HOLLAND — As robotic technology continues to improve, manufacturers of automation equipment are finding their customers demand larger, more complex systems.
When Holland-based Koops Inc. changed its focus to manufacturing automation equipment 18 years ago, its typical project consisted of one or two machines.
However, now that automation technology has improved and become ubiquitous across numerous industry sectors and supply chain tiers, Koops ships its machines with multiple robots and automated vision, feeding and other systems. Executives at Koops are betting on that trend to drive the company’s growth into the future.
“We’re positioning ourselves to take on larger automation projects,” said Paul Brinks, CEO of Koops. “We started with projects doing one machine and now we’re doing projects where a line consists of five or six machines. We’re planning on taking that to where we’re doing lines of 20 or 30 machines and continuing to grow that level of expertise.”
To capitalize on that vision, Koops recently invested $4.9 million in a facility expansion project that would double the production capability of its plant at 987 Productions Court in Holland. The company estimates that the 40,000-square-foot addition will result in roughly 60 new jobs. Koops employs 114 people at its Holland location and an additional 15 workers at a facility in North Carolina.
“As the systems we provide become larger, more advanced and more technical, we needed a larger place to assemble that equipment and a larger space for engineering staff to be able to design and program the machines,” Brinks said. “That’s really why the expansion is happening.”
Brinks also notes that the expansion will alleviate capacity constraints as the company was “packed to the gills” in its current facility.
Koops generates approximately $25 million in annual revenues and is targeting a 15-percent to 20-percent growth rate in the coming years as more manufacturers adopt automation equipment and as more advanced robotic technology enters the market, Brinks said.
Shipments of robotic equipment in North America increased nearly 10 percent to $838 million in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period the previous year, according to the Robotic Industry Association (RIA), a trade association based in Ann Arbor. However, at the same time, new orders decreased nearly 3 percent to $817 million, according to RIA data. Overall, the North American robotics industry forms a $1.8 billion market and is expected to reach nearly $2 billion by the end of this year. The group estimates that 262,000 robots are used across North American factories.
Koops primarily serves the automotive industry, which makes up about 65 percent of the North American market for robotic equipment, said Jeff Burnstein, president of RIA.
“What’s driving this expansion of robotics in North America is the sale of robots into the automotive industry for material handling, welding and those types of applications,” Burnstein said.
The majority of Koops’ machines are used to assemble interior components, including instrument clusters, door panels and seating components. The company also manufactures machines that assemble exterior facial components on vehicles.
Koops maintains a secondary market in medical device manufacturing.
While the robotics industry in general is poised for strong growth, Koops sees a particular market for “collaborative robots,” which can work alongside workers and assist in production tasks, Brinks said.
To date, collaborative robots have comprised a small but growing part of the overall automation market, Burnstein said.
“Collaborative robots are still in their infancy in terms of penetration into market,” he said. “Most of the robot orders we’re seeing are for traditional robots.”
Koops works with its customers to map out what automation equipment is appropriate for their applications.
“It boils down to what the required application for the technology is,” Brinks said. “Do you need a robot or will a simpler piece of automation work?”
Despite the positivity in the automation market, Brinks worries about the stability of the global economy given the upcoming U.S. presidential election and fallout from events such as Britain’s pending exit from the European Union.
“If the whole world economy starts to dip, then people aren’t as interested in spending money on capital equipment,” Brinks said. “They’re more reserved on making capital outlays.”
That uncertainty did play into the company’s decision to invest in the expansion, but Koops’ executive team remains positive about the near-term economic situation.
“From our indicators, we have two to three years that we’re forecasting as solid,” he said. “I’m not saying it won’t be further out than that, but it’s really hard to start predicting that.”
Made in Michigan: Holland-based Koops Inc. plans to better capitalize on the nearly $2 billion robotics industry through a 40,000-square-foot expansion project. The $4.9 million project will double the automated equipment manufacturer’s capacity and result in approximately 60 new jobs. Primarily, Koops plans to use the new space to build larger, more complex robotic systems to stay abreast of new technology and customer demands.