What is true inspiration?

In my recent interview with Arnold Kamler the Chairman and CEO of Kent Bikes, I found an example of true inspiration for American Manufacturing. I learned that “Made in the USA” is the way of the future when it comes to manufacturing and it doesn’t have to mean increased prices or reduced ROI. Kent Bikes is a great example of a company that employs robotics and automation in its American plant and creates jobs at the same time. Kent Bike’s South Carolina plant employs over 100 people and is continually growing.

According to Kamler, “Many believe that automation and technology are replacing coveted manufacturing jobs in North America, but on the contrary, if it weren’t for automation and technology, these North American jobs would be located elsewhere”. [bctt tweet=”if it weren’t for automation and technology, over 100 jobs would be located elsewhere” username=”ronjmorris”]The reason behind this is simple. Typically, it is cheaper to source labor in countries overseas such as Asia, but by using innovative technology and automation in factories, they can keep the jobs in North America, while having little effect on the company’s ROI.

Having been in the bicycle industry since 1972, Kamler again revived this lagging industry after it had essentially died in North America in the 1990s. In 2008, 100% of his manufacturing operations were in China where he found it to be the most economical. Four years later in 2012, Walmart made a pledge to contribute $250 billion towards Made in the USA initiatives, transferring those dollars away from imported products. [bctt tweet=”Four years later in 2012, Walmart made a pledge to contribute $250 billion towards Made in the USA initiatives, transferring those dollars away from imported products. ” username=”ronjmorris”]This got Kamler thinking about the possibility of moving his operations to North America, but his search for an affordable and well-equipped manufacturing facility didn’t pan out. That was until the Governor of South Carolina got involved. Governor Nikki Haley who had already dramatically decreased the unemployment rate in South Carolina, gave Kamler incentives to move his operations to her state. This incentive, combined with Walmart’s initiative, got the wheels turning and Arnold Kamler made the substantial commitment to move their operations back onto American soil.

But it wasn’t easy. Kamler faced several challenges in setting up Kent Bikes in America, the largest of that being the inability to find a skilled labor force that was familiar with bicycles. After much interviewing, they hired their first recruits. Those who stood out on the assembly line eventually became managers and their policy of promoting from within has worked well for them. After extensive renovations to the facility to allow it to work for the manufacturing operation, his current challenge is on the supply chain. Because there are no bicycle part manufacturers in North America, most of Kent Bikes’ parts must still be imported, which can be costly and inefficient.

Overall, Kamler says that his overall ROI hasn’t changed much having moved a substantial amount of his manufacturing here and that as they grow, and they are, he will realize a much better return on investment as compared to his operations in China. Currently producing 1,200 to 1,500 bikes a day, their plan is to create 400,000 bicycles in 2017. At that number, the costs to produce the bicycles are higher than China, but he believes that once he gets to the 500,000 mark, he’ll be on par.

At Executive Outlook, we’re always on the lookout for examples of smarter solutions such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and Big Data that are being leveraged today to create a better world of tomorrow. We hope these stories will inform, enlighten, and maybe even inspire you with ideas that will help your business. If you have a story you would like to share, please message me at rmorris@feedbacksystems.com.

Meet the AGROBOT

Solving food shortage problems is a worldwide predicament without a universal answer. One company is working its way towards a solution, using technology to decrease the labor needs of farms, allowing for more produce to be grown, picked and delivered without impacting heavily on the farm’s ROI.

Using innovative techniques for farming, Agrobot is growing the agribusiness into a global market with their products, which include robotic harvesters and advanced hydroponic growing systems. Agrobot executives believe that their technology can solve up to 80% of the hard labor needs of farms around the world and that in the next five years, many farms could be partially- or fully-automated.

The meticulous and often back-breaking work of tending to produce has traditionally been done in North America by foreign workers who don’t require a large wage. But, with shortages in farm labor, combined with the tightening border with Mexico and the growth in the U.S. economy, it has been difficult for farmers to keep up with their farm labor needs. Without the laborers required, perishable produce is going to waste, squandering the farm’s time, money and valuable resources.

Agrobot is working to change this. Using robotic harvesters, farmers can reduce their labor load tremendously, yet increase their profits as they are able to utilize almost 100% of their viable produce and grow more in the long-term.

This labor-saving device relies on a high-powered computing system and vision-sensing technology. With 16 robotic arms, it scans the sides of the plants, looking for the ones that are ripe and ready for picking. It then uses these arms to pick the plant and put it on the conveyer, where it is brought to the farm worker, who will then place it in the container. Not needing farm laborers to pick produce reduces labor costs exponentially and allows for nothing to be wasted.

Typically, the Agrobot harvester has been used for picking berries, which is a delicate and laborious process and one in which could be a difficult position to fill manually, increasing the need for a technological solution like this on berry farms. The machine also guarantees the accuracy and sensitivity in dealing with such a harrowing crop that might not be available using human hands.

A 60-armed machine is on the way, being developed by Agrobot, which could be ready to go out in the literal field in 2020. Marketing of Agrobot’s harvesters is directed to those producers who wish to reduce costs, empower their business results, increase their level of competitiveness and allow their business to become a leader in the market. Because Agrobot’s technology is so innovative and new, many producers haven’t utilized it yet, which gives the businesses who try it a leg up on the competition.

Is robotics a job creator or killer? What say you?

Job Creator or Killer?

In Thomas Friedman’s <a class=”ProfileCard-screennameLink u-linkComplex js-nav” href=”https://twitter.com/tomfriedman” data-aria-label-part=””>@<span class=”u-linkComplex-target”>tomfriedman</span></a> latest book entitled Thank You for Being Late “An Optimists Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations” he makes the case that as robots and artificial intelligence replace humans in the workplace there will be greater not less employment opportunities. Labor costs decrease, product costs go down, and demand for products goes up.  The low skilled jobs go away but the medium/high skilled jobs and wages increase. After all, someone has to operate the drones.  I agree with Mr. Friedman. What do you think?