision for the company. Due to the experience and passion of our people and our focus on customers and execution, we not only survived, but we got better. It (COVID-19) is an experience that many companies and markets must navigate but it has made us a better long-term company.”

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