Healing never takes place all at once. It occurs when small islands of healthy tissue connect with others to form a larger patch, and then move forward again to seek out yet another like patch, and so on. The healing of America?s manufacturing might seems to be taking the very same route for SMBs, as they regain their strength and then push out. One such island on the mend is a small, Charlotte, NC-based robotics company, Transbotics Corporation, which has endured the worst and is now on the slow but steady incline back to prosperity.
MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE: Transbotics Corp., which counts Fortune 500 companies among its clients, makes automatic guided vehicles, or AGVs, which a growing number of manufacturers use to perform repetitive or hazardous tasks. The appeal of the company’s AGVs lies in being customizable. They pull, lift and carry loads as small as 6 pounds or as large as 80 tons and up. “2011 was a record year (for Transbotics), and I think that’s indicative of the industry as a whole,” said Executive Vice President Neville Croft. “Money’s tight, but at the same time, people are looking at more efficient ways to spend their money.” Growth in the industry represents a positive turnaround for companies such as Transbotics. Though the industry has grown since the?’90s, robotics took a hit in 2008 ? declining by more than 45 percent, reports Rituparna Roy from TechNavio, an independent market research company that studies the market for ‘future technologies’ worldwide. 2008 was a crushing year for the small robotics? firm: for the quarter ending May 31, 2008, the company reported a loss of $370,270. 2009 wasn?t much better, but by 2010, the global robotics market grew by 96 percent compared with 2009, according to TechNavio. Transbotics is expecting a strong year for 2012, say company officials.
Transbotics is growing again, which President Claude Imbleau thinks is a good sign not only for robotics but also the domestic manufacturing sector. The robotics company also exports worldwide, to markets including Brazil, Korea, China, Germany, Australia, Mexico and Poland. The company sells to a range of industries, including automotive, which makes up about 30 to 40 percent of its sales; food and beverage, which accounts for an additional 30 percent; as well as hospitals, aviation, aerospace and others. The AGVs sell for $15,000 to more than $200,000 each, depending on their features, says Croft. The robots come in simple, white metal boxes of varying size; the sizes and features depend on the client’s needs. They might serve as forklifts, mini-conveyor belts or simply “tuggers” that pull loads around a warehouse, distribution or fulfillment center. One kind of small AGV can drive underneath a wheeled cart, insert a pin into the bottom of the cart and drag the cart across a warehouse. Some of the robots follow a path laid out with magnetic tape, while others can triangulate their position through the placement of lasers. Robotics increase efficiency and productivity at a time when companies look to cut costs, Croft said, and they also can replace the conveyor belt, which can often take up a lot of space and is cumbersome to circumnavigate. Although robotics might cause growth for the manufacturing industry, some worry about robots replacing workers, especially with a sobering national unemployment rate that sadly remains more than 8 percent. “It’s absolutely something that’s happening,” said Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “(The manufacturing industry) employs fewer people every year, and that is purely a productivity story and largely an automation story. … (Facilities) just don’t need as many people to generate the same output, and that’s a trajectory that’s going to continue.” On the other hand, robotics could create jobs, he said. “Robots are going to create new companies, new jobs and new opportunities for people,” McAfee said. “I don’t want to paint robots as pure job killers.” For example, Sarstedt, a German producer of health care equipment, recently added a fully automated distribution center that did not replace any of the roughly 230 workers at its U.S. headquarters in Newton, NC, Vice President Peter Rumswinkel said. The $14 million project was completed in May. “Due to the ability to increase volume and capacity, it is anticipated that production will expand further and jobs will be created,” reported Rumswinkel.Read More