Helping drivers and saving energy

  • By Amy Watkins <i>For HBJ</i>
  • Wednesday, March 26, 2014 11:02am

EVERETT — Norm Dittmann hopes most people never notice his company’s work.

He’s the president of PLC Multipoint, which specializes in lighting control systems for tunnels and bridges. The controls detect sunlight and motion to turn on lights in dark areas of roadways to help drivers while saving energy.

“The best job that we do is one that you don’t even know it’s happening,” Dittmann said. “You’re going into the tunnel and you haven’t slowed down because you think you’re going into a dark hole and you’re safe. We’re part of this invisible infrastructure.”

Dittmann and his father, Fred, in 1991 bought PLC Multipoint from a family friend and inventor, Fred Blake.

Today the company located at 3101 111th St. SW includes 16 employees and four business divisions.

One part of the business consists of manufacturing lighting control systems for buildings while another includes devices that monitor motion and sunlight.

PLC Multipoint also makes products such as light sensors for companies like General Electric that want their own private label on the devices.

“Our products are used either to switch lights off or dim them down to save energy depending on what you want to do so we have products that work in lots of different areas,” said Dittmann, 55. “We do everything from commercial lighting to work in aircraft hangars, parking garages, and exterior lighting.”

PLC Multipoint wrapped up work in March on a tunnel lighting control cabinet that will be installed in Norfolk, Va.

The company in 2013 completed projects that included designing and manufacturing lighting control systems for the Air Rights Tunnel along I-395 in Washington, D.C., and for a portion of the Caldecott Tunnel in Oakland, Calif.

Working with a PLC Multipoint was a little concerning at first because of the distance between the company’s home office and the tunnel in Washington, D.C., said Charles Sutton, project superintendent with Singleton Electric Company, based in Gaithersburg, Md. He found out the worry wasn’t necessary.

“(Dittmann) was very flexible with us,” Sutton said. “He actually made an extra trip or two. It turned out great. He was very accommodating and he was very hands on.”

Building a lighting system might take only a month or two but it can be longer before the systems are installed, Dittmann said.

PLC Multipoint more than a year ago manufactured a lighting control system for the new Highway 520 floating bridge and is waiting for its installation.

“Sometimes we wait for years before they’re ready for us to go out,” Dittmann said. “(Highway) 520 is in one of those stages.”

That doesn’t mean Dittmann is just waiting around. His company is constantly in stages of designing or building or waiting to commission different projects.

One current job involves working to fix lighting in tunnels in New York that were flooded in late 2012 by Hurricane Sandy.

“We’re designing stuff now so that I can deliver that in two to three years from now,” he said. “There’s always something.”

PLC Multipoint is also working on projects to purify methane gas. One in West Seattle and another in Los Angeles are currently under way, Dittmann said. The West Seattle project involves converting methane gas from the West Point Treatment Plant into electricity.

The gas can be used just like natural gas, Dittmann added. He remembers when one past project in Oakland, Calif., where PLC Multipoint supplied the methane gas for a 10-megawatt turbine.

“That was big enough to run a whole facility and sell power back to the utility so it pays for itself,” he said.

It’s new, creative ideas that are part of what keeps Dittmann interested in the lighting industry.

He’s happy that LEDs are becoming more affordable and that more lighting installations offer options for adding color.

“It used to be that lighting was supplying power to the lights and the lights would turn on and they would turn off,” he said. “Now we’re in a real bloom period of ideas.”

To learn more about PLC Multipoint visit plcmultipoint.com.