Industry: Industrial & Equipment
Products: Robotic automation and technical design
Founder Dave Kush is helping manufacturers leverage and integrate automation in an ever-evolving marketplace.
After eight years working in a semiconductor validation test lab at Intel, Kush saw an opportunity to utilize robotics for repetitive tasks within manufacturing and started Axis Robotics.
"We started in my garage building semiconductor test handlers and it went very well," he says. "We then branched out into thermal chambers, fixtures, and other automation solutions and that is why Axis Robotics has the tagline, 'Automation Integration and Technical Design.'"
In the early 2000s, collaborative robots (cobots) started to appear on the factory floor. According to Kush, these easy-to-set-up robotic arms can be programmed for a variety of repetitive tasks often with minimal integration costs, which makes the technology appealing to smaller companies. "Cobot technology has lowered the barrier of entry into robotics down into the $40,000 range and allowed many small shops with highly repetitive tasks to integrate them into the manufacturing process," says Kush.
While the advent of the cobot era changed the business, Kush says there is still demand for both robotics integration and technical design, particularly with companies that are just getting into automation and don't have an engineering staff. "Manufacturers come to us looking for guidance as they consider an automation program for their process," says Kush. "We do an in-depth analysis of what they're doing manually. We actually watch what they're doing on-site, and note if there are specific tools that we can create to help make the job easier, more reliable, and cost-efficient."
According to Kush, the focus is in either creating an automation solution that's specifically customized for the task at hand or utilizing an existing off-the-shelf robot for the project that can be adapted to the task with additional tools.
"In either instance, we analyze what the use case is and design an automation solution. We also design and manufacture the other necessary components for the task, including the end-of-arm tooling, vision systems to guide the robot, lighting, fixtures, feeders, and everything necessary for a turnkey solution," says Kush. "Taking the first step into a robotic solution can be very intimidating, but we are here to help make that transition as seamless and efficient as possible. This is why manufacturers end up coming to us for help in creating an automation solution for them."
One of the negative stereotypes with robotic integration is that it will replace jobs for these repetitive tasks. In Kush's experience, he has seen how robotic integration typically translates into better jobs for those employees. "I've seen people in manufacturing making the same part for 30 years," he says. "When that repetitive task is automated, that same employee ends up learning how to program, run the robot, and oversee the process. In the end, they become more valuable to the company because they know what to do if there's a breakdown. If they leave, they also take with them experience that makes them more valuable in the job market."
Axis' client list spans the medical, semiconductor, industrial, and automotive markets, and includes such companies as IBM, Intel, and SAP.
Challenges: Inexpensive automation. "Cobots have put a dent in our integration business," says Kush. "A $40K robot and a gripper can be set up in a couple days by someone with a minimal technical background, so integrators like us must find ways to offer more value. Axis Robotics also shines in the technical design space, so we are able to offer more than just integration. We have people come to us with all kinds of strange and interesting problems to solve, especially in the semiconductor and medical industries, and we get it done. Our biggest problem is getting the word out on what we can do."
Opportunities: "There's a strong market for robotics and as the price continues to come down, so will the barrier of entry for the many small businesses that can benefit from this technology," says Kush.
"Machine vision is also a part of it, and that's where we can find opportunities," he adds. "Manufacturers will often need a machine vision system for their automation solutions and these systems have typically been more complicated to integrate with the robot. Our big push is to bring the design, robotics, and vision systems together to make integration as easy as possible. We are trying to be responsive and stay ahead of the game."
Needs: A higher profile. "As with any small company, we want to connect with people who need our services," says Kush. "There are so many businesses out there who need help with their current process or help with designing something new to make their manufacturing more efficient. Those are the companies that we need to reach."