JR Automation: An Alternative to Offshoring

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Offshoring has been a controversial topic spurring debates with economists and in board rooms for over a decade.  Some companies have seen benefits, but others are more skeptical of the practice.  In fact, The Economist reported in January 2013 that: “High levels of unemployment in Western countries after the 2007-2008 financial crisis have made the public in many countries so hostile towards off-shoring that many companies are now reluctant to engage in it.”

And with wages in countries such as India and China sometimes increasing at 10-20% per year, the cost savings benefits are sometimes called into question.

In fact, some companies are turning to automation to increase the productivity of their local labor force. Modern assembly lines with sophisticated conveyors, robotics, and other technologies can make an existing skilled work force just as cost effective as an offshore facility–and may be more productive over time.

JR Automation has been helping companies keep their jobs local through use of their equipment.  “Manufacturers have two choices,” says Jim Kramer director of sales at JR Automation. “Offshore or automate.”

JR Automation, based in Holland, Michigan, designs and produces manufacturing systems for all kinds of industries: Automotive, food processing, food packaging, medical, consumer products, etc. The company ships some of its systems overseas, but its clients are primarily North American companies with a global reach.

In 2011, when we last checked in with JR Automation on this blog, we reported that the company had 200 employees, 60 of whom were engineers. Today, Kramer says the company has grown to 385, and around 30% are engineers.

When you do the math, that means JR Automation has just about doubled both its workforce and its engineering team in the past two years.

Keeping Up

While adding engineers to the workforce has helped with JR Automation’s growth, the company has also had to become faster at product development to remain competitive. “Although our timelines for introducing new products has stayed pretty consistent,” says design engineer Joshua Benson, “but the products have increased dramatically in complexity.”

That’s one reason the company uses PTC Creo.

“We upgraded to PTC Creo 2.0 earlier this year, and the transition has gone very well,” says Benson. Engineers are seeing productivity gains specifically from the following areas:

·         Working with large assemblies. Manufacturing systems are massive solutions that routinely contain more than 5,000 unique parts. JR Automation uses the PTC Creo Advanced Assembly Extension to build a top-down model in which the skeleton creates the overall structure of the system.  Then various designer engineers “put meat on the bones,” taking responsibility for isolated parts of the system simultaneously. PTC Creo’s large assembly capabilities also make it easier for anyone to open and work on their part of the assembly without bogging down computer processing speeds.

·         New User Interface. As a company that’s been using PTC product development products for 15 years, JR Automation has many engineers using the CAD package—each with his or her own configuration. Benson says that the new User Interface is easy to use, with the most used commands just one or two clicks away.

·         Learning the ropes. Fresh out-of-college engineers are productive within a few weeks of using PTC Creo. Which means new engineers– even recent graduates – can be productive quickly.

·         Improvements to Sheet Metal. Many companies like JR Automation work more effectively with the updates to PTC Creo’s Sheet Metal Design. For example, when you work with corner reliefs, you can now dynamically preview the feature as it is defined. Benson says “The PTC Creo NC Sheetmetal Extension enhancements are vital to JR Automation because it is helping us to increase productivity.”

·         Importing data. With PTC Creo, JR Automation is able to import data when needed, resulting in less time spent remodeling and repairing imported data for downstream use.

Happy, repeat customers

But the biggest benefit of PTC Creo is that it helps JR Automation design large complex machines that can be custom built, accommodate last-minute changes from customers, and support projects after the equipment has been deployed.

And that leads to happy customers who come back when its time to expand their companies.

“Our customers tell us that they appreciate that we work with them as if we are all on the same team working side-by-side to get the job done. We’re making sure they don’t fail,” says Kramer.  “Our secret to business success is making customers feel cared for, providing robust equipment, and providing it on time.  It’s also great to know that in our small way we are adding to the onshoring movement.”

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