Issue May Jun 15
ATC Automation is in the business of fulfilling visions, Sales and Marketing Coordinator Tony Green says. “We have the ability and experience to take something from a concept and make it a manufacturing reality,” he declares.
Based in Cookeville, Tenn., ATC manufactures assembly and test automation equipment. The company started operations in 1977 to supply solutions to manufacturing challenges for the automotive industry.
Over time, “Our business continued to grow and evolve,” he says. “From humble beginnings making rudimentary/simple assembly stations, the company grew to meet the market demands supplying fully integrated ‘Factory Management Systems’ – systems that are comprised of multiple machines as well as their information systems that provide 100 percent real-time data.”
Today, ATC employs a staff of 225 producing machines for the life science, energy, transportation and consumer products markets. “We excel at putting pieces together that become transformational and integral in the lives of the users, from life-saving products used in surgery to the computer you operate to surf the web,” Green says, noting that the majority of its work is customized. “Rarely do we build two of anything the same.”
ATC is a “niche” leader among its industry peers, occupying a company size that differentiates itself in service and support but is still of an organizational size that can meet the needs of its customers, Green says. In the company’s market, “You have several large global integrators that produce complete factories, which is not ATC’s market. ATC fits within a market segment that demands strong technical talent and experience but is devoid of larger organizational constraints in terms of customer service.
“ATC sets itself apart with its organization ‘team structure,’” Green says. “This business model is based around small group dynamics and teaming with an increased reliance on the talent that we have in-house. Through education, training or recruitment, we choose to ‘grow it’ and ‘build it’ rather than contract it out.
“This is a key differentiator for our customers,” he says. “As a result, most customers continue to come back again and again. They really find value in the process and performance after completing a project with us.”
In fact, approximately 80 percent of its business consists of repeat clients, “which says a lot,” Green says. “We often do not build duplicates of the same solution; every solution is highly customized. The fact that our customers repeatedly come back to us signifies to me they are very happy with the previous project we did for them; they know what to expect with ATC.”
ATC’s customer base largely consists of Fortune 500 companies, Green says. “About 60 percent of our business is for transportation clients,” he says, noting that another 30 percent is comprised of life-science customers. “The remainder is split up between energy and consumer products.”
He adds that ATC has earned a strong reputation for its discretion when working under non-disclosure agreements. “We have set up a specific portion of our facility for ‘top-secret’ types of projects that are not ready to be released unto the public yet,” he says.
This results in the company being involved in the development of new products. “We see it before it goes out into the market,” Green describes. “The clients want to keep those methods and products proprietary and intellectual property non-disclosed.”
2015 is looking to be another good year. It’s also a good time for ATC to be in the manufacturing business, Green says. Things were tough “in ‘08 and ‘09, when we were clearly in a very deep recession. Things were very difficult, and survival of the fittest meant taking a number of different types of projects that have since led to innovation and new business that was not [formerly] considered by ATC. We fortunately had a lot of life science business at that time,” he recalls, noting that this helped ATC build this market segment and in fact contributed to ATC’s surviving the recession. “The current trend is that manufacturing has expanded at double-digit growth year-over-year since 2009.
“The current climate is that industry is investing and seeing competitive value for releasing a number of new products, as well as capital spending. There is real pressure for capacity utilization of automation suppliers right now,” he continues. “Today, we are challenged to find good people and skilled employees. Simply put, it is a good time to be in the automation industry.”
Another bright spot is that traditional manufactures who previously left for low labor costs are returning to North American manufacturing, he reports. “As a result of that, we have targeted certain companies that are bringing manufacturing back,” he says, noting that ATC currently has projects in the electronics and consumer products markets that just a few years ago left the United States. “Apparently, they are finding out it is not as economical as it was 10 years ago to manufacture abroad. Throw in transportation cost and quality concerns, and it just makes sense to ‘come home,’” he says.
The company is also getting more requests for modular machines, Green says. “Modular machines allow users to easily make changes when technology updates occur or when flexibility is required. For products that often have a short lifecycle due to technology advancements, flexibility and reusability are a key part of the planning process.”
This eliminates capital projects that would otherwise be obsolete. Modular machines help ATC’s clients avoid such a loss, since they are easily modified. “You can pull out what you don’t need any longer and replace it with new technology that gives you the needed value or quality feedback required in today’s manufacturing environment,” Green says.
Modular machines have proven to be an especially strong source of sales for ATC, Green adds. “Some 75 percent of our business this year will be modular in nature that can be updated and redeployed as needed in the future,” he states.
Contributing to ATC’s success are suppliers such as Advanced Control Solutions, based in Marietta, Ga. “They’re a valued supplier,” Green says. “We’re one of their biggest customers that utilizes their advanced vision controls.”
“We get a lot of attention from them,” he continues, noting that Advanced’s location and customer service is advantageous. “They have a good resident salesperson that offers quality technical assistance to our engineers.”
ATC has a self-contained manufacturing process, Green says. “We do primarily 80 percent of all the work in-house,” he says, noting that the company is vertically integrated in machining, manufacturing, paint and welding facilities.
The company focuses strongly on quality and has achieved ISO 9001: 2008 certification. Although ATC’s customers dictate what a project should be, “We utilize what they have given us [and combine that] with our own experience that we’ve gained over the years with our ISO procedures,” Green says.
The ISO procedures also come into play when it comes to product flow and checks, Green says. “We use project scheduling software to make sure that we hit the target dates,” he says.
ATC also utilizes ISO procedures for inventory. Thanks to these practices, “We pretty much carry very little inventory and rely on our suppliers to be on time and avoid costly carrying costs,” he says. “Once it comes through the doors, it goes [straight to] the machines.”
A longtime veteran of manufacturing, Green joined ATC in 2007. After eight years, he is proud of the company’s team. “We have some of the best talent in the industry,” he declares.
“They are just phenomenal, all the way through the manufacturing process, from the concept and the applications team that [does] the quoting to the machine builders out on the floor,” he says. “They are able to take what is a concept in a customer’s mind and transform it into a functioning piece of art.”
ATC will continue growing, he predicts. “We’ll also continue to support our community, as well as the industries that we serve in the U.S. [and] our global customers who expect us to be there shoulder-to-shoulder,” he says.
ATC will help its clients by developing new technologies and methods of manufacturing “that they will take back,” he says. “We’re kind of a proving ground for a lot of people.”