Advanced Automation

For a company that earns its revenue developing machinery, Advanced Automation surely relies on its technical prowess and creativity, or better put, the expertise of the people that work there. The company designs and develops “first of a kind” machinery and technology used by other companies to manufacture products for commercial use. Many times the machine itself is used to make components for another machine, such as a fuel injector for an automobile.

And though the company’s end product is typically a hard, metal fusion of functionality, Advanced Automation starts with the mind. “Since we don’t produce any one [type of] product, per se, our people are the key,” explains Eric Smith, the company’s operations manager. “And having the best people, that is the determining factor that makes us successful. It’s their core competencies, their knowledge base and ability to pull the right resources together on a tight deadline that makes the difference.”The company will celebrate its 35th anniversary this year. It is the employees who have brought it this far and will undoubtedly push the company into further success.

This milestone is a testament to the continuous learning environment fostered by the company. Smith says suppliers will frequently provide component or software training, keeping Advanced Automation’s engineers on the leading edge of technology, which is a must to develop machines that run faster and more reliably. The company also promotes peer training so employees can im­part knowledge to their fellow colleagues. Furthermore, since the company’s systems are custom designed and unique, the engineers will train the customer’s engineering staff and technicians as well.

According to Smith, its customer base is quite strong. Despite the recession, he says several markets are still doing well, such as medical device, nuclear and pharmaceutical. With Advanced Automation’s diverse expertise, the company can nimbly move between each industry.
“We’re looking at 2011 as being a growth year,” Smith says. “Requests for quotes are increasing, and the quote quality is improving. Also, our backlog continues to build.”Advanced Automation is confident in its 2011 forecast. According to Smith, “while this industry feels the brunt of a recession before others do, it also tends to recover about a year before other industries.” This could be a very good sign for this country and others, since the company also works internationally in Europe, China, Korea and Malaysia.

Working with Clients

Advanced Automation begins the design process when a customer – be it a medical device manufacturer or an automaker – sends Advanced Automation a request for a machine that makes a unique part or product; it could be anything from high precision assembly of fuel components to gender essay for poultry eggs. The request includes vital information such as drawings, process flow diagrams, product specifications and sometimes, sample parts.

From there, an applications engineer and an account manager work with the client to develop and refine a solution and set a quote for materials and work hours. The applications engineer sends the company a project proposal outlining the customer’s specifications and timeframe. “It can be one reiteration of a quote, or many,” Smith says. “Most often, the product evolves with a lot of simultaneous engineering and with a lot of interface with the customer in the early stages of development.” Every process of invention is unique, he explains. It is based on the customer’s criteria, such as price point, payback, time to market and quality requirements. The key is the innovative spirit and skill of the employees to match the customer’s needs with a feasible solution.

In those cases, the company is able to conduct value engineering, consulting clients on ways they can make the machine less expensive but more efficient. In the end, the customer is left with a working prototype. Most of the machines Advanced Automation builds and installs are “one of a kind,” Smith notes. Sometimes it will build to customer prints or make multiples of the same machine, depending on the client’s needs. Most often, though, it’s one machine to make one product. “We do serial number one ma­chines,” Smith says. “Some of the machines we’ve made have been in service for 25 years.”

Many of the company’s developments are first generations of its type. For instance, in the 1980s the company was an early integrator of robotics assembly with machinery that is still in use today. In 2008, the company designed and installed a system to assemble anti-lock braking system components for an international manufacturer. Recently, Advanced Automation delivered a system to a medical device customer that Smith says will help revolutionize that segment of the industry.