By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Steve Follmar knows the Knoxville region well, even though he has called Texas home for years. So, it only made sense that he would locate his new company in the area when he founded it nearly two years ago.
That company – Advancing Machinery Solutions LLC (AMS) – was launched in 2016 to develop and market innovative and creative solutions for reciprocating engine and compressor applications. It’s a space and an industry that he knows very well.
Now, thanks to a great technical team and cost-effective space in the Fairview Technology Center, Follmar says the start-up is on the cusp of introducing two products during 2018 with more in the pipeline.
We had the opportunity to meet the engaging business executive during a recent interview where we learned about AMS President’s long-standing ties to Knoxville. They date to the mid-1990s when Follmar joined Windrock Inc. as its President. At the time, the company was a subsidiary of Computational Systems Inc.
“Windrock’s founders were inspired by the 1990 Clean Air Act and the opportunity to provide parametric emissions modelling for the natural gas industry,” Follmar explained. “We were mostly an R&D company. I was hired to commercialize the technology.”
The Texas home base was actually an advantage for Follmar since many of its customers were located in Louisiana and Texas, and he did most of the sales and marketing work.
Soon after joining Windrock, Emerson bought CSI to secure the company’s diagnostic monitoring system for electric motors. The corporate giant was not as interested in Windrock, so Follmar and two partners bought the subsidiary in August of 1996 and sold it 11 years later to Dover Corporation.
Follmar says he remained with the acquirer as Vice President and General Manager of the Knoxville operation for nearly five years, but decided that the big corporate environment was not something that matched his needs. So, he left, serving for slightly more than three years as Vice President of New Product Development for Cook Corporation.
Now, Follmar is back in the start-up world with the launch of AMS. He is self-funding its operations and relies on a technical team of eight former colleagues who call the Knoxville region home.
“They are all my friends who were instrumental in the success of Windrock,” he says. None draws a salary, but each has a “sweat equity stake” in the new venture. Collectively, the team has more than 200 years of experience in the technology space.
AMS is focused on maintenance concerns at big pipeline companies like TransCanada Corporation and Williams Companies. All have legacy engines that are 50 or 60 years old.
“We put sensors on the machines and detect faults that can be fixed before it (the machine) fails,” Follmar explains. The company uses commercially-available sensors, but AMS is also developing its own.
It’s not a new business for us,” he says. “It’s new technology we are building.”
For now, the company that is developing both hardware and software is focused on the natural gas sector that it knows well, but there are plans to expand later.
The Fairview Center is a great advantage to a start-up like AMS.
“If we had to go get regular office space, it would put more cost pressure on me,” Follmar explained. The office suite it occupies in the former school building is the right size for AMS and came fully-equipped.