Automation Experts for the Changing Auto Industry
Many of the world’s biggest Automotive Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and Tier 1 Suppliers come to HTI Cybernetics® for the company’s integrated automation and tooling solutions. “We provide what we refer to as intelligent manufacturing solutions,” says CEO Eric McAlexander.
A one-stop shop for its customers, HTI provides custom solutions ranging from assembly tooling and material handling equipment, to automation systems for welding and joining, assembly, and other applications requiring extensive use of robots.
“Intelligent manufacturing solutions target improvements in safety, quality, and productivity, which are some of the biggest obstacles encountered in production. Through our proven expertise, advanced technology and commitment to customers, we can offer solutions that solve these challenges,” industry veteran McAlexander says.
“We provide support from the initial concept through the integration and validation stages, as well as in-plant support for the installation and system startup on the customer manufacturing floor,” says McAlexander. “From concept to launch, and even after launch, we provide world-class production support.”
Additionally, HTI provides custom design and integration of material handling equipment for OEM assembly plants, such as lift assists, door carriers, articulating arms, conveyor systems and automated guided vehicles. The company also offers custom design and build of assembly tooling to improve ergonomics.
Growth and innovation
Starting as Hi-Tech Tool in 1983, the company primarily worked on improving manual processes in the automotive industry. Developing a solid reputation and experiencing steady growth, Hi-Tech Tool expanded into system integration and robotic automation in 2000, which has become a significant portion of its product offering.
Moving to Michigan’s Sterling Heights, the business kept growing, and in 2008 changed its name to HTI Cybernetics, a significant move. “Cybernetics to us means the science of man and machine working together to achieve a common goal or common purpose. I think that very much speaks to who we are, and that’s what the company was trying to reflect to its customer base,” comments McAlexander.
Like many other companies, HTI was impacted by the economic downturn of 2008-2009, but positioned itself to not only rebound but prosper, doubling its footprint in 2015. Diversifying its customer base and growing its revenue, the company’s business was so strong that HTI expanded into a second facility, and in that same year, a third smaller facility.
Two years later, the company was acquired by Nanshang Investment Group, a China-based group of private entrepreneurs with businesses in sectors that include real estate development. HTI was Nanshang’s first U.S. purchase, with its investors expanding into high-tech robotic manufacturing systems and soon after, into an axle-manufacturing business.
“We are doing design work for this axle manufacturing company to help make the processes safer, more efficient, and higher-quality,” says McAlexander. With Nanshang’s vision and ongoing support, HTI Cybernetics plans to move again and consolidate into a new facility by the end of this year. Increasing floor space by another 60 percent will bring the premises to 190,000 square feet, enabling HTI to take on more and larger projects.
With an investment plan approved by the Board of Directors and good capital structure to ensure future growth, designers, engineers, and other staff will soon all be under one roof, enhancing the experience for both employees and customers.
At present, spurred by the demands of new electric vehicle technology, HTI is developing automated solutions to address battery assembly, while still facing the existing challenges in Automotive.
Both internal combustion and electric vehicles are increasingly being developed with new lightweight materials, and ways still have to be found to join high-strength steel, aluminum, magnesium and other dissimilar metals, whether by fastening, riveting, adhesives, or with some other advanced technology. “And whether it’s electrical or internal combustion, you still have assembly lines that put structural components together,” comments McAlexander. “Vehicles need a body structure, and that’s what we are good at: helping our customers put them together.”
Close to customers
Only beginning his role as the company’s CEO this January, McAlexander’s decades of work in automotive with large Tier 1 Suppliers saw him, once upon a time, in the role of HTI customer. Consequently, he was already familiar with the company and its organization, and understood how their approach should be based on a deep understanding of the customer’s needs.
This means grasping that while some clients have a clear vision of the systems and solutions they need, others, concerned with safety, productivity, quality, new program demands, and so on, need help clarifying their requirements. HTI’s expert team assists them in every way possible.
“They bring us their production challenges, and we utilize our in-house resources from the development of a lean engineering solution, to fabrication and machining, integration, validation, and installation on the manufacturing floor of our customers,” he says. “Everything from concept to launch.”
With a motivated and loyal team of about 100 — many of them with the company for over a decade — HTI’s expert support team take on mechanical and controls design, robot simulation, system layouts, process flow, prototyping through 3D printing capabilities, and professional project management.
Along with in-house fabrication, painting, machining, and more, all projects are managed hour-by-hour with the customers’ involvement. “To me, it’s a really interesting group of people, because everybody here possesses a wide technical knowledge base, from skilled trades to the engineers and estimators,” comments McAlexander. “A strong technical background exists in every employee here.”
Focused on global, sustainable, profitable growth — and recognizing that all big Tier 1 and OEMs have facilities worldwide, including China — HTI is working with owners Nanshang Investment Group to get more of its manufacturing systems and solutions into customer factories, current and future, globally.
Naturally, HTI is diversifying its customer base to include electric vehicle start-ups and create a broader solution profile. With much of the company’s projects being custom design and build, HTI is open to creating standard product lines, especially in the Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) arena as the world moves towards the application of artificial intelligence.
New web presence
Looking to develop new business relationships, HTI Cybernetics will unveil an exciting new website this summer. Under the guidance of marketing specialist Lauren Ciampichini, the new site is being designed for maximum customer ease, with more informational content than before.
“It’s part of our strategy to streamline our content development, and our communication as a whole, to really make sure we are sending the right message to the right people, so they know who HTI is,” says Ciampichini. “B2B websites can be vague, and we want our website to offer value and education to our existing and potential customers.”
Recently, HTI received an award for Advanced Manufacturer of the Year. Presented by the City of Sterling Heights, the award recognizes local companies that have demonstrated best business practices that can be adopted and emulated. “We are very proud that the city has recognized us, and that they are saying ‘look to HTI for the type of business that we would love to develop in Sterling Heights,’” says McAlexander.
Striving to attract younger workers, HTI believes it has something special to offer employees. Skilled workers will be needed in areas including engineering and robot programming, and through Manufacturing Day and other initiatives, the company is spreading the word that the future of automation is extremely promising.
One of HTI’s goals is to dispel many of the myths surrounding artificial intelligence, including that humans won’t be needed in the future, displaced by robots and smart computers performing the work. While there is some truth to that, HTI believes new technologies such as collaborative robots will see more humans working in better conditions and greater safety alongside robots.
“Artificial intelligence is certainly disruptive technology. It’s going to change a lot of things, but it is also going to bring tremendous opportunity not just to visionaries in Silicon Valley, but to make skill levels higher for technicians and people we work with in our shop every day,” says McAlexander.
“It will become technology that helps make our lives better and enhances our opportunities as well as careers.”