Octagon computers ‘brains’ behind many systems

WESTMINSTER — Anyone who’s traveled on a Boeing 777 on a sweltering summer day appreciates the air-conditioned flight. It makes traveling comfortable, like those overhead lights that allow us to pass slow hours reading the latest John Grisham novel or preparing for an important presentation.

But while many travelers appreciate these simple but essential benefits of air travel, few know the secret to what makes them work.

Octagon Systems Corp. specializes in making these and many other essential benefits of daily life work. Based in Westminster, Octagon designs and manufactures embedded, PC-compatible industrial computers used by original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, to keep traffic moving through cities and trains on schedule, cut lumber, even make cookies.

Octagon President John McKown says the computers are “the brains of a machine made by someone else.” The role of an industrial computer in making everyday, real processes happen is one of the main ways it differs from a desktop computer. “A desktop interfaces with an unreal world,” McKown says. “Trying to make a motor or locomotive run is another task.”

Octagon has clients in the transportation, security and aerospace markets. Most recently, the company has ventured into new technologies, such as paperless billboards and wireless communications.

Octagon was founded in 1981. In the past 20 plus years, the computer maker has amassed an impressive client list that includes the U.S. military, General Electric, Siemens and Adtranz, the largest transportation company in the world. Even with the retention of these and other clients, the competitive nature of the industrial computer market constantly keeps McKown on the lookout for new technologies that can be translated into something useful for customers.

“You can no longer ask customers what they will need in the future because they simply don’t know,” he says. “You have to take new technologies and decide how you can make them work for your customer.”

The market for embedded systems is expected to grow at an average annual growth rate of 13 percent, rising from $32 billion in 1998 to nearly $67 billion in 2004, according to research conducted by Business Communications Company Inc.

Octagon computers are smaller than standard industrial computers and, as a result, more versatile. They also are embedded, meaning the system comes with the software already installed and guaranteed. They also can run with any operating language, a major advance in the industrial computer world, according to McKown.

They also cost more than the industry standard. Octagon industrial computers range anywhere from $500 to $1,500. The smallest Octagon computer is $500; the standard is around $300.

But cost is not the main factor customers consider when purchasing one of these computers, according to McKown. “People’s lives depend on these computers,” he says. “You want something reliable.”

Octagon’s rugged systems operate in hostile environments with no ventilation and over a temperature range extending from minus 40 to 175 degrees. Unlike a basic desktop PC, Octagon computers can withstand severe shock and vibration. “You could shoot at it with a shotgun, and it would survive,” McKown says.

Octagon designs and manufactures all products on-site. The Westminster headquarters is the privately owned company’s only location, and McKown says the company has no need to expand at this point.

Octagon sells to customers worldwide through a network of direct sales representatives and distributors in 40 countries. The company currently has 300 active customers with 50 percent of its business coming from international clients. McKown would not reveal revenue figures, but says Octagon’s four-year plan is to double sales with 20 percent more people. About 50 employees work on-site. Octagon also employs contractors.

McKown says Octagon’s employees set the company apart from the competition. “We have a community of people that like working here,” he says. “It’s with this energy that we’re able to drive innovation and satisfy people in the marketplace. It’s a matter of integrity, saying what you’re going to do and doing it.”

To retain employees, Octagon nurtures an atmosphere of mutual respect that works to eliminate the politics and hierarchy that can negatively impact company culture.

John Collar, vice president of operations, joined Octagon in February. He highlights the company’s integrated team approach, flexibility and focus on attitude more than skill base as essential elements of Octagon’s corporate culture.

“(Octagon) provides a tremendous opportunity,” he says. “There’s a great foundation to work from and an interest in moving to the next level. Octagon is poised to be successful.”

WESTMINSTER — Anyone who’s traveled on a Boeing 777 on a sweltering summer day appreciates the air-conditioned flight. It makes traveling comfortable, like those overhead lights that allow us to pass slow hours reading the latest John Grisham novel or preparing for an important presentation.

But while many travelers appreciate these simple but essential benefits of air travel, few know the secret to what makes them work.

Octagon Systems Corp. specializes in making these and many other essential benefits of daily life work. Based in Westminster, Octagon designs and manufactures embedded, PC-compatible industrial computers used by original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, to keep traffic moving through cities and trains on schedule, cut lumber, even make cookies.

Octagon President John McKown says the computers are “the brains of a machine made by someone else.” The role of an industrial computer in making everyday, real processes happen is one of the main ways it differs from a desktop computer. “A desktop interfaces with an unreal world,” McKown says. “Trying to make a motor or locomotive run is another task.”

Octagon has clients in the transportation, security and aerospace markets. Most recently, the company has ventured into new technologies, such as paperless billboards and wireless communications.

Octagon was founded in 1981. In the past 20 plus years, the computer maker has amassed an impressive client list that includes the U.S. military, General Electric, Siemens and Adtranz, the largest transportation company in the world. Even with the retention of these and other clients, the competitive…