04: Exploring Renewable Energy with Jay Austin of Kurz Industrial Wind Division
In this episode of Vox Verba, host Andrya Allen engages in a compelling conversation with Jay Austin, Vice President of Winds at Kurz Industrial Solutions. The episode delves into the world of wind energy, exploring Jay's journey from sales to leadership in the renewable energy sector. Jay sheds light on Kurz Industrial Solutions' role in the market, its core values, and the driving mission of the Wind Division. The discussion covers the unique challenges and solutions in the wind energy industry, as well as the importance of flexibility, customer-centricity, and sustainability.
- Introduction - (00:01)
- Jay's Career Journey - (01:30)
- Kurz Industrial Solutions Overview - (03:29)
- Impact and Value in the Wind Space - (08:18)
- Products and Services - (09:48)
- Innovations and Solutions - (11:20)
- Common Misconceptions - (19:24)
- Strength of Kurz Wind Division - (23:02)
- Closing Thoughts - (24:26)
Hello and welcome to Vox Verba, the show where we bring the narrative of innovation and the spirit of industry leaders to life. I'm Andrya Allen, your host, and today we are talking about a force that not only shapes our present, but powers our future, wind energy. With us is a figure who's making significant strides in the renewable energy sector, Jay Austin, Vice President of Winds at Kurz Industrial Solution. Jay stands out as the embodiment.
of what it means to drive change. His energy, commitment to excellence, his passion for solution-oriented strategies have propelled him to the forefront of wind energy solutions. Jay, in a time where renewable resources are more crucial than ever, leaders like Jay are instrumental in harnessing the wind to power our lives sustainably. Today's conversation is about foreseeing an industry and evolution and adapting to its demands.
Today we will uncover the stories behind Jay's strategies, his approach to growth, and his dedication to sustainability. From his start in sales to becoming the vice president of an industry leading company, we are set to explore a journey with Jay that brought him with Kurz Industrial Solutions to the pinnacle of the wind energy market. Jay, welcome to VoxVerb and thanking, thank you for joining us to share your story today.
Jay Austin (01:27.912)
Thank you for having me. It's great to be here.
Let's dive right into the conversation. Could we begin with a snapshot? Could you provide a brief introduction of yourself and the role that you play at Kurz Industrial Wind?
Jay Austin (01:44.756)
Sure, yeah, I started off on my career in electrical wholesale distribution, started in actually the warehouse and worked in a warehouse, picking boxes and sweeping floors, kind of transitioned from there to inside sales and learned about how to basically deal with the main customers in the electrical wholesale distribution space, which was a great learning experience for me.
transition from there to selling carbon brushes, which a lot of people don't know what that is. I didn't either when I started. Basically little blocks of carbon that go on generators that power a lot of different motors and machines and different applications. So Wind was a market I was dealing with and the one I was most passionate about, but there's a lot of actually really interesting things that we were selling to at the time, like locomotives, I really liked, power generation.
So I got the chance to actually was calling on Kurz as a potential customer. They kind of poached me from the role I was in and I've been going forward ever since. So I was actually the first ever employee at Kurz full time for the wind division. We're eight again now. So I'm very thrilled to have built a wind division within...
a large company and really trying to figure out ways to help our customers in the wind market specifically.
Congratulations, that's fascinating. Could you share a bit about the role that Kurz plays in the market that it's in?
Jay Austin (03:29.716)
Sure. We have two separate divisions. The industrial division is 105 years old. Started out as a repair shop in Wisconsin. There's four locations currently, soon to be more, in Wisconsin. And basically, we repair motors. We distribute components for the motors. And we also build custom panels within our industrial division. On the wind side, we have a lot of different things
We are basically focusing on the owner operators who are doing their own work on their machines. And with those owner operators, they're out of warranty, they can purchase their own parts, and we supply those parts to them. So it's a pretty niche market. Typically most warranty turbines are two years. So typically, let's say a site's built in 2019. We typically can't sell to them until 2021.
Jay Austin (04:55.496)
gotten out of their warranty. And then for us from there, we tried to do our best to help them with the manufacturer partners that we have to solve their problems and get their turbines online.
Okay, yeah. So for this conversation, we'll really focus in on the Wind Division, where you lead that team and those services. For every division and part of a company, there is a driving force or a North Star. What would you say is the driving mission behind the Wind Division at Kurz Industrial Solutions?
Jay Austin (05:34.792)
Our number one core value is build trusted relationships. And that goes in all directions. First with each other, with our teammates trying to help each other out. Second, with our clients who depend on us to provide timely responses and to just do the things we say we're gonna do. And third to our manufacturing partners. So if we're customer centric, if we take ownership,
And we build trusted relationships will be, will be great. It's definitely something that to me really sets us apart is how if a customer is really in a bind and we can help them out, we'll do everything in our power to, to help them out and get their turbines back online.
I love that being customer-centric and being able to focus on what they need as what drives you can make or break a company. You did mention this, that that's what sets you guys apart. Are there other things, or would you like to go deeper into how that might set you guys apart?
Jay Austin (06:36.476)
We try very hard to understand like the things that we sell, which basically means a lot of training from different suppliers, taking lessons from the manufacturers that we deal with and providing recommendations and solutions for our clients. So it kind of goes, it starts off going downstream. Sometimes the manufacturer has some insight information based on
their pre-existing relationships with the turbo manufacturers or even the owner operators directly. And then after a while, it goes back the other way where we go to customers, we ask their feedback and then take that information to manufacturers that help build solutions for them specifically. So in general, we're kind of the conduit between manufacturers and end users who are operating machinery. And I think with our nationwide scope.
and diversity in the turbines that we deal with and the customers that we work with, both, I guess, in a lot of different ways with procurement, with engineering, with site managers, with lead techs, with procurement people. I say procurement twice. You know, we basically help all these companies work together and create a cohesive package for them.
awesome. This, you did mention this before, but I'm curious, who would you say is the most impacted by your work? Who finds the most value in what you guys have to offer?
Jay Austin (08:18.216)
There's a lot of shifts that are happening in the industry in terms of the machinery is changing. I mean, there's a lot of new technicians in the space that are being asked to lead machines. I mean, wind turbine technician is like one of the fastest growing jobs in the United States. It's a huge challenge for these owner operators in the wind space.
I think the companies that are self-operating their machinery and especially technicians who are transitioning from, to site managers, those are the ones I think get the most value because we can really utilize our experience and help them with other customers. Like there's only really in the United States at this point, four major turbine OEMs that manufacture the machines.
we can utilize our expertise by dealing with different clients to help create solutions for other clients that maybe aren't as familiar with the machinery as, you know, another end user might be.
falls into this next question. Can you help me understand your products or services? Any services you offer? Any products people can get from you guys? And again, related to the when conversation.
Jay Austin (09:48.572)
Sure. Primarily, we are working with components in the nacelle and in the hubs. So in the hubs, that might be pitch motors, encoders, batteries, ultracapacitors, hydraulic hoses, hydraulic accumulators. In the hubs or in the nacelles themselves, that might be gearbox hoses, oils, greases.
Yaw components like yaw drives, yaw motors, yaw pistons, yaw pucks, hydraulic breaking stations, brake pads, pitch slip rings, generator brushes, generator slip rings. So there's quite a bit. Typically, I guess my mentality is that there's something that we can find that can help a customer out is just understanding what their needs are in order to create that offering that...
that most benefits them. Everyone has different philosophies on what they think is best, and we're not trying to sell anyone something they don't need. We're trying to help them with what they need by giving them exactly what they're after.
In your time, have you guys developed any complimentary or secondary services that maybe have come up or have been innovations based on what the marketplace is needed?
Jay Austin (11:20.952)
We, a couple of years ago, we worked with a company to build pitch motors that were at the time, much better than what was being offered. And that was a really huge market for us that we helped, you know, solve problems and create an upgraded solution on that. We also saw in a lot of situations, the standard batteries that were on towers were not really designed for a wind turbine. They were
not used to vibration, they were not used to extreme hot weather, extreme cold weather, the basically not being used often like in the batteries in the windspace would be used like maybe every two weeks or every month which would cause batteries to not perform when needed. So we worked with a company to develop an ultracapacitor solution that in terms especially marketing it to
which we were the first company distributing ultra capacitors in the wind space. But then most recently, we had a customer in Nebraska, a very, very experienced site manager, regional manager actually, who was saying the number one problem at our site was hoses. And I was like, what is a hose? Like, why do you need hoses? And he basically said that
these hoses were failing frequently that they, when they failed, they were dumping like 50 gallons of oil at the bottom of the cell, not, not out of the turbine, but at the bottom of the turbine. And that the, you know, they have to replace the oil, replace the hose. They were continuing to fail. The cleanup costs were enormous. And so we developed with our sister company who's motion flow and control products, who's the largest Parker Hannifin.
distributor in North America, an upgraded hose solution. And that's something I'm really proud of. I think out of our SKUs, we have something like 800, 900 hoses now.
Jay Austin (13:33.324)
Just based on different gearboxes and hydraulics systems that we've developed so far, and we're adding to that all the time. So I'm really proud of that as a solution and a value add that we've created for the windspace specifically. And I can't tell you how many towers I've climbed or my team has climbed trying to figure out them because the machines change. They're not the same.
What a story!
Jay Austin (13:58.924)
as what they were two, three years ago. They change all the time. So we're having to keep up all the different variations as they get built.
That's really interesting to hear the story of it. And it makes me wonder, you spoke really briefly in the beginning of our conversation about how you got here and a little bit of the history behind it. But I'm curious, can you share that history story, kind of the journey of your beginning to now?
Jay Austin (14:32.756)
Prior to my coming on, we were originally intending to get into repairs in the wind space. And we felt like that market was being well-serviced by a lot of other companies. And despite our industrial division having outstanding downtown repair capabilities, we felt like it was easier for us to, and more needed, I guess, for us to pivot into the part side.
Jay Austin (15:51.772)
We've basically, we've met with manufacturers to understand what they're looking for from the distribution partner. And we've allowed, and from that, we're able to take their message to our customers on their behalf to explain the value that they're putting out in terms of the price of their manufacturing and how it helps the customer solve their problems.
That's awesome. I love when any kind of division can not just grow from what you see in the marketplace, but then from the different stories you've told, be able to change and adapt, especially with an industry that has so many changes all the time. So that's really great to see how you guys have pivoted and been able to be flexible.
Jay Austin (16:42.024)
Thank you. Yeah. It's, it's been interesting to kind of find that niche and ultimately we have to go where, how our customers need us. Not kind of what is always the easiest for us.
That's so true. My next question on here is about a time that you were proud and you spoke on that previously. And so I kind of want to jump ahead because it's more in alignment with what you just said. My next question is, when you go through something hard, when you're in a difficult time, what serves as an anchor? And so I wanted to kind of jump to that because you had just said that you guys, even if it's not the easy thing.
And so I think this question about what's an anchor during the hard times is really appropriate. So what comes to mind for that?
Jay Austin (17:36.404)
Ultimately I would say that we're trying our best to be the help and we're going to make mistakes in terms of how we sell things, what we ship. We try our very best be perfect, but we can't be, we're human. It's inevitable. So we try to be open and honest with our customers and our suppliers on what's happening. Just knowing that we serve a purpose in renewable energy space that's so needed and that our clients and our manufacturing partners value what we do.
And that even when we're not perfect and we make mistakes and we have our challenges that ultimately our intentions are good and that our efforts are good to help this space that's needing the help.
Yeah. Oh, thank you for sharing that. I think it's really interesting. We set, you know, questions ahead of time for today's conversation, but they always seem to kind of naturally fall into each other. So my next question is about when you're in an industry for a while, you start to see common myths, misconceptions.
questions people have. And I'm curious, what have you seen in your time? Have you seen any overarching misconceptions in the marketplace or your industry that need to be cleared up?
Jay Austin (19:24.888)
I would say there's three that came to mind. One, like there's a theory that like birds and other animals don't like the turbines, which I've seen the opposite. I've seen where cows in fields will like follow the turbines's shadows and just like as the shadow moves, the cows are moving because they're trying to stay out of the sunlight. I've seen where birds have intentionally like.
flown through the blades. Maybe it's a rush for them. Maybe they're thrill seeking birds. I don't know. There's also, in my opinion, a misconception of if the turbines work in like really bad weather, especially snow. We've seen that when the turbines are equipped with like the right packages, that they work in all weather conditions, which...
It's a huge benefit of them, honestly. So there's definitely situations where people didn't opt for the right packages. And maybe there was more extreme weather than what they had originally intended. But I think in the most part, using Texas as an example, most of the owner operators have upgraded their machines to work in extreme winter conditions. Now, I think the snowstorm of maybe 2020 was a big catalyst for that.
Lastly, that, and I would say maybe this was true maybe five, 10 years ago, but I don't think it's true today. For the utilities themselves, like the companies that actually produce power and utilize the energy, it's very economical at this point. There's a conception that like it's all subsidy funded and that renewables would not be successful without like huge government intervention.
And what we're seeing now, and I've heard this from enough companies that I feel confident to say it, is it's actually less expensive for utility to build a new wind farm or solar farm from scratch than it is to maintain an existing coal-fired power plant.
Wow, that's compelling.
Jay Austin (21:43.124)
So it is for them a balance because, you know, it's not always windy, it's not always sunny, so they have to have a balance of sources of power to pull from. So there is still today a huge need for multiple different kinds of power to be produced. Like I'm not saying today we're not ready for full renewable energy, we're just not. But when people say that it's not
self-sustaining, I would dispute that strongly at this point.
It's so refreshing to hear that from someone in the industry and to see how much things have changed and grown. And now whether something works or not can be better verified.
Jay Austin (22:26.28)
For sure. And I think the challenge in terms of pricing is, we're trying to make these machines bigger and bigger to produce more and more power. But just making sure the quality of the machines is there and that the reliability of the machines is there is always going to be a major issue as the innovation is happening.
As we go deeper, what would you say is the singular or most important strength of Kurz wind division specifically?
Jay Austin (23:02.604)
Ultimately, it's flexibility. I would say we really try to cater to like, speed is the most important thing to our customers more than anything else they need to get these machines online. We have a lot of a big diverse network of suppliers that we work with that allow us to solve problems for our customers. And so, you know, when you have a team that cares and the team that will do go above and beyond to help.
Our clients, that's to me a big strength. And, and ultimately it's not the things that, you know, if someone says the magic words like down tower UPS red next day air need ASAP, you know, the magic code word set off alarm bells in our head and says, let's, let's take care of this as best we can and we can't do everything, you know, no company can, but we'll at least get back to someone to be responsive when we get those kinds of requests.
It really, you know, being flexible and then going back to being customer centric, flexible to the needs of the customer really kind of brings us full circle to today's conversation. As we close, is there anything that you would like to share that maybe we missed or we didn't cover today?
Jay Austin (24:26.032)
I think we covered a lot, but the market's changing. How we do things is changing the companies that are involved, the structures, the manufacturers, the best practices of how to maintain. So we'll try our best occurs to be on the cutting edge of these innovations but it's going to take continued communication among all different channels to be successful.
I'm definitely proud to be in renewable energy. I'm proud to be a representative of Kurz and, you know, I always do my best to help people.
That's awesome. Thank you so much, Jay. I really enjoyed today's conversation. Some things I'm kind of resonating or I'll be thinking about as we close out today is, you know, in this will be, okay, where, where are we in the world? We are on episode four. So at this point we have had conversations about metals. We've had conversations about automations. We've had conversations about sustainability.
And I really feel like wind and what we talked about today marries a lot of them, speaks to different manufacturers, OEMs. And then the key I've seen are kind of the thread between all episodes has been this major reliance on sustainability and technology. And so I'm really honored for your time and your insights today. Thank you. Kurz wind is
The brand of you guys is unique and valuable. I really enjoyed today's conversation. And in the next episode, we will be carrying forward more topics about manufacturing. We'll be hearing from more people in the industry and we'll be following up with what we heard today with Jay and related to Kurz brand. So thank you so much, Jay, for your time. And we'll see you guys on the next episode.
Jay Austin (26:29.832)
Thank you again.
Jay Austin (26:33.745)