BBS Automation (BBS) is one of the leading providers of automated assembly and testing solutions, serving continental and global manufacturers with high-quality tailored solutions and service support. “BBS came into being in 2013,” begins Tom Kramer, President of BBS Chicago, “under the current CEO, Josef Wildgruber.” As a product of acquisition and amalgamation, today, BBS is headquartered in Munich, Germany and boasts more than 1600 employees across production sites in Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, China, Malaysia, Mexico, and the US.
“We are a custom design and build engineering house,” continues Tom, “participating in e-mobility, life science and consumer product markets. We do some work in other tangential areas, but those three are our primary focus. We look to earn and develop long-term partnerships with our customers by adding value to their manufacturing needs.
“What is attractive to our customers is our global footprint. Our business model and organization enables us to design globally, and then build locally. This brings considerable value to our customers who operate on a large global scale. As an organization, we are a tight-knit group of global businesses that are locally empowered to satisfy the customer. It is a unique business model that I think serves our customers well.”
Indeed, in the aftermath of the pandemic, onshoring is an increasingly important consideration for many manufacturers when planning for supply chain continuity. “Another factor,” suggests Tom, “is the current geopolitical tension, which is causing some larger companies to think more about sourcing locally.
“The large majority of our facilities are design and build operations, but we do have a handful of exceptions. One, in Poland, is an Industry 4.0, software-driven company, while another, in Italy, focuses specifically on motor winding. Additionally in Italy, we recently acquired a business that is exclusively focused in the life science market. I’d say, in Asia, our footprint is strongest in e-mobility, but we also serve a broad array of customers, whereas, in the US, our primary expertise is in Life Science, Consumer and e-mobility. Our facility in Guadalajara, Mexico, is also growing and our recent acquisition by Dürr will significantly expand our capabilities across the board.”
In terms of its manufacturing processes, BBS is exploiting vision detection and AI technologies to enhance efficiency. “AI cameras allow us to quickly identify rogue parts. We used to have to program in that recognition, but AI and machine learning facilitate speedy detection of the quality of different parts. From a project management perspective, it is all about delivering on time and on budget. It’s typical for an automation company to look at the number of hours quoted against those worked; likewise, estimated material costs compared with actual. That type of standard practice informs where a project is at any one time in terms of budget. At BBS, however, we add another scheduling layer called a burn rate. The hours used and material spend are layered with a detailed production plan that is created at the beginning of a project to provide a comprehensive visual tool that shows you how you’re ‘burning.’ It quickly identifies if there is an issue early on in a project. The beauty of that is the sooner you identify an issue, the quicker you can reach a resolution. As such, our burn rate tool has allowed us to make significant advances in project delivery and profitability,” he enthuses.
Sustainability is also a critical factor in BBS’ operations, as Tom explains: “Simple things, like lights in all the offices are set on sensors. Equally though, from a manufacturing perspective, we look to design with sustainability in mind and our customers are increasingly supportive of this effort. This often necessitates flexible automation systems. Today, we are looking at equipment that can be repurposed, and that supports sustainability. Additionally, BBS Automation explicitly supports all goals and demands of the UN Agenda 2030, focusing as an industrial company on the global areas as an international economic player.
“I think people in manufacturing understand the value of automation, in that it enhances competitiveness on a global scale. By remaining competitive, organizations can preserve jobs and employ locally. While there may be some fear and misunderstanding surrounding automation, the idea that robots will eradicate jobs simply isn’t the case. We’re bringing people into the business and providing the tools and technology that not only make the work more interesting but also facilitate the development of enhanced skill sets. As well as improving individuals’ personal prospects, this helps to make the company stronger, which in turn, promotes job security.”
Indeed, BBS, it would seem, is going from strength to strength. “Our recent acquisition by Dürr,” Tom continues, “will greatly enhance our offering, and particularly so, in North America. When I look at the automation space, there are smaller, local, high-quality automation companies that are providing good value and then, there are some exceptionally large organizations operating multi-million-dollar programs. I think where I see BBS fitting is in the niche space, between the two.
“As we continue to grow, we will have this strong global footprint and I see us continuing to grow much faster because of that. I think there will continue to be consolidation within the sector as companies look to provide a more global economic solution. Integrating new technology costs money, so, to do so, you must have a bigger base to be able to afford and benefit from the innovative technology that is coming up.
“Probably the biggest challenge that automation is going to face,” Tom concludes, “is young talent wanting to come into the business. I’m excited about a program we’re running in collaboration with Purdue University which focuses on Industry 5.0 and a hands-on approach to working with automation. It is critical for businesses to invest in young people and show them how the industry is cutting-edge and challenging from the perspective of technology. We need to do a better job of getting young people excited about our industry and showing them just how interesting the automation space can be.”