Building on an 18-year relationship, French robot maker Sepro Robotique and Conair Group Inc. are forming Sepro America, a joint venture company, to market robots to the United States and Canada.
Sepro America becomes official Aug. 6. Sepro and Conair each will own 50 percent of the joint venture company, which will be housed at Conair's headquarters in Pittsburgh. Spare parts will continue to be based at the Conair assembly factory in Franklin, Pa.
Christopher Keller, Conair's president and chief operating officer, said Sepro America will have 25 dedicated employees, double the number of people the partner companies have been using for the sales and service effort. Sepro is sending over specialists from Europe, including Marcus Klaputek, who will be vice president of sales and service.
Jim Healy, Conair's vice president of automation, will become Sepro America's vice president of sales and marketing.
Conair, a major manufacturer of auxiliary equipment, has been the North American distributor for Sepro robots since 1989 - one of the longest-running partnerships in the plastics machinery industry. Today, there are more than 2,500 Sepro robots in operation here, according to Jean-Michel Renaudeau, Sepro's managing director.
``North America continues to be a priority market for us and there are many opportunities for further growth,'' Renaudeau said. ``That's why Sepro has decided to commit additional resources and form this joint venture with our longtime partner.''
Renaudeau and Keller outlined the strategy during a June 1 interview at Conair.
``It's about visibility in the market. It's about focus and it's about increasing the resources that are dedicated to this effort to boost volume and boost market share,'' Keller said.
Sepro America's close ties with Conair also will allow the joint venture to respond to customer requests for integrated plant systems that include auxiliary machinery, both companies said.
Sepro America will not assemble the robots, which will be shipped from Sepro's factory in La Roche-sur-Yon, France. But Renaudeau said the U.S. operation will add customer-specific components such as end-of-arm tooling.
``We do not have today the intention to produce any robots in the States,'' he said. ``But obviously, to make the right robot for the customer, you need to have the right peripheral equipment, the right downstream equipment. So it's obvious that everything that has to be adapted for the customer will be done locally.''
Sepro, with 300 employees and $60 million in sales, is a major worldwide robot supplier. The company began making robots for injection molding machines in 1981.
Sepro claims to be the world's largest maker of robots for large-tonnage injection molding machines, with clamping forces of more than 1,000 tons. He said the French company has a strong relationship with automotive molders in Europe, Asia and the United States.
Sepro makes beam robots and simpler sprue-picker robots. Renaudeau said Sepro America can offer six-axis, articulating arm robots through a partnership with Fanuc Robotics in the United States.
``Sepro already has a solid customer base in the North American market,'' Conair's Healy said.
Although Sepro built its reputation on large robots to handle automotive and other big parts, the company has expanded into smaller sizes.
Today, Sepro builds robots to run on injection presses as small as 25 tons and as large as 5,000 tons. Its products include the Generation IV beam robot and the Axess line of pick-and-place robots.
The new Sepro 4050 platform, built to run on injection presses up to 2,500 tons, is modular so it can be specified with longer strokes and heavier payload capacity.
Renaudeau said Sepro wants to continue to strengthen its smaller robots and high-speed, side-entry robots for packaging and in-mold labeling. It helps to have expertise in large robots for demanding businesses, such as automotive, he said.
``We pay a lot of attention to reliability, and the big-machine segment is interesting,'' Renaudeau said. ``And now, we know that we have this advantage on our side. And we want, with the creation of Sepro America, to be much more aggressive also on the other segments, the small-robot segments.''
Sepro already has delivered some in-mold labeling robots to customers in Germany, he said.
Sepro America will cover the United States and Canada, but not Mexico. Renaudeau said Sepro Robotique plans to open a fully owned sales and service operation in Mexico later this year, probably in Monterrey.