Working Hard to Stay on Top of Technology Trends
D&D Automation, a turnkey automation controls integrator based in Stratford, Ontario offers factory automation controls, robot integration, controls programming, engineering, and mechanical design services. The company serves the automotive, food and beverage, energy, paper mills, and mining industries.
D&D has been extremely busy over the past two years – with products, work, and staying on top of fast-breaking technology developments.
When profiled in the June 2017 issue of Business in Focus, the company had just introduced a new version of its proprietary Vision-Enabled Robotic Assembly (VERA) system. Fitted out with multiple sensors, VERA is designed to improve industrial parts feeding in factory settings.
“We’re revamping the VERA. It’s right on the leading edge of technology, to begin with. As technology advances, we keep advancing the capabilities of that system,” states President and Founder Michael McCourt. “We want to continue to expand on what we’ve learned and accomplished.”
It has also been doing quite a bit of work modernizing industrial control equipment in factories and plants. “Some processes run for fifty-plus years. The control system becomes old, so we’ll modernize it. We’ll put a modern control system in, targeting higher quality and more productivity,” he explains.
Such work means D&D must keep abreast of new developments as they apply to the manufacturing and industrial sectors. Keeping on top of technological developments is probably the biggest challenge facing the company and its competitors at present.
“The rate of technology is outpacing industry’s ability to keep up. The technology changes so fast, things become obsolete very quickly. It’s very difficult for industry to keep up with,” he says.
For its part, the company welcomes new developments in technology. “It’s exciting the way the market’s going and the way the industry, in general, is doing. There are new technologies that are pretty exciting. Battery technologies are particularly interesting,” says McCourt of the company’s work for electric vehicle manufacturers. “The electrification of transportation is really changing things. For us, change brings opportunity.”
Intensive training is one way D&D strives to stay current. The company has become “a teaching/learning machine. We run ‘lunch and learns.’ We do blogs. We’re constantly training. We do best practices. We do peer learning. We do everything we can. We buy the hardware to have in-house to play with. We have a program called ‘TechLeader,’ where we rate skill levels in chosen technologies, and we encourage, and we create a culture of learning,” he says.
While these programs are designed to advance the skills and knowledge of employees, D&D also runs a training initiative that is geared toward clients. “We go to their site, or they come to ours. Whatever makes sense. We don’t offer generic training. We’ll train our customers on their specific technology and the way it’s implemented. We teach customers what they have and the way they use it. It’s very specific,” states McCourt.
The company offers online courses and webinars for clients as well. Online customer support is also available after it integrates a robotic system or sets up automation controls.
“Not every company will grant you online access. It’s obviously very cost-effective to remote connect to our customers, but as you can imagine, Internet security is becoming a bigger concern every day. Not all customers are receptive to opening up their production systems,” to online scrutiny, he notes. In such cases, staff will travel to a client’s worksite to sort things out.
D&D operates a space dubbed the ‘shark tank’ at its head office, where employees can perform independent research. The idea is to stimulate innovation by giving workers the freedom to pursue their own ideas or concepts. The shark tank space is still thriving and demonstrates D&D’s commitment to innovation.
The company is also “exploring the idea of modernizing the office space. So that rather than having your own individual desk, the entire space becomes yours. You can sit anywhere you want; you can move around. This is what we’re exploring now, to create a more dynamic space, a more interesting and innovative space,” he explains.
All these moves reflect a company culture devoted to “developing leaders,” according to McCourt. “Everyone has a voice. Our purpose is to inspire others to do things they didn’t know they could do. That’s at the heart of our culture here.”
Supporting young people is another way the firm both develops future leaders and stays current. It hosts its ‘TechKnow Robotics Camp’ at its offices. Kids come into D&D facilities to take part in a technology-oriented summer camp program.
It also recently sponsored a team of young people called the St. Clements Wild Goats in the FIRST LEGO League international robotics competition. The competition sees children design robots and come up with solutions to real-world problems such as energy use, recycling, food safety, and more. The Wild Goats picked up a mechanical design award at an Ontario competition in February of this year.
A satellite office that the company had been running in Greenville, South Carolina, has been shuttered, its purpose served. “We’ll mobilize for a project. We’ll set up locally for a project, then we’ll redeploy to another location,” explains McCourt. At present, it has roughly sixty employees.
D&D was recently hired by Toronto-based firm IM Robotics for work at the Gay Lea Foods facility in Guelph, Ontario. Gay Lea wanted to upgrade its palletizing system, which was based on a FANUC M410iB palletizing robot. Technicians upgraded Gay Lea’s existing palletizing structure so it could accommodate new products, made changes to a human-machine interface and introduced other solutions resulting in improved cycle times and throughput.
Another recent job involved automotive giant automotive parts supplier Magna. D&D was hired to enhance robot programming and programmable logic controller (PLC) capabilities at a Magna plant in St. Thomas, Ontario. Some FANUC robots were also upgraded as part of the project.
The firm is involved in the industry through attending “trade shows, conferences, and things like that,” says McCourt. “We’re pretty active on social media, and we’re very actively engaged with our customer base. We’re very systematic about keeping in touch with all of our customers. I think last month it was about 1,200 clients we contacted,” he adds.
McCourt anticipates growth over the next few years but is more focused on achieving it through quality than as a goal in itself. “I think we’ll take those opportunities as they come. We’re not targeting any specific location,” he says.
“Our mission is just to be the best company to do business with. We want to be the go-to place, where you know you’re going to get the right people with the right answers. Any growth that goes with that, we welcome.”
“If you look at the last two hundred years of automotive; if you look at the last two hundred years of telecommunications, and you look at the last two hundred years of power systems, they’re all accelerating in their advancement of technology. They’re all accelerating and converging at the same time. It’s very exciting. Change brings opportunity, and this is unprecedented change,” states McCourt.