Lessons of Automation Part I

Since I am out of the country for a few weeks I am featuring some writing from Doug Alward, Applications Engineer from Wright Industries. I have prepared these excerpts from the introduction to Doug’s book ahead of time; as you read this I am in Boquete, Panama.

Hello from Boquete, Panama!

Lessons of Automation -Doug Alward


It was during the 1980’s that the automotive industry accelerated the demand for custom design and build machinery to meet their expanding product requirements. Tier Two suppliers were tooling up to meet the increasing production quantities as well as the demanding improvements to quality. Technology was evolving with the expanding capabilities of programmable logic controllers, coordinated motion control, machine vision, and supervisory controls systems (SCADA). Banks were willing to loan capital with moderate interest rates.

Across our country, numerous start-ups were established to meet these increasing needs while existing operations expanded to levels of danger. Most solutions providers were founded and run by a single entrepreneur. Yet, there were amazing similarities in these companies.

♦ Many of the company founders were tool makers by education.
♦ The newly found owners of these companies understood the business of custom design and build of automation equipment. They could walk the floor and smell a problem. Proactive not reactive.
♦ These folks were brash, aggressive individuals. Intimidating to most as they without hesitation made their employees aware of accountability and of being responsible.
♦ A great number of these companies were “spin-offs” from larger, although not always directly competitive, organizations. They had relationships in place that enabled them to ensure a stream of local applications and were not reliant on a regional sales force.
♦ They truly understood the business and when to take a build-to-print project at a low margin just to cover overhead until the balance of the business would pick up.
♦ The businesses that they built were largely financed through personal sources, family members. They owned the property, the facilities, paid cash for the equipment and were not leveraged to an outside entity.
♦ These entrepreneurs possessed a genuine caring attitude towards their employees. Chuck Watters who founded Assembly Machines refused unsolicited offers to sell his company for better than 6 years as he could not obtain assurances that the employees jobs would be assured.
♦ Almost to the letter T, their companies were fun places to work at. Innovation was encouraged, team spirit instilled and there were no silos!

And new markets were opening. Ink jet printers. Disposable razors. Computer hard disk drives. Inflators and air bags. Disposable medical devices. Fuel injectors. Cell phones. Corporate leaders such as Jack Welch were preaching, “Automate…..Immigrate….or Evaporate”. It was a time akin to the great California Gold Rush!

To be continued…


Electrical Engineer and business owner from the Nashville, Tennessee area. I also play music, Chess and Go.