29 Sep, Tuesday
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There and Back: The Life Cycle of a Utah Product

The Beehive State has one of the strongest economies and lowest unemployment rates in the country. But that success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Many Utah companies work with partners beyond state borders and across international waters to develop, manufacture and distribute their products.

Take Orbit, for example. The Utah-based irrigation and watering company recently introduced a new smart sprinkler controller called B-Hyve. Before the product makes it to customers in U.S. and foreign markets, it takes a path from Utah to Asia and back again.

Making sprinklers smarter

“Historically, people have preferred to turn their sprinkler system on in the spring and off in the fall. If they don’t have to touch it in between, and the grass is green, then life is good,” says Mitch Lord, executive vice president and CMO at Orbit.

B-Hyve changes that. The controller allows homeowners to control their sprinkler system from a smartphone whenever they want. “Wherever you are in the world, you can turn things on or off or change programs,” Lord says.

While the mobile app is convenient, the biggest selling points are financial and environmental. The product uses data and algorithms to create a custom watering program for customers’ yards, based on historical weather conditions and future forecasts. It can also be customized for type of soil, slope of the yard, style of sprinkler heads and more.

“The need for water conservation is a big deal,” Lord says. The B-Hyve controller reduces water usage 30 to 50 percent, which adds up quickly, considering the average household uses about 2,000 gallons of water each time they run the sprinklers.

Water-thirsty states are taking note of the consumption savings and helping out with the price. “We intentionally brought B-Hyve to market at a price point—around $100—that makes it an easy decision for most consumers,” Lord adds. “And in most markets, including Utah, there is a state-funded rebate of 50 percent of the purchase price.”

 From ideation to execution

The ideas for products like B-Hyve begin at Orbit’s North Salt Lake headquarters, Lord says. “We have a robust product development process that spans everything from concept of the product, to market testing, to validation and the engineering design for manufacturing.”

Orbit then decides whether the product will be manufactured in North Salt Lake or in its Asian factories. Often, it’s a combination of the two. For the classic B-Hyve model, some of the components are received from southeast Asia while the majority of the components are manufactured locally and final assembly is completed in Orbit’s North Salt Lake facilities.

There are benefits and challenges associated with both local and overseas manufacturing, Lord says. Building products at its Utah location results in shorter lead times on finished goods and lower inventory requirements. However, in such a tight Utah labor market, it can be tough to find enough workers to fill the company’s needs.

Overseas manufacturing comes with cost savings—both in terms of production and materials—but the distance from Utah can create some challenges, Lord says. “We have an office in China and entire quality and sourcing and manufacturing teams there, but the distance and ability to manage the process as tightly as in the U.S. can be a challenge.”

Moving into markets across the globe

Once production of B-Hyve is complete, it makes its way to Orbit’s distribution warehouse in North Salt Lake and awaits shipment. The irrigation company sends the product to several types of customers, including contractors who buy the Hydro-Rain professional-grade version of the sprinkler controller from Orbit distributors, retail locations like Lowes, Home Depot and Walmart, and direct consumers who purchase B-Hyve through Orbit’s website or Amazon and other online retailers.

“Within the United States, there is substantial variation in terms of markets where the product goes,” Lord says. “California is the largest market for the B-Hyve product by far, but 48 of the 50 states have some level of watering demand.”

Though the United States is Orbit’s largest market, it also has a strong international presence, including Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

“[Australia] has a middle class with traditional homes with lawn and gardens,” Lord says. “It’s obviously much smaller than the U.S. in terms of population and market size, but it has a developed and strong irrigation and watering market.” After experiencing a number of droughts over the past 15 years, the country is also extremely focused on water conservation and efficiency—making a product like B-Hyve even more attractive to residents.

Though Lord says the packaging and messaging largely stays the same wherever Orbit products are sold, sometimes the product itself needs to be adapted. Such is the case in the company’s European markets.

“There are far fewer sprinkler systems in Europe, based on climate and size of properties.” As a result, Lord says, “A lot more of the European residential water is coming right out of a faucet or a garden hose.”

To meet that need, the company plans to launch a hose-faucet version of B-Hyve, which will be sold in European markets starting in 2019. “It effectively brings the benefit of smart watering, including convenience, control and weather information, to anyone who uses water outdoor from a hose faucet.”

Always getting better

Though it is no easy task to manufacture a product in the United States and abroad, get it shipped back home and then distributed throughout the world, Orbit feels up to the task.

“We’ve been doing this a long time and we typically produce a large number of new products each year,” Lord says. “We continually benchmark the process and adjust and improve it as we go.”

Lord says the B-Hyve product is just the beginning. The company is planning to build upon its smart controller to create a suite of products to create not just smarter sprinklers, but smarter lawns. Apparently, the 40-year-old sprinkler company is just hitting its stride.