Robots Help Transform Small Business Into Huge Success Despite Economy

December 29, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR

A company making wire baskets in Baltimore, Maryland, attributes its incredible success to robots according to a story in The Washington Times. Sales are up. Profit is up. All in a business that competes against companies that pay workers 30 cents per hour in China to make the same product by hand. All while the economy suffered a huge recession.

Not only is business good, but Marlin Steel Wire, the company that bought robots to compete, is compensating workers better than ever for more technical duties. One worker who had no health insurance and made $8 per hour before the company transformed itself now makes $60,000 per year and has health benefits.

From the account, this worker went from renting to owning a home, and from no car to two as he shares in the success achieved through automation. The business owner was shrewd in buying robots and other equipment as prices came down. We’ve said it many times at RIA: robots help companies compete against low wage counterparts and workers benefit from better jobs. Don’t take our word for it. Ask Drew Greenblat at Marlin Steel Wire or contact RIA and we’ll put you in touch with members that can help you.

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Manufacturing Policy or Lip Service?

December 22, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

U.S. President Barack Obama seems to be in favor of a manufacturing policy that is more than lip service. It would be difficult to argue that the U.S. government is known for promoting industry like its counterparts in China, Japan, Korea and even Germany, France or elsewhere in the world. So it merits consideration when Obama’s Administration expresses an opinion about American manufacturing – the topic of a meeting hosted today (December 22, 2009) by Vice President Joe Biden.

As the nation sends smaller hoards of its downsized working class citizens to toy stores and shopping malls, it still doesn’t seem to register that all those toys made in China (let alone machine tools) pump money to state subsidized factories where workers are lucky to have indoor plumbing at home. Of course, workers in the U.S. are lucky to have a home these days so maybe we can start to relate.

When any economic disruption seems to send trembles through the grid, talk of support for U.S. manufacturing is often met with political heat. It has been too hot for most administrations to touch issues like trade deficits or undervalued currency.

Who will Biden see at his meeting? Small business owners get credit for making most of the U.S. job openings but will they get proper representation? Perhaps green energy will dominate the stage. (Isn’t it interesting to learn that $425 million in stimulus money to one Texas wind farm will purportedly create 2,000 manufacturing jobs overseas, so says Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH.)

Technology leadership seems to be theme for this administration, and perhaps that bodes well for the robotics industry. Robots are multifunctional devices that help even the playing field with low-wage countries. Some worry robots take jobs away, but when you have 50-cent-per-hour workers who needs robots? (Answer: any maker of automotive, electronic or household goods that requires world-class quality.)

The myth about robots is it will replace man. It is just a tool, though, and lucky for man we have it. Many lucky people sell and use robots. Readers in the business may cringe when looking back at 2009, what with sales slumping in 2009, but selling and using robots can make for a very rewarding job. Robotics industry people are some of the most amazing, smart and innovative people in business, most of whom all get their hands dirty when it comes to making stuff.

Manufacturing policy must be strong in the U.S. Lives depend on it. A nation depends on it. We can have a great service economy, and we will, but our roots are in manufacturing and we must tend to the basics like equally valued goods and services. Robots won’t solve all our problems but little else has been proven to work so well as an equalizer in the international (and vastly low-wage) marketplace.

RIA will continue to support efforts to strengthen the manufacturing policy with a goal to help its members – including robot users – compete and do business. Please give us your best, President Obama, because the U.S. gives its best when people are working and that is what we need now.


Holiday from Cutbacks: Prosperity at Fronius All Yearlong

December 21, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

I was talking to Stephanie Sartwell at Fronius today and so glad to hear some genuine good holiday news. In a time when most companies are pulling back, many are cutting back and some hurting a lot … this one is prospering and hiring.

Fronius, maker of digital welding technology, robot applications, prospers in Brighton, Michigan

Blue skies at RIA member Fronius in Brighton, Michigan

Their office in Brighton, Michigan is nestled in a vibrant pocket of scenic Michigan. Inside are really enthusiastic people who work for a company that has long been a leader in digital welding technology. There have been no layoffs this year; no cutbacks, according to Ms. Sartwell. Business has been good.

Looking back at where they started, as a maker of battery chargers and welding transformers, one can trace the roots of their success today based on a core value “… to continue to foster employees’ enthusiasm for customer-oriented activities and innovations in battery charging systems, welding technology and solar electronics, and to secure financial independence.”

Talking with Ms. Sartwell is a good way to catch a dose of what drives the success of Fronius – she is enthusiastic and passionate.

“Fronius avoids debt and uses cash which works well in these economic down times,” said Ms. Sartwell. She has happy news to share that they are growing and hiring (executive sales assistant for the Brighton location and area sales manager to work in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area).

“Not everyone’s hurting,” she said, “and it is nice to be able to talk about ones that are prospering.”

We had a good chat that seemed worth sharing. Fronius is a newer member of Robotic Industries Association, and one we are glad to have. Get to know them and all of RIA’s members in the New Year, won’t you? It is a good way to learn about the best new products for users of robotics and automation.

Happy Holidays!


What’s Your Favorite Flavor of Now and Later Candy?

December 4, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

Members of Robotic Industries Association have been sent a packet with Now and Later candy as part of an offer for saving money now and later on Robotics Online insertions. This is for January insertions, but if the ad is ordered and material sent right away it will go on the site early for extra click time. (For more information call me at 734/994-6088.)

This is also our small way of spreading good cheer. Even if you don’t advertise you can enjoy or share the candy. We hope the holiday season is a good one that leads to a Happy New Year for all..!


Hopeful Signs Around the World

December 3, 2009

By Jeff Burnstein, RIA President

robot girl greeter at Japan's robotics show

Greetings from the Show - she's a robot??!

Just before Thanksgiving I attended the International Federation of Robotics Board Meeting and Suppliers Group Meeting in Tokyo during the big IREX Robotics Show.

The last time the IFR Board met was in March and the mood was somber. Robotics business was very weak at that time and nobody had a clear outlook of what to expect going forward. Very steep declines seemed in the offing for most parts of the world.

This time the mood could best be characterized as “cautiously optimistic.” Yes, robotics business remains down year on year, but there are signs of recovery, especially as third quarter numbers show improvement and “quoting activitiy” is picking up for most companies.  The majority of industry leaders now think we’ve seen the worst and that an upturn in robot sales, likely quite modest, is on the horizon. And, strong growth is already being seen in China, where the economic recovery has begun in earnest.

As I toured the show and spoke with industry leaders, several trends emerged. One, the automotive industry, the largest customer for robotics, will remain a significant customer as new car models are introduced into the marketplace.  Suppliers to the auto industry will also need to purchase more automation as business ramps up for new model launches.

Two, there are major opportunities in high speed robotic picking applications in food, medical, and other industries. More and more companies are introducing new robots to target  these opportunities which could become a strong growth area in the future.

Three, the idea that automation is preferable to sending manufacturing overseas could be taking hold. Following the show RIA Chairman Rich Litt sent me a link to a great profile of a guitar string manufacturer that has automated in order to keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

Four, interest in robotics in Japan, the world’s largest robotics user, remains very strong. The show was filled with interesting exhibits and packed with attendees. A strong contingent of exhibitors and attendees were from Korea, another major robotics market, and there also were  many visitors from China and other Asian countries looking for robotics solutions.

robot, service, humanoid, android, robots, robotics, at Japan's Robot Show

Wired for motion - a robot that moves like you!

Five, the amount of research going into service robotics continues to expand. While I didn’t see an immediate “game changer” at the show, there were certainly many interesting developments in terms of humanoids, mobility, and entertainment.

Overall, I came away from my visit to Japan feeling better about the outlook for the robotics industry in 2010. A recovering global economy (especially in China), growing opportunities in food & medical applications as well as other non-automotive industries, optimism about new opportunities in automotive connected to new model launches, and growing corporate awareness that automation is preferable to sending manufacturing overseas.

Though I would never have guessed it in March at the last IFR meeting, from a robotics perspective, there were plenty of reasons to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day!