Fiber supplier shake-up

GE Security to absorb IFS; former IFS head launches Comnet
Sunday, June 1, 2008

DANBURY, Conn.--When the non-compete agreement George Lichtblau had signed following the 2003 sale of International Fiber Systems to GE Security ran out in September, he was ready to come out of retirement.

“I love the business,” he said. “I like the excitement, the camaraderie, the design ... I don’t need any money. It’s just a fun business and the people are great to work with.” So he bought a manufacturing plant here and will in June open Communication Networks, to be known as ComNet, to directly compete with his former firm, selling fiber optic video, audio and data communication products.

This comes at a time when the market will see the IFS brand disappearing as GE Security integrates IFS into GE Security as a whole, closing the Newtown headquarters and moving the manufacturing largely to Lincolnton, N.C., and customers service to Salem, Ore.

“Basically,” said Andy Acquarulo, manager, fiber products for GE Security, “it’s going from a standalone business to a product line.” In a move that’s not a-typical for GE Security following an acquisition, the company will leverage GE’s worldwide manufacturing capabilities to get some cost out of the IFS product, without affecting the supply chain.

In fact, said Acquarulo, “right now we ship in 48 hours. Maybe we can get that down to 24 hours. You might actually see an improvement.” He also said the customer service process should be more streamlined and the quality of the products should improve as Lincolnton is an ISO 9000 plant, while there will be “no change to the IFS direct sales personnel.”

He couldn’t put a time line on when the IFS brand will disappear for good, but “you’ll see it in our literature,” he said. “It will migrate to a more GE Security look and feel.”

This is also part of a larger goal, starting from the GE Security top with chief executive officer Dean Seavers, of emphasizing GE Security solutions over the sales of “black boxes” as standalone items. IFS products will be more integrated into the GE Security product line as a whole.

Some former IFS employees have already moved over to the nascent ComNet. Skip Haight, the former IFS director of marketing, is back on board with Lichtblau serving in the same role for ComNet, and the closing of the Newtown facility means “now [former employees] are available to work for me,” said Lichtblau.

ComNet has focused its product design “heavily in digital products,” Lichtblau said, with “products for IP video, with compression and without compression, transmission of Ethernet over optical fiber, and similar products in wireless.”

“We’ll still offer the same point to point that we always have,” said Haight, referring, actually, to IFS with his “we,” but ComNet has made “a lot of investment on a complete line of IP switches, media converters, all the things that really go into what’s between the network, getting video and access control on the network. It’s going to be really rugged, hardened stuff.”