P&Q Profile: PRECO Electronics’ Sean Martell

By |  August 25, 2020


As an industry vet of more than 15 years, PRECO Electronics’ Sean Martell has seen the ups and downs in the mining and construction equipment industries. While 2020 has proven to be a challenge for everyone in the industry, Martell is optimistic about the future for both the industry and his company, which was recently acquired by Sensata Technologies.

How did you get your start in the aggregate/mining equipment industry?

I grew up farming on my family’s fifth-generation farm, so I’ve been around heavy equipment all my life. A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to get involved with a Caterpillar dealer and was hired as a product support sales representative. I really enjoyed working with the variety of industries and mix of equipment I was responsible for.

The territory I covered had a little bit of everything – mining, landscaping, aggregate, construction – so I got great exposure to all the industries that the dealership sold to in the Idaho area.

It took off from there, and I was ready for a change when this opportunity with PRECO [Electronics] came open and I was one of the fortunate ones that got hired. It still involved the heavy construction industry; in fact, they were looking for someone who was experienced in construction and mining. So I was able to take that experience from both being around equipment all my life and being around the construction side with Caterpillar, and here I am today applying radar safety technology to the equipment and it’s been a good fit. I think I’ve been helpful in applying the radar appropriately to the equipment and to understand what these operators are dealing with and the environment they work in.

What does a typical day look like for you at PRECO Electronics?

Well, with COVID-19 going on, my typical days have changed a lot. We are working out of the office now. We have manufacturing. We were considered an essential business when the lockdown started. We have a number of OEs we work with, so it was critical that they have access to product, so we had to keep manufacturing going. All the [industry] shows have been shut down, all the travel, etc. I don’t have anybody asking me to come see a site. Even though we can fly now, everybody is careful about contaminating a site with people from out of town, so we’ve been doing a lot of video, web and a lot of phone calls.

Prior to that, we do 30-plus shows a year as a company. Anything involving Canada or mining and construction in the U.S. on targeted programs or seminars or certain organizations, I was involved with that. There were times when – I was home on weekends – but I was gone for up to three weeks straight, then be back and go out again. When we’re busy with travel, I’m away from home probably 60 percent of the year.

Either I’ll walk [the show], man the booth, or I’m invited to do a seminar. I’ll do like a 20-minute session and talk about radar technology and my presentation really revolves around talking about what radar does, what it’s capabilities are and how to manage safety technology. It’s about processes and control and supporting it in order to have a successful implementation. It’s more about educating with a flavor for who PRECO Electronics is.

How has your company adjusted throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

There’s been a number of safety protocols put in place in the office to ensure social distancing, to protect the manufacturing and to protect co-workers so we can do the best we can to isolate each other from any infections that might happen. Every day we go in, our temperatures are tested.

Because of the rise in cases that have recently popped up, I think Idaho stepped back to Phase 3, so now any time we step away from our desk in the office, we’re wearing face masks just to ensure protection.

Sales have slowed down, we’ve noticed that. It’s interesting because a number of customers that I work with have pulled back their capex dollars. They’ve pulled in the reins on new equipment purchases.

From an end user standpoint, these guys have been really careful about the money they’re spending. I’ve seen a slowdown in spending money on our type of technology, and it’s not just me. I’ve got some dealers that sell auto-lube systems, fire suppression systems, safety lighting, etc and it’s affected everybody.

Preco Electronics’ Sean Martell, right, sees an interest in technology that elevates jobsite safety. Seated next to Martell is Syntron Material Handling’s Randy Webb. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

PRECO Electronics’ Sean Martell, right, sees an increased interest in radar technology in the aggregate industry. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

Do you notice any changes or trends in how aggregate producers approach and purchase equipment these days?

When I first joined PRECO Electronics [in 2015], there wasn’t a lot of talk about radar technology [in the industry]. Five years ago, camera technology was pretty standard on most equipment, and in the last five years you’ve seen it installed on a lot more equipment – anywhere from the compact equipment all the way up to the mine equipment.

You’ve really seen it come on board on the compact equipment in the last few years, which is really critical because those are the machines that work in tight, confined areas with people around them.

As far as radar goes, when I first started, there wasn’t what I anticipated would be a big interest or draw to it. There was some, but it wasn’t like it is today. There’s definitely been a big push with a certain number of customers where they’re looking to mitigate accidents. So the hurdles that I have to overcome now are nowhere near as tough as they were five years ago. It was much harder to sell it then then it is now, but it’s still very difficult.

The thing is, customers find equipment and they target it. They might have a few machines that they’re having concerns about, so they target it, but to get them to look at a fleet-wide [implementation] is still a challenge with the majority of after-market end users.

What I’m seeing now is I think there’s more demand for the technology then there was when I started here. They’re seeing the value of it. I’ve got mines who are evaluating this technology and they say ‘this stuff works great’ but they want it put on in the factory so it stays with the warranty with the machine.

So for us out there driving this on the end user side, it’s about driving it back to the OEs to get it on, to figure it out, and they’re all looking at it very seriously. Our division is talking to Caterpillar, Komatsu, John Deere, Case and everybody else you can think of – and that’s just in the off-road. We’re very well engrained in exposing these industries to the safety technology. So it’s growing and it’s getting more and more prominent.

I think from an end user standpoint, it’s easier if it can be put on from the factory than it is to do it after the fact. Again, it’s the logistics of shutting down the machine and finding the personnel to do it. I see different commitment levels, but that’s just the nature of the beast. In this business, production rules. You’ve got expensive machines and there’s the expectation that they get so many tons out a day because they’re running tight margins.

What are your expectations for the remainder of 2020 and early 2021, and what opportunities are you most excited for – both for your business and the industry as a whole?

With the acquisition, I think that’s going to open some exciting new opportunities for us on the supply chain side. Our buying power should improve considerably, simply because we were a small company now integrated into this multi-billion dollar company. They carry a bigger sledgehammer than we do with the supplier.

As far out the outlook, I’m seeing things ticking up. I was anticipating Q3 probably to see an improvement just because the construction industry has been strong anyway, and the aggregate mining has been pretty good. There’s still good momentum.

But we all sit here and wonder what our country is going to do as this pandemic flares up, and it is flaring up. What are the consequences going to be? Are they going to continue to let us work and keep things moving? We don’t know.


BEST ADVICE RECEIVED – “Get up one more time than you’re knocked down.”

HOBBIES – Apline skiing with my son, boating and working on an old ’62 Corvette

TRAVEL – Hawaii, Bermuda and Quebec 

SPORTS – Dirtbike racing and motor sports

BOOKS – Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Maze Runner

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