Powersoft at 25: A farm of ideas
Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, Paul Milligan went to Italy to speak to three senior figures at Powersoft to find out why R&D has been in the company’s DNA from the very beginning.
Founded in 1995 in Florence, Italy, Powersoft began by manufacturing high power, energy efficient amplifiers. Since then the company has expanded its range and its technology patents to cover a far larger part of the pro AV product spectrum. Now in its 25th year, I got to sit down with three senior figures, R&D director Claudio Lastrucci (CL), production engineering and project management director Antonio Peruch (AP) and CEO Luca Lastrucci (LL) to find out how the creation and growth of new ideas is at the forefront of how it plans for the future.
How would you describe the Powersoft approach to R&D?
(LL) I think the capability to innovate is in our DNA. We started the business 25 years ago with the development of a new idea for an amplifier. It’s part of our nature to try to develop new solutions, new technologies, and a new approach. Although we do listen to the market and the feedback from end users, integrators as well as our distributors, we don’t expect them to tell us what the products and solutions of the future will be. We have our own vision which enables us to not only create products that will still be relevant and used in 10 years’ time, but also breakaway products and technologies that will be shaping the industries of tomorrow, including proAV.
You have committed 30% of your workforce to R&D, why so many people in that field?
(LL) Innovation is key to drive the market, so we constantly invest in R&D. Around 8% of our turnover is dedicated to R&D, and this is driven not only by necessity, but also because this is what we want and like to do: we enjoy researching and developing new ideas, to see where they might take us.
Why do some ideas reach the manufacturing stage and others don’t?
(LL) Our process starts in two different ways; The first is from the inside; we have an idea at the coffee machine, and we identify if we should investigate further in this direction. We then analyse the costs and the timeline before making a decision to start. Other times it comes after an analysis of the market which prompts us to develop a new product for that area based on our findings and feedbacks. We a study phase at the beginning, and once we know that the development and manufacturing cost of the product as well as the timing are right, we then move on to the manufacturing stage.
Do you think there's still a perception in the market that Powersoft is ‘just an amplifier company’?
(CL) In the beginning Powersoft was simply considered as an amplifier company, but amplifiers are far more complex than they seem, and this arguably requires more skills than in any other areas of the pro-AV industry, as you need expertise in processing control, software, transducers systems, etc. There’s much more to it than just amplifying sound. Anyone who knows about the complexity of amplifiers will know that, and this is what we love here at Powersoft: Build a pool of knowledge that will serve the amplifier market, but also take us to new frontiers in sound, movement, power distribution and so on.
(LL) Although products like Deva and Mover, or technologies like M-Force are somehow linked to amplifiers, they are so much more than that, they create new opportunities and solutions to an ever more complex industry and are just a few examples of products that we are developing and which can be part of an AV ecosystem.
What patented technologies can we attribute to Powersoft over the last 25 years?
(AP) We have several patents for power conversion, we have transducer patents, devices that can step from the electrical domain to the acoustical domain or to the mechanical domain like Mover. We also have design patents and patents on processing methods to achieve a certain performance in terms of acoustic results with a speaker. A number of pivotal technologies were introduced by Powersoft in the market to constantly push the efficiency boundaries: Pulse Width Modulation, Power Factor Correction, Differential Pressure Control, Smart Rails Management are a few examples. But if we were to single out one technology that created a paradigm shift, it would probably be switch-mode technology.
(CL) From the very beginning, I was fascinated by power conversion and liked to spend time playing on car and hi-fi systems. But with only 12 volts to play with, I was looking for an effective method to step up the voltage. It became an obsession. The more I experimented, the more I was convinced it was possible to generate extraordinary power that would even exceeded the expectations of the professional world with switch-mode amplification. This is how the first professional Class-D amplifier was born. 25 years later, we are still looking for breakthrough technologies, not only in our R&D department, but also in our Ideofarm project.
What is Ideofarm and what are its aims?
(LL) It literally is a farm of ideas! We started this incubator in 2016 with the aim of dedicating a space for the younger generation to focus on research and develop ideas. We wanted to have a relationship with the community, so we host young people from schools to spend time there. We’ve also established a relationship with research centres around Italy and beyond, so we can help develop new ideas that come internally or externally. One benefit of Ideofarm is that it gives us the ability to think of new products to sell, in fact Mover came from Ideofarm. It’s also a great opportunity for our own R&D team to take their mind off a project they are working on by spending some time at Ideofarm, get some new ideas and give advice where they can.
The Mover and Deva products took many by surprise, are there any more surprises coming?
(CL) There are some surprises coming for sure, and some very interesting products and technologies coming soon that are not amplifiers, which were also born from Ideofarm. So if you are still thinking about Powersoft as an amplifier manufacturer, maybe now is a good time to think again.
Is it important for your products to be manufactured in Italy?
(AP) Made in Italy is of course important, and maybe of more value now than in the past: It is a guarantee for quality and creativity, which our market values. When we started we called our company Powersoft to try to make our customers think we were a major US company, not a small Italian manufacturer from Florence. Funnily enough, those three young guys at the start are now maybe a bit older but able to compete with those big US companies and have made a name in the pro audio market.
Would you say the competition looks different now than it did in 1995, if so how?
(CL) We don’t have the same competitors as 25 years ago as the scenario changes all the time. New companies emerge, other companies join bigger groups, but we managed to maintain our vision and direction: We have the same people with the same clear strategy. The team has of course grown, but people stick with Powersoft, and some of our staff have actually been here for 24 years! The quality of our products, but also the quality of our relationships is very important to us. Whilst we have big plans for the future, we are a family-oriented company.
(LL) At the end of 2018 we listed the company on the Italian stock market. This was a message to the market about how serious we are with our plans. We are transparent, our numbers are there for all to see. We didn’t list our company to raise cash, money isn’t a problem, and we only put 13% of our shares on the market, which is the minimum you are allowed for an IPO. The goal was to trigger a change of mentality in our internal processes, to have greater visibility and attract new talent in to the company. This is not the arrival point, but an accelerator and the starting point of the future of Powersoft.
How do you think product development has changed in the last five years?
(LL) In the early days, our products were developed “from the inside”, and I think we took the right path to listen to our customers more since then. So although we have our own long term vision, we know how to deliver what the market wants today and tomorrow. The other big difference nowadays is the much faster pace at which a product has to be developed: it has to be within 1 to 2 years maximum. Also the design process has changed, everything must be much more synchronised to achieve the right timing, cost and performance.
(AP) The thing is that, most of the time, what the customer needs now is not what they will need in 3-5 years’ time. That is another factor that is pushing to produce products in a shorter time, as customers can’t and won’t wait for long. This is why we have a very modern approach to production with state-of-the-art facilities.
(CL) In the last few years products have become even more complicated, so we needed more competency within the R&D lab. We are lucky enough to have a strong multidisciplinary team who can work together every day, and where every member can bring their expertise on a common project.