HOLLAND — JR Automation Technologies LLC, a global designer, builder and integrator of automation solutions, has seen a pandemic-induced surge in demand from labor-strapped clients across a wide range of industries.
The Holland-based company had a banner year in 2020 against the backdrop of COVID-19. JR Automation doubled its sales from 2019 and has kept on a hiring tear to keep up with demand.
Craig Ulrich, who was named CEO of JR Automation in February of this year, said much of the surge can be attributed to the pressure that COVID-19 has put on companies.
“Companies are starting to think about social distancing, how (to keep their) doors open and what happens if the supply chain gets impacted,” Ulrich told MiBiz. “People are thinking about all of those things because of COVID. But, to react and build for that, takes a little bit of time.”
While JR Automation has faced the same rocky labor market and disrupted supply chain as the clients it serves, hiring has continued at a steady clip. The company has a workforce of roughly 1,000 employees across its seven Holland facilities. In addition to its Michigan locations in Stevensville, Auburn Hills, Sterling Heights and Pontiac, JR Automation has operations in Utah, Tennessee and South Carolina along with European and Asian divisions. Ulrich said JR Automation has already hired around 240 people companwide this year, at a pace of roughly 40 new employees per month.
While supply chain disruptions have cropped up, especially involving the shortage of semiconductors, Ulrich said the company has taken intentional steps to minimize the effects.
“Logistical flow of material is certainly an issue — we deal with it every day,” he said. “It really hasn’t had an impact in any negative way other than our having to put more time and effort into it. Sometimes that means more people to make sure that all of our materials are flowing in the right way and we’re getting material at the right time.”
“When you double your sales within a year, you can imagine what it does to your resources,” he added.
In a transformational $1.42 billion deal completed at the end of 2019, Tokyo-based software giant Hitachi Ltd. acquired JR Automation, which at the time was a portfolio company of New York City private equity firm Crestview Partners.
The two companies had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic in its first year of integration, which “certainly had an impact,” according to Ulrich. Still, the merger positions JR Automation in the marketplace as a company that blends both information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT).
“We don’t think there is another company that has that type of blending of OT and IT,” Ulrich said. “Even the large (companies), the big players in automation, don’t have that blending of IT and OT like we do. That’s really the purpose of the Hitachi purchase and we’re really just getting started on that endeavor to really get that blending going.
“You’re going to see a lot more about that over the next couple of months with how we’re blending IT and OT together and how we can help our customers with achieving Industry 4.0 and what their vision is of it.”
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