Thou Shalt Love Thy Tin Neigh­bour

The Economic Times - - Disruption: Startups & Tech -

New York: The ro­bots were Joe McGil­livray’s idea. The first one ar­rived at Dy­namic Group in Ram­sey, Minn.

McGil­livray is the 38-year-old chief ex­ec­u­tive of Dy­namic, a maker of molds for the mass pro­duc­tion of small plas­tic and metal parts, from 3M Scotch-tape dis­pensers to bul­lets. The com­pany was founded 40 years ago by his fa­ther, Peter and his friend Dave Kalina, both tool and die mak­ers, in Kalina’s base­ment. Ma­chin­ing like theirs is labour-in­ten­sive.

Even as the busi­ness ex­panded to more than 100 em­ploy­ees in two ware­houses in Ram­sey many of its cus­tomers switched to com­peti­tors over­seas, in­duced by im­prove­ments in the tech­nolo­gies of de­vel­op­ing na­tions cou­pled with fall­ing trade bar­ri­ers. But McGil­livray and Kalina found a lu­cra­tive niche mak­ing molds for the most in­tri­cate med­i­cal prod­ucts. Orthodon­tic braces, for ex­am­ple, use brack­ets that have unique shapes based on the an­gles of the teeth to which they will be af­fixed; the bracket molds, which are in­jected with pow­dered steel, must be cut to a de­gree of pre­ci­sion 40 times thin­ner than a hair. Thanks

largely to the skill of Dy­namic’s ma­chin­ists, the com­pany did more than sur­vive; it pros­pered. Then came the Great Re­ces­sion. For the first time, McGil­livray and Kalina, once able to of­fer bonuses, strug­gled to make pay­roll. To keep go­ing, they needed to pro­duce more molds or cut costs, or both. Last month, on a damp, gray day, Joe McGil­livray took me on a tour of one of Dy­namic’s fa­cil­i­ties. He led me to an in­jec­tion press the size of a bak­ery oven. Inside, a noz­zle moved up and down, shoot­ing molten plas­tic into a mold, where it cooled around the end of a catheter tube. The re­sult­ing piece would be used as a con­nec­tor by a sur­geon thread­ing tools like scopes or stents into his or her body. A young man in a hair­net, gloves and gog­gles sat at a table fac­ing the press. The robot was be­side him. Be­fore the robot ar­rived, McGil­livray told me, four peo­ple worked the press. Now, with the robot’s help the cy­cle took 35 sec­onds.

It wasn’t the robot’s speed that was rev­o­lu­tion­ary, McGil­livray said, other au­to­mated ma­chines could do the same things faster. The in­no­va­tion was its “col­lab­o­ra­tive” abil­ity: This robot is safe to work with. If it bumps into some­one, it stops. This meant that he didn’t have to build an ex­pen­sive, semi-per­ma­nent safety cage around it. And be­cause the robot is easy to move and re­pro­gram, it can quickly be re­as­signed to what­ever unique pro­cesses are re­quired to fill the one-off or­ders Dy­namic typ­i­cally re­ceives.

The robot’s price tag was $35,000, and within two months, it paid for it­self by qua­dru­pling the ef­fi­ciency of the press and elim­i­nat­ing scrap. There was one caveat, though: “Pro­duc­tiv­ity did de­crease when we first put the ro­bots in,” McGil­livray said, “be­cause they’re so dang fun to watch.” He has since pur­chased two more of them from Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots, a Dan­ish com­pany, and hired a tech­ni­cian to main­tain them. No one was laid off, and the com­pany’s fi­nances are sounder than they have been in nearly 20 years. “I guess I’m kind of an evan­ge­list,” he told me.

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