Company Spotlight: Starline
As market leader in power distribution since the dawn of the internet in 1994, it is safe to say Starline is an expert in its ﬁeld and, despite a global pandemic, the company continues to thrive. Here Mathew George, sales director, EMEA & SW Asia, shares the secrets to Starline’s success, as well the company’s exciting new acquisition with industry powerhouse Legrand, a move that has added yet more ammunition to Starline’s (already impressive) arsenal.
First thing’s first, what industries do Starline primarily serve? On a global scale, 90% of what we sell is in the data centre space, the other 10% is retail and also labs and universities. Labs and universities are of course an important market, particularly prevalent right now due to Covid research. The universities we’ve partnered with include Cambridge, Birmingham and Oxford – we serve all of the major universities in the world. As Starline was established almost 90 years ago, how has the company’s mission statement evolved over this time? Prior to our acquisition by Legrand, Starline was a family-owned company, and our primary business statement has always been to serve the customer. Even post-acquisition, that remains our primary focus, to serve our customers to the best of our ability. If you ask for testimonies from the thousands of customers we have, they will tell you we have always been focused on their needs. Becoming part of a larger organisation does not change our original customer-first ethos. As mentioned previously, Starline is now a brand of Legrand, what was the thinking behind this merger and what are the advantages to Starline as a business? The one thing missing in Legrand’s portfolio was how to distribute power above the cabinets. The connection between the PDU and the main power distribution was the missing link, and that’s where busbar power distribution in the white space comes in, and that is Starline. We complete the missing portion of the power chain Legrand was looking for. We’ve also helped to bring Legrand’s offering full circle, from the transformers up to the PDUs and the racks, so Legrand has components in every part of the puzzle. I think we were selected because of our relationship with hyperscale customers throughout the majority of our business, that was a very strong pull for Legrand to have Starline as part of its portfolio. And if you look at the global data centre growth market, it’s the cloud players and hyperscalers growing that market. We also have a lot of advantages being part of the Legrand data centre solutions group. Many of the sub-components which are used in our manufacturing, like miniature circuit breakers, receptacles etc. are manufactured by Legrand. This gives us more control of our supply chain and means we can offer customers industry leading delivery times. This has given us much more influence over the data centre package. We could be a one stop shop for any customer that needs to fit out a data centre. Legrand has helped us leverage that industry influence. From the very beginning, Starline’s vision was to be a worldwide industry leader in systems solutions for power distribution and management, it’s safe to say that nearly 90 years on, that has now been achieved. What do you feel is the secret to Starline’s success? Since Starline was first introduced we have always focused on our customers’ needs, and in the data centre industry where we primarily serve, that need is reliability. And how do you achieve reliability? That is the question we’ve always asked ourselves. We didn’t want to over complicate our product, we wanted to keep it as simple and stable as possible, and that’s exactly what we did. If you look at let’s say, one of our plug-in-units component-wise, that is the most complex product we have, yet it’s also the simplest. If you open up
one of our plug-in-units, you will not see a single moving part. Why is that important? Well, because every component in that chain has the potential to decrease reliability, so that means the fewer components you have, the more reliable the product. The more components, the higher the risk of failure, so the fewer you have the better. The simplicity of our design has been our strength, and is what has allowed us to grow from a small family-owned company, to the substantially bigger operation we have now. The proof is clearly in the product, so what makes Starline’s busway and busbar systems so unique/popular with customers? We have designed our busway in a manner that means it’s easier to install in any part of the world, even in the absence of a controlled environment. The system is dummy proof in terms of the fact you can’t fix it the wrong way, it’s like putting Lego pieces together, it’s so easy to do – anyone watching a video tutorial could do it. In the wake of Covid-19, the onus on safety has of course been heightened across all aspects of business. Has Starline been impacted by the pandemic, if so, to what extent? Covid-19 has been an interesting time for all of us for multiple reasons. One of the reasons why Starline had expanded into numerous geographies with multiple manufacturing locations was for incidents like these, whether it be weather, an act of God or a pandemic like this. We haven’t put all our eggs in one basket, that means you could manufacture exactly the same Starline products in North America, Europe or Asia. We have three identical, well-proportioned factories in all three continents which can all manufacture the same products. So when the pandemic first affected Asia, moving onto Europe and America, all the while we managed to keep our factories open as they were designated part of the government’s critical infrastructure. That meant we could keep our UK and US factories open every day. Our UK factory actually had to increase from one shift to two during the lockdown to keep up with demand. We were actually having to hire people during this time. Also, it’s not just us, we are dependent on the supply chain and the component suppliers, and they have been affected in different ways, so having multiple locations has given us the reliability to weather a difficult storm. Covid-19 has brought about a lot of change, and much of our lives are now being played out in the digital space. As a result, we have never been more reliant on power than we are today, whether that be for work, staying in touch with friends and family, entertainment or simply staying sane. How does Starline ensure the reliability of its products since they are literally responsible for delivering mission critical power? We have a three-pronged approach to reliability. One, we have a product that is maintenance free. Meaning we have joints in the system which do not require nuts and bolts, making them maintenance free for life. Once installed, our product requires no human intervention. The second approach is utilising the technical advantages we have in terms of monitoring. We call this RCM (residual current monitoring), which allows us to monitor our products continuously on a real-time basis. These monitors allow us to look at whether the servers have any degradation on the
insulation, that way we can take preventative action. Just another way we are able to maintain a reliable network without having to shut down. Third, and equally important, we have a temperature monitoring system connected to our end feeds. What that does is, again on a real-time basis, it checks the temperature of all the lugs and incoming cables which come into our busway, giving us real-time alerts to any increase in temperature. These three factors combined mean we have a product that is completely free from human intervention, it will notify you well in advance of any problems, if there is any residual current degradation in the servers, or if there are issues with the connections or cables into the busway system. What this gives us in this climate of social distancing, is a product which will enable our end-user to react in such a way they don’t need to be physically there to maintain or take care of our product. Safety and reliability have of course always been top of Starline’s agenda, but do you feel reliability and safety are now more important to the consumer than they perhaps were pre-pandemic? What we have seen is customers need the same level of service they used to get pre-pandemic. So, as a solution, we have gone virtual. For example, our factory acceptance tests are all virtual now, so we don’t need customers to be inside the factory. It’s all online and they can have a live inspection of the product, they can have live verification and it’s all recorded. So instead of having people flying thousands of miles to attend factory acceptance tests, it is much more environmentally-friendly this way and people can get the same results online without the air miles, the hotels and everything that comes with it. Sometimes these adversities force us to make changes and we find that these changes haven’t really impacted us in a bad way. As a company always evolving and innovating, what’s next for Starline? We continuously work on new product development and we have a lot of new products in the pipeline, we actually have a major new launch due to be announced in the next few months via our product development team, so watch this space.