On the cutting edge
The most advanced robotics in the world can create, manage or deliver the precision, speed and sheer capacity of work that’s impossible for the human hand. As complex as they are, these machines must be programmed by human hands. They need to know how to do their jobs.
James Fillmore is one of the men behind the machines. His company, ExtraTech Corporation, creates multi-function, programmable motion controllers and interface technology for automating all sorts of manufacturing industries. It’s all very complex and scientific, but essentially ExtraTech serves as the nervous system to highly advanced robotics, sending the complex signals and directives to make these machines perform to their highest potential.
“We help manufacturers optimize the operations of their machines,” Fillmore said. “Our expertise is our ability to deliver a customized integrated hardware and software solution to make our customers’ machines deliver extraordinary performance.” “This personal attention to the needs of my customer and their market is our ‘secret sauce,’” he said.
ExtraTech, located at 760 N. Thornton St. #2 in Post Falls, specializes in gantry-style machines and support technologies such as engravers and routers, plasma, laser and water-jet cutters and steered knife-cutting systems. The company, which has 23 employees, the majority with engineering degrees, focuses on high precision multi-axis machine capabilities. “We provide software and hardware multi-axis expertise to our national and global OEM customers,” Fillmore said.
ExtraTech began in 1986 in Minneapolis, Minn., before moving to Post Falls in 1990. “It started in Minneapolis because my father had been in the electronics business for years and had many contacts,” Fillmore said. “I personally didn’t want to be in a big city, and the mountains and lakes of this area attracted me.” The company began as a consulting and programming firm. Fillmore’s father was working to sell equipment to a company that was automating machinery, and ExtraTech was asked to bid the associated programming work. That company eventually decided to build the equipment in house, but they still hired Fillmore to handle the machinery software.
“Even though I was an afterthought on the project, it was my proposal (on the automation programming) that intrigued the customer,” Fillmore said. “It turned into a two-year project that helped get my company off the ground.” Fillmore first learned about using computers for automation and data acquisition while in college and graduate school. He was a Post-Doc in the Astronomy department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “Although I miss doing science in a university environment, I couldn’t resist the possibility of working for myself,” he said. His scientific mind helped to spawn the business, but it would take a whole new education to maintain it.
“I am a scientist at heart, an engineer next and a businessperson last,” Fillmore said. “Like a lot of owners, we have some skill or specialty that people are willing to pay for, but the business side of things we have to learn.” He took advice from his father in the early days, and he’s continued to learn from his customers.
Fillmore also went to the Idaho Small Business Development Center to find something that his mentor, Bill Jhung, has described as “clarity.” “Clarity about your goals, clarity about what you do well and how you want to do it, and clarity in communicating with your employees,” Fillmore said. “I wanted to push myself harder… and improve my leadership methods so the company would be even more self-guiding.” As manufacturing industries evolve, Fillmore must look into the future to maintain that clarity.
“We are in the technology business, and that’s both what’s fun and hard work about what we do,” he said. “So we will continue to innovate and include new technologies in our products… to deliver higher functionalities, easier customization and greater performance to our customers, and make the products easier to adapt to customer needs.”
New technologies include smartphones and tablets are incorporated into ExtraTech’s software mix. Laser-based cutting and 3D printing are growth markets, and Fillmore wants to gain more worldwide customers in both areas.
“As we push hard to get into new markets, I hope the ExtraTech name will be more recognized in the field,” he said. Meaning the next generation of incredible technology, automation and innovation will have Fillmore’s fingerprints all over it. For more information about ExtraTech please visit www.Extratech.com. For more information about North Idaho College’s Idaho SBDC visit www.IdahoSBDC.org or call (208) 655-5085.