Those who fear not knowing their place in the world should Trimble. Trimble Navigation makes systems and software that combines global positioning technology with wireless communications to provide location and position data and make it actionable. Using GPS, laser, optical, and other technologies, the company's products target areas such as surveying, construction site project management, mapping, mobile personnel management, and mobile and fixed asset management. They are offered to end users, such as government entities, farmers, engineering firms, and public safety workers, as well as equipment manufacturers (OEMs). More than half of sales are made outside the US.
To establish certain operational advantages, Trimble divides its business into four segments: engineering and construction, field solutions, mobile solutions, and advanced devices. Engineering and construction products command more than half of sales and include, among a wide range of others, construction machine guidance systems and robotic optical surveying instruments. The company markets these products through independent dealers and through joint ventures with Caterpillar and Nikon.
Field solutions (about a quarter of sales) get used right where the name suggests - out in the field. Trimble markets such products to the agricultural and geographic information system (GIS) sectors. Agricultural offerings include systems that provide navigation guidance for farm equipment. It also sells handheld data collection units designed to work with GIS databases. Utility companies use such systems to gather information about transmission poles and have the data automatically stored.
Mobile solutions (more than 10% of sales) start where field solutions end: at the mass workforce level. It makes hardware and software used to handle scheduling for field service technicians and other mobile personnel. It also provides in-vehicle GPS receivers and other systems for tracking mobile assets.
Advanced Devices (less than 10% of sales) encompasses Applanix (mobile mapping), embedded technologies (boards, modules, chipsets, licenses), military and advanced systems (aircraft navigation), timing and synchronization, Trimble Outdoors (GPS-enabled cell phones) businesses, and ThingMagic (UHF and radio frequency identification (RFID) reader modules and services). Most of these products are hardware focused and are typically marketed to OEMs, system integrators, or service providers.
After a brief hiccup in 2009, when most companies around the world fell prey to the global recession, Trimble got its feet right back under it, growing sales in 2010 almost back to the 2009 total, and made up much of the lost ground by posting a more than 25% sales growth and a nearly 50% profit increase. Driving these rebounding results was its largest segment climbing more than a quarter over 2010. Field solutions and mobile solutions turned even better double digits (30% and more than 40%, respectively), while advanced devices settled for a modest 3% uptick. Mobile solutions benefitted from the acquisition of fleet management systems provider PeopleNet during the year; healthier commodity prices enabled farmers to invest in Trimble's field solutions offerings.
Trimble pitches its products to customers via dealer partnerships on all products except advanced devices and mobile solutions products. It also uses representatives, joint ventures, and other sales channels, supported by offices in more than 30 countries. Trimble sees its existing markets as underpenetrated, offering opportunities to expand adoption of its products as replacements for lingering traditional methods. In that regard, product development is also a key strategic component for both maintaining and broadening the company's ability to serve its target markets.
With principal facilities in China, India, New Zealand, a handful of European countries, in addition to its North American locations, the company focuses on growth in international markets as another major component of its strategy. The company is particularly interested in opportunities in Africa, China, India, the Middle East, and Russia. Contract electronics manufacturers, principally Flextronics International and Benchmark Electronics, make some of Trimble's products at factories in China and Mexico.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Trimble uses acquisitions to help fuel growth by acquiring new technology and expanding its product selection. In 2012 the company bought Netherlands-based payroll and expense automation software provider Logicway, which specializes in the transportation and logistics industry. Also that year Trimble agreed to buy construction cost-estimating and cost-modeling software provider WinEstimator, as well as transportation and logistics software provider TMW Systems. Trimble then added to its PeopleNet acquisition from the previous year with the purchase of Canada-based GIS mapping, hardware, and hosted software provider GEOTrac Systems, which serves the North American oil and gas industry. Again that year Trimble bought 3D computer-aided design/computer-aided engineering and enterprise resource planning software provider Plancal. The Swiss company serves the construction-related industries of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) in Western Europe.
Trimble doubled down on 3D building information modeling (BIM) starting the year prior. It bought 3D modeling software maker Tekla in 2011 in a deal valued at nearly €340 million ($485 million) to better equip building contractors and engineers to manage construction projects. The follow-up investment came in 2012 when Trimble completed the acquisition of the StruCad and StruEngineer business from AceCad Software. StruCad offers 3D structural detailing, while StruEngineer provides engineering companies with 3D steelwork modeling and construction management.
The company acquired a line of software products in 2011 from Norway-based Mesta Entreprenør, a subsidiary of road and highway construction contractor Mesta Konsern. The deal added office and field data collection applications and improved the company's ability to provide customized systems to construction clients, particularly in the area of managing local application requirements compliance. Also in 2011 Trimble strengthened its portfolio and Asia presence with the purchase of China-based Yamei Electronics, a manufacturer of electronic automotive products, including anti-theft GPS monitoring and tracking systems, RFID smart keys, and diagnostics systems.
Also that year, Trimble acquired the OmniSTAR satellite system assets of Dutch geological engineering company Fugro. The company was interested in OmniSTAR's GPS signal correction technology (used to improve the accuracy of satellite navigation devices), which it is using to expand the functionality of its mapping systems for agricultural and construction purposes, among others. It also acquired France-based Ashtech to expand Garmin's selection of survey products, including the flagship application Spectra Precision, for construction clients. Ashtech became part of Trimble's engineering and construction division.