Remember Charles Darwin — the evolution guy? When not waxing eloquently on South American lizard species, he went on record as saying, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor is it the most intelligent. Instead, it is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” He could have been talking about the business of motion system design.

Let me explain: Our business is the Galapagos Island of manufacturing. Our world is where rapid changes in material quality, mechanical design, and subminiature electronics develop a warped biology of mega-change. This microcosm continues to be inundated by a natural synthesis of worldwide demands for greater quality, improved precision, and ever more efficient production. Is it any wonder that successful companies thrive on adaptation?

Nowhere is adaptation more evident than in the world of motion-component distribution. Just a few years ago, our island was a crossroads for distributors from a number of specialized disciplines. Salespeople hawked electrical supplies, mechanical equipment, bearings, gears, hydraulics, pneumatics, and safety products like Third World street vendors. Each was aware of a tiny slice of the total solution, none able to see the bigger picture. When it came to compatibility or interoperability, it was buyer beware on steroids. Now let's watch Darwin's theory at play. Some of these distributors began to morph. After a couple of recessions and an explosion in interconnectivity, we started to notice a creature so different, it's hard to recognize the ancestral roots.

The emerging motion system distributor carries the DNA of some of our oldest suppliers, but with impressive modifications. Consider a specimen of this new distributor species, Power Transmission Distributor Association (PTDA) member Ohio Transmission and Pump (OTP) of Columbus, Ohio. First off, OTP has built their website, www.otpnet.com, to allow product comparisons, technical questions, and prompt interaction with technical experts. They list FAQs on diverse topics ranging from bearings to PLCs to belt drives, while a News and Events area details training sessions offered in conjunction with suppliers.

For a bit more of the company's evolutionary history, we spoke with Jack Grote, OTP's chief operating officer. OTP began its transformation about 20 years ago to satisfy customer requests: Both prospects and customers expressed a need for pneumatic expertise, which OTP strove to deliver. Over time, the company has continued to add new technologies and expertise as its customers' needs grow. Today, OTP provides a broad base of motion and automation products, but their real forte comes from providing solutions.

“The wider one's swath of expertise, the greater the value one brings to the customer,” explains Grote. “We strive to bring the breadth of product offerings one would expect from a major supplier, and the depth of product knowledge one would expect from a niche vendor.”

This new breed of distributors fills a growing need in motion control. Rapidly evolving technology necessitates solution-based partners ready and able to help across whole fields of technology. And, based on the story of Ohio Transmission and Pump, one can't always assume limited technology offerings based on name alone. Call it a hazard of evolution.

Frank Hurtte consults at River Heights Consulting, Davenport, Iowa, specialists in knowledge-based distribution. He can be reached at frank@riverheightsconsulting.com.