How Henry Tachick Bet the Farm
Some of the world’s most iconic brands got their start in surprisingly modest settings: Harley-Davidson built its first motorized bicycles at the turn of the 20th century in a small shed in Milwaukee. In the early 1980s, Apple and Hewlett-Packard built their first computer hardware in residential garages in the Bay Area of northern California.
Dairyland Electrical Industries has an equally down-to-earth origin story. The company began when Henry Tachick was in the right place at the right time with an inventor’s mindset. As demand for his clever products grew, the family farm played a starring role as Dairyland’s first manufacturing facility. To get the fledgling company off the ground, he literally had to “bet the farm.”
How solving a problem became the seed for a business
In 1982, while working as a manufacturing sales representative, a utility customer asked Henry for help in proposing an isolation transformer that would electrically separate the utility’s neutral line from the neutral line of a farm. Their goal was to eliminate stray voltage that can sometimes exist on a power utility neutral from entering a dairy farm.
In the process of considering this request, Henry believed there was a better and less costly way to accomplish this objective by using a voltage-triggered electronic isolation switch.The utility was receptive to his proposal and they were willing to conduct tests of a prototype device on their system. Henry assembled a prototype which he called the Neutral Isolator, which they tested on their network.
After those tests proved successful, Henry approached two other major utilities in Wisconsin to determine if they would, along with the first utility, share the cost of testing a reasonable number of samples at a high-power testing facility. These tests were performed to determine if these prototype devices could withstand the lightning and AC faults that can occur on these systems. These more formal tests were also successful, which meant Henry had a marketable product on his hands – along with three initial customers for it.
Henry started selling the Neutral Isolator in early 1983. Initially, it was built by a contract manufacturer. But Henry soon realized that the device’s construction was so manageable that he and his family could assemble Neutral Isolators themselves. So he set up a small shop in the milk house of the family farm he grew up on, which he and his wife purchased in 1974, and put his two teenage children to work assembling Neutral Isolators. “They worked their way through high school and paid their own way through college doing this,” he recalls.
Dairyland was initially created as a C corporation. That meant at the beginning of each calendar year, it started out with no cash. To bootstrap the young company’s operations, Henry borrowed money from the bank, using the farm as collateral. It soon became apparent that Dairyland’s future was more expansive than he could have ever imagined.
Customers soon found new uses for a variation of the Neutral Isolator that were not initially envisioned. A case in point: A utility in northern Indiana discovered the Neutral Isolator could be used for DC isolation to address several issues associated with the required corrosion protection of underground gas pipelines.
In this application, the customer was using Neutral Isolators to replace polarization cells that were being used for this purpose. These devices required routine maintenance and they contained a bath of potassium hydroxide, a caustic substance that required workers to wear protective clothing and were a maintenance headache. This application was discovered by a corrosion engineering company and they asked if the Neutral Isolator could be private labeled for them to sell to the corrosion industry.
“At the time, I knew nothing about the corrosion industry. But we made some samples, put their nameplate on them, and they added them to their catalog,” Henry recalls. As a result, Dairyland was contacted by other potential users that were interested in this product. But in meeting with several of them, Henry discovered that the ideal device for corrosion industry applications was a device that blocked DC current but was always low impedance to AC current.
In contrast, the Neutral Isolator blocked both ac and DC current up to a pre-determined voltage threshold. As a result, this new product was easily adapted to the corrosion industry, where it is referred to as a “decoupler.” It has since become the major part of Dairyland’s business.
Dairyland also joined the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE), which helped give the company and its innovative products much-needed visibility. “It opened up a lot of doors for us, and was key to how we sold the product to the corrosion market. For years, my son Mike and I criss-crossed the country, presenting technical papers about pipeline corrosion problems at NACE regional and national events,” Henry recalls. “It wasn’t a hard sell. We just talked about the problems we knew they had on corrosion systems, and how to solve them,” he emphasizes.
Much to Henry’s surprise, his solid-state decoupler design took the power utility corrosion industry by storm, replacing most existing polarization cells with a significantly more reliable, maintenance-free solution. Soon after, the other segments of the corrosion industry, such as underground pipeline companies, expressed interest in lower-rated decouplers that would meet the needs in their segments of the corrosion market.
“There was a real need for devices that would electrically isolate sections of gas and liquid pipelines so they could be better protected against corrosion,” Henry recalls. “Also, most of these pipelines were being forced into corridors with electric power transmission lines, so induced AC was a growing concern. This was another issue that could be easily addressed with decouplers. At the same time, AC fault protection is needed to protect pipeline workers,” he adds. Dairyland’s rugged and reliable decouplers handle these three scenarios plus several others.
Dairyland solid state decouplers have been, and continue to be, a rugged, reliable solution for a variety of electrical applications worldwide with an outstanding reliability record. Their applications have expanded to include storage tank decoupling, gradient control mat isolation and galvanic isolation of boats when plugged into shore power in a marina.
Growing a company that cares
“I never dreamed that the company would grow to its current size,” Henry recalls. “I just enjoyed experimenting and helping people solve electrical problems.” That focus on helping others continues to influence the company he founded, even though he is now retired.
“I’m proud that Dairyland takes such great care of its customers,” he explains. “It provides a lot of application counseling, free of charge. People appreciate that.” He adds that most of the people coming into the corrosion protection industry don’t have an electrical background. As a result, there’s a constant, ongoing need for education on how decouplers can address those problems that inherently exist on corrosion protected systems.
The bottom line, in Henry’s mind, is that helping others is simply good business. “I’m not a fan of high-pressure sales. If we can help other people solve their challenges, the business will come,” he declares.