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ATM's Frank Federman Discusses Business Challenges in the Thermal Management Product Category

Frank Federman and his business partner Walt Henry founded Active Thermal Management Inc. 10 years ago after Henry noticed that products made by the company he was working for at the time

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“Our dealers know that beyond selling fans, our real purpose is to make their thermal problems go away. They appreciate that.” —Frank Federman, Co-Founder, Active Thermal Management Inc. were overheating when installed in cabinetry, and that the problem wasn’t being addressed by the aftermarket. Federman, after stints working as an engineer for loudspeaker manufacturer KLH, video projector pioneers, Advent Corp. and Kloss Video Corp., and Harman International as a product developer for Harman Kardon, JBL Synthesis, and Revel, recognized a business opportunity. He developed a few cooling products to solve his problems of the moment, and things grew from there. After a relatively short period of time, ATM became a full-time occupation. The industry veteran recently answered our questions about his company and the industry’s understanding of thermal management.

What is your biggest hurdle as a provider of thermal management products?
In the beginning, it was convincing the unwashed multitude that cooling was necessary in many installations and could be done quietly. Now that the product category has matured and is widely recognized as legitimate—and profitable—the focus has shifted to answering the competition that has come into the market by developing superior products and marketing. More importantly, we provide a level of technical support that would be hard to match.

What’s your driving mission when trying to educate professional integrators?
There are still some who don’t recognize the need for adequate cooling and some who “roll their own,” designing cooling methods on the fly for their installations. We try to educate these folks (using scare tactics only as a last resort) and bring them to the realization that yes, they need cooling, and yes, we can do it better than they can. The last comment isn’t entirely facetious; we’ve been doing it for so long, and have heard of (and solved) so many installation problems, and have access to so many of the necessary “bits and pieces” (thermally activated circuits and switches, quality fans, etc.) that we have an enormous advantage over the integrator or installer who has an immediate problem but little experience with venting and cooling. Our dealers know that beyond selling fans, our real purpose is to make

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Active Thermal Management’s Cool-line series serves both residential and commercial cooling needs. their thermal problems go away. They appreciate that.

What product or technology developments have driven changes to your current line?
The fact that there is such a plethora of equipment these days has caused certain people (we’ll call them “women”) to insist on enclosing the audio/video gear that seems to be taking over their homes, and getting “those damn wires and black boxes out of sight.” Effective, quiet cooling is frequently the compromise that let’s them have their home theater and their décor.

For another, the steady increase of number of audio channels in a typical installation has increased from 1 to 47 (according to my wife), or perhaps just seven. This means more heat. The introduction of wide-bandwidth (“hi-def”) digital gear (satellite receivers, cable boxes, PVRs) has resulted in more BTUs being dissipated in many installations, and the fact these items are typically on 24/7 has really exacerbated the heat problem. We, of course, see this as a good thing...a very good thing, indeed.

What product goals have you set for 2009?
We plan to offer more products for both the residential and commercial AV firms, such as the Cool-line series we’re just now starting to ship. With their linear format and availability in one, two, and three fan formats, these should solve a lot of problems in commercial installations and in contemporary residential settings, as well.

We expect that our customer base will continue to tell us what they need; while we’re helping them during a tech support call, they’re telling us what’s going on in the real world that they face every day, what the (thermal) issues are, and what problems might be solved by products we haven’t yet developed.

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