System Integrator Remains on the Growth Path
The focus at Autotec Engineering of Toledo, Ohio remains the same since Business in Focus profiled the firm in June, 2017. The main change since last year has been the company’s rapid expansion – Autotec is set to double its workspace this spring. The firm remains committed to an ambitious growth plan in terms of personnel, workload and markets.
As a system integrator, Autotec Engineering designs and builds customized material handling, robotic and product finishing solutions. In-house services include electrical and mechanical engineering, machining, fabricating, assembly, programming, installation and startup. Autotec boasts a wide range of customers in the packaging, pharmaceuticals, rigid plastics, flexible packaging and building product markets, among others.
“We have two basic business sectors: our legacy business is finishing equipment, which is a mature market that we have supported for the last 45 years and continue to make technological advances within. Our second sector of focus is the material handling and robotics industry. This is also the company’s biggest revenue generator at present and we are actively engaged in the high growth potential of this industry as a whole,” explains Tom Ballay, President/Owner.
Autotec has acquired some new clients recently, including “one of the world’s biggest paint suppliers” and another new customer in the consumer goods sector, states Sales Director Brian Steenrod.
For each of these new clients, Autotec will essentially be “automating an existing process that presently uses manual labor… now they will be using an integrated robotics solution,” states Steenrod.
In other recent developments, Autotec leased a building across the street from its existing plant. Once everything is in place, Autotec will boast over 90,000 square feet of workspace—twice its current total. The company still has sales offices in Charlotte, North Carolina and Chicago, Illinois as well.
In addition to the new workspace, Autotec has also boosted its workforce. Last year, the company employed roughly 45 people, while the firm currently has about 50 employees, says Ballay.
Autotec is a member of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA, a trade organization) and an enthusiast system partner of KUKA Robotics. The latter company supplies most of the robotics Autotec uses in its robotic solutions. “Presently we’re focusing on our relationship with KUKA.” Autotec’s loyalty to KUKA stems from the company’s advanced technology and human touch.
“KUKA has a collaborative approach with how they work with integrators that we like [because] we’re very much into teamwork and collaboration. We want customers to view us as an extension of their business. We like vendors that work in the same way. KUKA is more of a collaboration partner than a transactional partner. We go into projects together… KUKA’s product is very good and we really like their collaboration approach. We feel like they are partners on our projects,” explains Ballay.
The company also still primarily uses Allen-Bradley Rockwell controls with its material handling and robotic systems. Siemens controls are always an option as well.
As Ballay notes, Autotec takes a collaborative approach with its clients. On top of designing and integrating robotic/automation solutions, the team offers parts and service as well. “We have a complete aftermarket group that can supply our customers with spare parts and service… that service may entail going out in person or we can support them remotely,” says Steenrod.
Robot diagnostics can be performed via KUKA Connect. Available as an option, KUKA Connect is “an all-new cloud-based software platform that allows customers to easily access and analyze their robot’s data on any device, anywhere at any time.”
Autotec can also construct computerized robot simulations for clients. This involves putting together a demonstration, displayed as a 3-Dimensional rendering, to show full operational capabilities of an Autotec integrated robotic system.
Autotec also continues to assist customers in terms of R&D. The firm will aid clients who want opinions or insights on products they want to market, particularly in the packaged goods sector. “We participate in product development” for clients, explains Ballay.
The firm primarily remains focused on North America. “We’re very active in the United States and Canada, as well as parts of Mexico,” notes Steenrod.
Asked to explain the company’s longevity (Autotec was founded in 1972), Ballay says it comes down to “two things. One is having good engineers. Secondly, in any business, the key is perseverance. You’ve got to stick with it.”
“Also, we’re customer-focused. We know if we give customers a good experience and supply what we say we’re going to supply, we’re going to have a future customer as well,” adds Steenrod.
This customer focus is reflected in how Autotec picks up new business. Steenrod describes this process as “a collaborative effort… typically, [a company] will reach out to us and ask what experience we have and what’s even possible. We’ll do a discovery trip and we’ll digest data, and then we’ll start to formulate solutions and come up with ballpark pricing to make sure it fits with the customer’s ROI goals. From there we finalize the ideal solution and present a formal proposal and layout. A designated project management team will assure a successful project to completion.”
Autotec is currently in the process of revamping its website to enhance its online presence. “We’re within three months of rolling out a much more elaborate website that will do a much better job of defining who we are and what our capabilities are. We’re making a new corporate video as well, that will be shared on social media channels (@AutotecEngineer),” explains Steenrod. “With that being said, we still really promote ourselves through a lifetime of relationships,” he shares. “Our business is solutions-based.”
Asked what Autotec’s biggest challenge is, Ballay says, “I think it’s two things. Our business is based upon getting the right people. We currently have a very experienced team, and it is important to complement that team with additional skill sets that match our continued growth. Behind that, it’s the balance of the workload.
Autotec’s edge comes from “our ability to put an engineering focus on a project. A lot of companies that are bigger than us and some smaller than us have canned systems they sell. So when they go to the customer and the customer has a particular problem, they’re trying to configure their canned solution to the customer’s issue. We don’t approach it that way… Although we do offer standard solutions, we look at what makes the most sense for the customer,” adds Ballay. “We’re looking [at their issues] and saying, what’s the best way to solve the customer’s unique issue with an integrated solution?”
Previously, Ballay spoke of maintaining an annual growth rate of 20 percent. That’s still the goal. “We’re tracking on that right now,” he notes, proudly.
As for the future, Ballay wants the company to continue growing without shifting from its core strengths. “I see [Autotec] doing much the same thing as now, just with an expanded market and expanded footprint in terms of resources and more people… We want to grow our business with the same types of customers and same types of solutions that we’re providing now: solutions-based, custom automation,” he states.
“Engineering, design, follow-up and excellent customer service; that’s basically how we plan on growing our business. That’s going to be the core of it. We will continue to provide an excellent customer experience while expanding into new industries and markets. At the end of the day, we help our customers solve their unique complex issues through collaboration and experience,” concludes Ballay.