City business transforming
Sale of robotic stacker in China a giant step up
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/06/2015 (2711 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This week, a small company in Winnipeg called Micro Tool & Machine Ltd. (MTM) shipped a piece of equipment worth about $1 million to a customer in China.
The sale is significant for a number of reasons.
For one, it is a coming-out of sorts for MTM, signifying its transformation from a machine shop to a machine manufacturer after doggedly pursuing greater degrees of customization and innovation in producing equipment for electrical transformer manufacturers around the world.
It is moving up the value chain.
The shipment is also effectively a new product launch MTM believes could prove to be very much in demand.
The machine is an automated, robotic stacker used by transformer manufacturers for the construction of transformer cores.
A lengthy relationship with Sanbian Sci-tech Co. Ltd. in Sanmen County, Zhejiang province, just south of Shanghai, was integral to the development of the innovative piece of equipment. MTM has sold other equipment to Sanbian — among the largest transformer manufacturers in China — in the past.
Robin Lu, a member of the ownership group and president of MTM, said its new technology will allow manufacturers to work on four different transformer cores at the same time.
An open house has been planned at the Sanbian plant in China, where about 15 to 20 other Chinese transformer manufacturers are planning to attend to see the technology in action.
“This is very important for us,” said Lu. “Depending on how well the demonstration goes, we have been told by some people in the transformer business that we will be needing a bigger plant.”
Gord Atamanchuk, MTM’s general manager and another partner in the firm, said development of the robotic stacker was a 20-month project.
“We have had lots of co-operation from the federal and provincial governments in this project,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without their help.”
Regardless of the success of the new equipment that sells for slightly less than $1 million, the small 18-employee company has been punching above its weight for some time.
It is already selling its winding, cutting and stacking machines to transformer manufacturers in about 40 countries.
Steve Tracy, an industrial engineer at Olsun Electronics in Richmond, Ill. near Chicago, works with MTM equipment at Olsun but has used other brands at other companies he has been with.
“These are precision cutting machines,” Tracy said. “I’m amazed that their machines (MTM’s) are so accurate. They may not be the fastest, but they require so little maintenance compared to some of the other machines.”
MTM has become a regular client of the Manitoba government’s trade-marketing support, which covers half the cost of air fare to attend trade shows. It’s also a bit of a poster child for the industrial commercialization assistance provided by the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance program.
‘There are about 2,000 companies in China that would be potentially interested’ — Andrew Chan, global sales manager for MTM
Ryan Johnston, an industrial technology adviser with NRC-IRAP, said the company has done all the right things in its product-development work.
Johnston said one of the key elements has been the identification of the customer needs. And in MTM’s case, it has worked closely with Sanbian all the way through the process.
He said one of the things many companies do not properly think through or ignore or fail to do well is the identification of market demand.
“It really can have a massive impact on the successful result of the product,” Johnston said. “It comes down to market identification of customer needs and what problem is being solved. That, in itself, can become the differentiator for a new, innovative product.”
Johnston believes MTM has done it well, and company officials are getting all their ducks in a row for what they hope to become a busy order book.
“We did the initial engineering and proof-of-concept, and then we presented it to them as a solution to their requirement, said Andrew Chan, MTM’s global sales manager. “They partnered with us to build the first machines.”
The solution has to do with labour and cost issues. MTM’s competitors are far more expensive European manufacturers.
Transformer manufacturers around the world are busy with developing countries building out their power grid and industrialized countries requiring updated equipment.
China has become a major international supplier, but Lu said its labour costs are increasing significantly so producers there are looking for more automation and lower price points than the expensive European equipment suppliers.
“China is a very big market for us,” Chan said. “Being able to have this event in September (where other potential customers will be able to see it in operation) is important. There are about 2,000 companies in China that would be potentially interested. This machine addresses both the labour and automation issues.”
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Friday, June 26, 2015 7:08 AM CDT: Replaces photo