VAUGHAN, ONTARIO — At 85 years old, machinery icon Robert Schad remains restless, looking ahead. His injection molding press company, Athena Automation Ltd., is building a 150,000-square-foot assembly factory right behind the smaller original plant in Vaughan.
The large building will allow more automated assembly operations, and a better production flow with flexibility to build more customized presses, Schad said in an interview at Athena.
“The plan is to build the machines just-in-time. So we can quickly put it together,” Schad said.
Athena is investing $45 million to build and equip the new factory. Schad hopes to build four to six machines per month next year at its existing building. The new plant will begin production in early 2016, significantly expanding capacity. The company will build machines with clamping forces to 450 tons.
Once the new building is completed, the existing facility will be used for headquarters offices, spare parts and service.
Schad is thinking long-term, but he doesn't think that is unusual, even for someone at his age.
“I am always looking ahead. A week before my death, I will look into the future!” he said. ‘I can't live with a short term [outlook, based on] only money. To me, a company has to be more than money. It's people. It's customers. It's ethics. It's many things. You want to make a contribution. Life is no fun if you only want to contribute to yourself.”
Schad is known throughout Canada for philanthropy, including the Earth Rangers program to encourage young people to think about the environment and nature. Those efforts continue through the Schad Foundation.
In the walls at Athena headquarters, filled with paintings, Schad has posted Athena's core values. That includes honesty.
“If a competitor has something better, our people should recommend him. Because we want to build relationships with our customers, and that means to be totally truthful and have high integrity,” Schad said. “Industry has lost a little bit of that.”
The existing, 40,000-square-foot building is too small to efficiently assembly machinery.
“This plant was really not built to build injection molding machines. It was built for another purpose,” he said. “But I had the plant, so I converted it. I wasn't expecting to build machines.”
Schad, the founder and former owner of Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., began Athena production about a year ago in the facility, which originally was designed to make special automation. But that was before Athena and Italian blow molding machinery maker Sipa SpA agreed to work together in late 2012 — to build a line of automated PET preform injection presses and blow molders.
In late August, Enrico Gribaudo, managing director of Sipa, visited Athena for a week, meeting customers and the people who design and build the injection presses. Gribaudo knows Schad well, since he worked at Husky for 15 years in Europe and Asia. His last position covered worldwide responsibility for molds and packaging development, before leaving to join Sipa in 2011. He became managing director the following year and also became a board member.