Materials-handling firm Intelligrated Inc. believes food and beverage companies are ready again to ramp up investments in packaging and materials-handling systems, which could be good news for plastics machinery manufacturers.
I feel poised for fast, fast growth as the economy improves, CEO Chris Cole said in early November at Pack Expo in Chicago. We see tremendous evidence of pent-up demand. I firmly believe that there will be an enormous boost somewhere around this time next year.
He's not alone in that assessment.
The economy is picking up and people are investing again, said Roman Forowycz, group president and chief marketing officer of Clear Lam Packaging Inc. in Elk Grove Village, Ill. Capital for new equipment was non-existent a year-and-a-half ago, he said. But now there is some capital starting to come on-line.
There is caution, said Forowycz. But people are beginning to increase their investments. At the K show in Germany, people who supply $5 million to $10 million lines said they are starting to see investments in capital equipment, and that's a good sign of what's coming in the next three to four years.
Even if some of the economic signals don't trigger exactly what he currently anticipates, Cole said he still expects Intelligrated, headquartered in Mason, Ohio, outside Cincinnati, to continue to do well.
Cole and President and Chief Operating Officer Jim McCarthy co-founded the firm in 2001 after their former company, Pinnacle Automation in St. Louis, was acquired by British engineering firm FKI plc in 1999. Eighteen months ago, they reacquired Pinnacle when they bought FKI Logistex Group Ltd., the supply-chain business of Alcester, England-based specialist manufacturing investment group Melrose plc.
We have been blessed with strong business outside the U.S., in South America and in Canada, said Cole. We are having a banner year in South America, with more business than we've ever had, and we have reinvigorated our Canadian operation.
High labor costs in western Canada are driving automation in that part of the country at companies like Pepsi and Molson, Cole said. And we have other large projects we are working on that are not yet announced.
At Pack Expo, held Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, Intelligrated also unveiled a different approach to controlling robotic arms that the company believes will give it a market advantage and eventually spread throughout the entire materials-handling/palletizing industry.
Rather than having separate controls for the robotic arms in a palletizer system, Intelligrated has incorporated a common programmable logic-controller platform into the robotic arms of its palletizer systems, such as the Alvey 950 Series robotic in-line palletizer.
This is a revolutionary development in the robotics industry, said Frank Pellegrino, Intelligrated vice president of machine products. The PLC code goes into the robotic arm and is integrated into the material-handling/palletizing system. It is all integrated into the same operating interface. It strips away robotic controllers and replaces them with an Allen-Bradley PLC made by Rockwell Automation Inc.
With a single control platform instead of multiple controls, there is better integration, quicker response time and reduced operator and maintenance training, Pellegrino said. It also eliminates the need for additional control cabinets for each robotic application because a company can program and operate the palletizer and robotic arms with a single touch-screen interface. I think you will be hearing a lot more about it in coming years from all material-handling [equipment] manufacturers. It cleans up the system from an architectural standpoint and can also be an advantage from a spare parts standpoint, he said.
Intelligrated brands include Alvey, Buschman and Mathews conveyors and Real Time Solutions software. Intelligrated is owned by company management, Tudor Ventures, and Gryphon Investors of San Francisco the majority shareholder.
The firm has plants in London, Ohio; Danville, Ky.; and St. Louis; and a new state-of-the-art parts-fulfillment center for aftermarket support. The center, opened two months ago in Cincinnati, is centrally located two hours from its plants in London and Danville.