DUSSELDORF, GERMANY - A three-month-old Ohio materials-handling company is forming a partnership with a German maker of automation equipment that it hopes will have it selling German-made robot grippers in North America by year's end - and eventually making the grippers and pickers itself. Trent P. Fisher, owner and general manager of Dayton-based conveyor manufacturer Cam Action Technologies Ltd. (or CAT), said at the K'95 show that he is in discussions to formalize an agreement with Automations-Systeme-Schwope Ma-schinenbau GmbH of Overath-Brombach, Germany. In an interview at the ASS booth, Fisher gave an update of CAT's progress and a glimpse at what he hopes his firm will be doing down the road.
Fisher said CAT, a limited-liability firm, sold $64,000 worth of its single-belt conveyor belt systems since starting up in July. The conveyors are designed to move molded plastic parts from the injection press to the inspection or packing station.
Most such conveyors use two belts, with a gap in the joint between them that can catch the parts and mar their surface, leading to unacceptably high reject rates, according to Fisher. One of his six customers to date is General Motors Corp.'s Delphi plant in Vandalia, Ohio, which injection molds air-bag covers on an HPM injection press. The surface of these parts must be perfect, he said, and GM had been experiencing a 15 percent reject rate because of conveyor-belt-induced marring.
``We project a zero-to-5-percent defect rate'' with CAT's conveyor system, he said.
He added that his firm is building two 25-foot conveyor belt systems for GM's Vandalia plant, with the prospect of more business if all goes to plan.
CAT's conveying systems have two joints, which maximize flexibility since they are fully adjustable to a Z-shape, an L-shape, or flattened out. Regardless of the configuration, they require only one belt, Fisher said.
CAT currently has seven sales representatives across the United States and two in Canada, and it is this network that Franz Schwope hopes to tap to sell his robot grippers and pickers in North America.
Schwope and Fisher met in March, introduced by mutual friend Thomas R. Rajkovich, president of Dayton, Ohio-based Comet Automation Systems Inc. Though Comet has been acting as U.S. sales agent for the German firm - and selling roughly $14,000 a year in ASS products - Comet specializes in making and marketing devices before the die in the production process.
``We want to focus on post-mold operations,'' said Fisher, noting that in the future he would like to be able to offer turnkey, or ``pellet-to-pallet'' systems, but that to do so he would have to involve a firm such as Comet.
Meanwhile, Schwope, an engineer who formerly served as technical director of Colortronic, says he started ASS in his cellar in 1986. Today, the company employs 27 and generates annual sales of 5.5 million deutsche marks (roughly $3.85 million).
Schwope, also interviewed at his company's K booth, said ``Simplicity is the key to ASS's products.''
The firm offers molders a do-it-yourself kit from which they can build their own, customized grippers for attachment to the end of their robots' arms.
These come in a workbench form, so they can be built off the press and attached later, thereby minimizing downtime on the press.
Schwope said he sells a lot of these kits to German auto-makers, who adapt them to pick and place 50 some different models of car bumpers.
He said he sees potential North American customers being molders as well as robot manufacturers who would prefer to subcontract the design and manufacture of their end-of-arm robot devices to someone who specializes in it. Indeed, one such Canadian robot maker came by the ASS booth midinterview to express interest in just such an arrangement.
Fisher wants CAT, which currently employs a total of four people, to produce pickers and grippers for ASS in Dayton.
``We hope in the U.S. to employ about 25 people in three years' time,'' he said.
He is thinking ahead to the need to send several employees of the U.S. firm to Germany for training for two to four weeks at Schwope's facility near Cologne. He said the state of Ohio already has indicated a willingness to pay up to half the costs associated with such training.
But first, Fisher admitted, he and Schwope need to formalize their own arrangement, and he needs to get on with the business of making conveyor systems.