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PowerLogic History: Intrigue, Innuendo... and Murder!

This is a blog about PowerLogic history—did you really expect any of that?.  My apologies for the deception.  But at least it got you to read this far.  Feel cheated?  Hopefully you'll still find something of interest.  Or your money back.

May 2019 marks the 30-year anniversary of the "PowerLogic Business Venture," announced in May 1989.  Based in Smyrna, Tennessee, the new Square D business had a team of about a dozen people.  This was the first formal recognition of the PowerLogic team, but the roots of the activity extended several years earlier.

What Was the Electrical Industry Like Back Then, GrandBob?

In the early 1980s, the US electrical industry leaders included General Electric, Westinghouse and Square D Company.  GE introduced an "intelligent switchgear" offering called the Epic System (Electrical Protection, Instrumentation and Control).   Westinghouse took a different approach, possibly due to its strong OEM components orientation, launching a stand-alone multifunction meter called IQ Data Plus.  This product combined the most commonly specified metering options at the time (ammeter, voltmeter and watthour meter) with others that could be added through software (power, power factor, frequency measurement, etc.).

At the time, Square D organized its circuit breaker product lines under its "Distribution Equipment" division and its assembled power equipment product lines (switchgear, switchboards and panelboards, into which circuit breakers were installed) under its "Power Equipment" division.  Before GE and Westinghouse had launched their products, these two Square D divisions had joined forces to define a development project for enhanced circuit breaker features, plus satellite accessories for metering and control.  The new system would be incorporated into Square D power equipment to gain competitive advantage versus its main rivals.  The project’s sponsors were Dan Kelly (DE Division) and Don Selby (PE Division), with implementation led by Ed Larsen (DE) and Bruce Lindholm (PE).

The Square D DPACS Project is Born

In early 1984, the Square D development project called "Digital Protection and Control System" (DPACS) had begun, with development teams in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (already a circuit breaker plant location) and Pinellas Park, Florida (where the company made sensors and transducers).  Ed Larsen, Product Planning Manager in Cedar Rapids, led a Steering Committee with representatives from the project team and both DE and PE divisions.  Unfortunately, by early 1987, it was apparent that the project would not succeed as planned.  The concept (breaker trip unit as “heart of the system”) was questioned, the target costs exceeded, and no completion date was in sight.  The team was disbanded, but the market need remained.  Furthermore, by this time, the GE Epic system posed a competitive threat to the Square D switchgear business, and some divisions had begun to install the Westinghouse IQ Data Plus meter.  Square D needed to respond.  Urgently.

DPACS Project 2.0

Ed Larsen was asked to rebuild the team and restart the project.  Since Bob Kennedy had served on the DPACS steering committee and had expressed his vision (polite for "big mouth") for a new product concept, Ed hired him to lead product planning and marketing.  Bob moved from Smyrna to Cedar Rapids in January 1988.  [Editor's personal note: The first day did not reach zero degrees Fahrenheit.  The car wouldn’t start.  Bob's southern wife Dana was in shock.]  Soon, Ed also hired Lee Wallis, already in Cedar Rapids, as Engineering Manager.  Lee hired a small team of engineers with expertise in hardware and software design: Wayne Stopplemoor, Ken Zelmer, Neil Swanson, Kevin Zelhart, and Jim Giordano.  Bob lured Don Rickey away from GE as a marketing engineer.  Don would soon be promoted to build and lead the company's profitable Engineering Services team (and go on from there to even more success).

DPACS Phase 1, 2 and 3

By late 1987, a new product concept was envisioned, focusing on the value of power system information available on a PC, beyond local metering of power equipment.  The new DPACS team planned to tackle the project goals in three phases.  First, to get something to market quickly, off-the-shelf PLC components and transducers were combined with system monitoring software developed by the team.  By mid-1988, the DPACS monitoring system was functionally adequate, but it was composed of a beastly array of expensive hardware.  At least the LV switchgear plant finally had something to quote when a project was specified with competitors' products—even if privately they hoped the customer would choose the base bid.  The DPACS team delivered a beta system to Chrysler in Detroit in late 1988.  Mercifully, no Phase 1 system was ever sold.

In Phase 2, the first Square D Circuit Monitor, CM-100 and CM-200 series, was introduced.  (The only difference between the two models was waveform capture (CM-200).  The new Circuit Monitors were designed to mount in front of the circuit breaker compartments in Powerzone III LV switchgear (because switchgear space comes at a premium).  The new meters could be integrated into an automation system using Square D’s open data communications protocol called Sy/Max and its level 2 network called Sy/Net.  By this point, Square D finally had a competitive offer for power monitoring and control.

Phase 3 was intended to integrate the same metering as the Circuit Monitor into an electronic trip system under development for a new Square D power circuit breaker (replacing the brand-labeled DS breaker from Westinghouse).  However, the power breaker program was eventually discontinued; instead, the DPACS team collaborated with Westinghouse to add metering and communications to its Digitrip trip system (e.g., Digitrip 810D) for DS breakers.  Years later, the metering specifications originally written for the new Square D breaker were finally implemented—part of the new Masterpact project—following Square D's acquisition by Schneider Electric.  The Micrologic type A, P and H trip units represented the completion of the DPACS project’s Phase 3 goals.

Leaving the City of Five Smells so Soon?

So why did the team move from Cedar Rapids, Iowa?  Internal company politics.  (Some things never change.)  In early 1989, the Power Equipment (PE) division and Distribution Equipment (DE) division leadership disagreed on the DPACS project's management.  The DPACS project team was part of the DE Division organization, but the project funding came from the PE Division.  New PE Division VP Jodie Glore was not happy with this arrangement.  He told the team they could be based anywhere in the US—except Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Welcome to Music City USA

The DPACS team considered several cities for relocation.  Milwaukee was (then) the headquarters for the sister division for automation products.  St.Louis was considered, perhaps for its airport hub, perhaps for its Budweiser beer.  But the Nashville area was the clear front-runner, as it was the PE division's headquarters and home to both the Smyrna switchgear plant and PE division marketing and engineering teams.  The team proposed the move to Nashville, and relocation plans were soon underway.  Ed Larsen did not leave Cedar Rapids—he was still needed to lead the power breaker development program.  Lee Wallis, Gary Anderson, Don Rickey, Jim Giordano, Kevin Zelhart, Ken Zelmer, and Bob Kennedy all agreed to move south.  The PowerLogic story continued in Smyrna, Tennessee, as the PowerLogic Business Venture was announced in May 1989, to be led by W. Gary Jones.

High Praise from the CEO

Years later, the Power Management Operation (as it was called) had weathered the storm of all the executives who thought about disbanding the team.  PowerLogic had met its initial strategic objective to help differentiate Square D’s power equipment business and grow market share.  The division had also become profitable beyond its inter-company sales alone, spawning a global product division of Schneider Electric that would then merge with former rival PML.  In a speech to the team (by then numbering in the hundreds), Charley Denny, President and CEO of Schneider Electric North America, said "when the history of Square D is written, PowerLogic will be considered among the company’s greatest successes, along with QO and I-Line."  Very appropriate this praise should come from him—he had been an unwavering supporter dating back to the project's inception.  High praise indeed.

Quintrex Center offices
DPACS offices, across the street from the main circuit breaker plant in Cedar Rapids
office Don Rickey
DPACS team office.  Yes, that's future Schneider Electric VP Don Rickey, alone but hard at work

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