Chapel Hill Startup Gets A Charge From Controlling Electricity More Efficiently

3DFS and SAM Controllers Co-Founder Chris Doerfler, left, speaking at Greensboro's Startup Grind.

Chapel Hill-based SAM Controllers is revolutionizing the way electricity is monitored and maintained through its software-defined electricity technology that leverages task-oriented optimal computing to be more efficient at controlling and measuring electricity in real time. As a result, SAM Controllers is increasing efficiency and cutting costs.

SAM Controllers sells controllers for air compressors, water pumps, conveyors, and other industrial machines in varying sizes and shapes to fit its clients’ needs. SAM Controllers is a spin-off of 3DFS, a Pittsboro-based startup that provides the software and technology that SAM Controller’s products are based on, explained Chris Doerfler, the Co-Founder of both 3DFS and SAM Controllers.

3DFS was founded in 2010 and is a vertically integrated technology development company that controls the entire process of its technology from conception to production, including research, hardware and software development, manufacturing and assembly.

“Any system can now be self-aware of itself,” Doerfler explained. “It’s a new approach. Instead of building systems for what we think is going to happen, we’re embedding intelligence for what is actually happening.”

A SAM controller, the dashboard of which is visible on the top left, enables this air compressor to use electricity much more efficiently.

Instead of managing where electricity moves, 3DFS manages how electricity moves through a power grid, which allows the customer’s machinery to be more efficient. The company focuses on its technology that leverages the power of real-time computing to analyze the load profile of its products and cleans and balances electricity at the microsecond level using a flash-energy storage system. At the heart of this tech is what 3DFS calls Task Oriented Optimal Computing (TOOC).

This system allows the company to offer products and technology that enable customers to achieve ideal electrical efficiency, consistency and reliability through their entire power network.

3DFS is structured in a way to eventually have multiple spin-out startups that sell a variety of specific products, the first spin-out being SAM Controllers. That approach will enable 3DFS to continue to focus on developing its core computing technology that could lead to a variety of innovative products and processes across industries, rather than limiting itself to one niche.

“Focusing on one product may be the most profitable path initially, but may not be the most important in the long-term,” Doerfler said. “Just because it’s wildly profitable doesn’t mean it’s wildly important.”

The profitability is intended to come from the spin-out companies such as SAM Controllers, which is focused on B2B sales and currently ships a handful of its products a month to airports, body shops and other small businesses. As Doerfler and his team identify specific, relatively narrow use cases for the tech developed by 3DFS, they’ll continue to launch spin-outs like SAM Controllers to commercialize those products.

3DFS had much of its technology patented in 2015. The patent covers a wide variety of the company’s technological advancements, including the ability to convert electricity bi-directionally with “ultra-efficiency,” in real-time for any multi-phase network, grid or microgrid.

While 3DFS has been bootstrapped thanks to some previous exits among the management team, SAM Controllers is currently fundraising while also being financed internally with revenue from 3DFS.

Doerfler also said that he’s passionate about the fact that 3DFS and SAM Controllers are based in the Triangle because of the amount of potential the startup and entrepreneurial space has here.

“We can certainly bring investors here, which is why I’m so passionate,” he said. “It’s not just a product, it is the heart of machine learning and can lead to AI down the road, but we need more people to embrace that and see that. We’ve developed and delivered, but we have an information vacuum and we’re trying to fill it with what we’re doing.”

About Rebecca Ayers 27 Articles
Rebecca Ayers is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She's an intern reporter for GrepBeat.