The company that would become Cogent Power started out of a garage around 1973 and, in the ensuing five decades, has become a trusted Canadian supplier to the electrical energy industry.
Cogent supplies specifically to businesses involved in electrical machinery that use electrical steel products, with almost 100 percent of Cogent’s products and services going toward the upkeep of motors, generators, and electrical transformers for power supplies or conversion.
The company will frequently supply transformers that go into specific electrical devices like MRI machines or various other types of transformers (pull-top, padded mount, large substation) in a countryside setting.
Company president and CEO Ron Harper is quick to point out further instances involving the unique applications that the company is a part of, such as acting as supplier for a small customer out of Quebec which had an emergency need to build power supplies for hospital beds, or for one of its American customers providing power to mobile hospitals in need.
Electrical power is Cogent’s game, and it can act as a supplier for it in myriad dynamic and versatile ways.
Harper details Cogent as being a make-to-order product business with a low level of standardization and high turnaround; as a result, Cogent places a premium value on being reliable as a supplier in terms of delivering its products and being available to clients as much as possible.
Speaking the client’s language
The company’s client focus comes through in aspects like its approach to problem solving, where Cogent employees will work together with clients on a design and product applications to get the best result. “We have more client product design engineers on our staff than most competitors combined,” Harper continues. “We can speak the language of our clients.”
The company’s clientele can always feel like they have the best materials, the most reliable delivery, and the flexibility to make changes at any time.
Harper describes the company as one that is very material-driven, an identity which exists at the other end of what he views as a directional choice within the industry.
On one hand, there are those businesses in the electrical space that lean toward a commodity-focused experience due to the industry’s very nature and the raw materials that go into supplying it.
Cogent finds itself on the other side, finding great success by integrating products and services in a more solution-oriented approach to product supply.
Harper explains that 100 percent of the company’s raw material stock is a thin-gauge electrical steel product which is finished into electrical components. However, while many people in the industry have a similar background in steel and so approach it in a similar way, the Cogent team engage differently with the product.
Their difference – and their strength – comes from working closely with clients in an advisory role, and from taking up a more strategic position than many competitors, who are used to a more transactional relationship, care to do.
Looking back on 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic presented its own challenges and opportunities for Cogent as an established name. Harper feels that the company managed the unusual situation generally quite well thanks to its large and diverse workforce, which worked hard to keep the virus out of the business and implement changes and new practices to maintain and protect the bottom line.
The company was designated an essential business from the beginning with orders and demands picking up in the pandemic’s early months as clients looked to get ahead of changes in their supply chains.
Harper admits that the first couple of months were the hardest, however, due to the uncertainty and discomfort many felt at the changes in the workplace and the world. Challenges cropped up as employees began to stay away from the office out of health concerns. The company filled the gaps with workers who had been displaced at other industries due to quarantine measures.
This, along with the constantly changing communication around the virus, its effects and its spread, fostered an industry-wide tumultuous climate. Fortunately, this company was able to gets it feet back under it in quick time and remains on steady ground to this day.
Flexible and adaptable
Harper admits that a lot of the challenges faced by Cogent, outside of the outstanding global circumstances, are not unique to the company and are handled deftly by a “flexible and adaptable team which can work in a client-focused way and is willing to put the effort in.”
Cogent’s raw materials are 100 percent steel products with steel markets going through surprising developments at the end of 2020. A shortage in materials and an increase in price means that the industry is seeing supply-and-demand constraints but with an added challenge for Cogent of significant growth occurring in the electric and hybrid vehicle markets.
Demand is constraining the supply of raw materials and it is a challenge for companies to source the materials to supply long-term and potential clients, leading to a skyrocketing in prices.
The company also has its own share of typical seasonal challenges as well as those that are more recent and market focused.
Cogent rents two large heat-treating facilities that experience a major rise in heat during summer weather conditions, which can become a health and safety problem at times.
The company is also a large supplier to the US market of distribution transformers which typically become casualties of hurricanes and tornadoes, leading to peak demands during those seasons.
There has even been a pickup in demand recently thanks to the freezing temperatures seen in Texas in the early winter months of 2021.
Dealing with these unpredictable emergencies is nothing new to Cogent, which will typically rearrange its production around clients in need, and turn its services around in a couple of days with its usual customer-first attitude. Clients’ problems and emergencies are responsibilities the company takes on as they happen and it looks to rise to the challenge even better with the aid of its new backer.
Since a previous feature on Cogent Power in Business in Focus Magazine in 2019, the company has undergone an ownership change, being acquired by a large Japanese company called JFE Holdings (part of the JFE Shoji Corporation), making Cogent a part of the JVI Electrical Components Group.
Cogent is now affiliated with a group inside a large business where electrical machinery, along with the specialized nature of Cogent’s products and services, are uniquely aligned with a new strategy.
Harper explains that, from a component side, the company has primarily provided transformer components, but with new ownership comes a capability and capacity that can enable Cogent to grow into more motor and core components.
JFE is also a critical supplier with Japanese auto manufacturers where future opportunities lie in electric- and hybrid-vehicle motor manufacturing, especially as gasoline and diesel systems change to more sustainable options.
This means that corporations like JFE will require more of the products and materials that companies like Cogent process. Harper summarizes JFE’s role: “JFE is a regional leader in Japan and has a strong strategic vision to be a bigger player as the new market emerges.”
Cogent is more than ready to be a part of the long-term vision of JFE Shoji. Harper foresees that many short-term challenges may soon crop up on the supply side of the business, but the new parent company expects growth from Cogent in the next 10 years by taking advantage of its new markets and strengthening its transformer position.
Big part of the plan
Cogent looks to continue supporting local partners moving toward electrical and hybrid vehicle solutions in that time. As Harper says of the current state of play, “Cogent is just starting down the path but will be a big part of the plan moving forward.”
The company will also continue to be part of developments in the electrical grid and will be looking into opportunities to make the grid more efficient and intelligent in how it supplies power to businesses and residences.
Cogent Power has gone through a lot of growth and challenges, but Harper recognizes that it has been built on the support, strength, and flexibility of the entire team.
“We couldn’t have gotten to where we are without a team focused on growth – a team that was a helpful contributor in getting the business to where it is,” Harper summarizes. New developments and exciting plans lie ahead for this business in the coming years.