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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Producer finds blend of art, craft and science in Marion company

Watch RobotWorx on the History Channel
MARION - A Marion robotic company is ready for its close-up.
The History Channel television show "Modern Marvels" will feature RobotWorx at 10 p.m. May 9 in an episode about welding.
Technology of a different kind led to the West Fairground Street business winning approximately 10 minutes of air time on the nationally televised cable channel, said Keith Wanner, RobotWorx president. "It meant a lot because there are a
thousand integrators in the country," Wanner said, calling his company's selection an honor. "For us to stand out like that meant a lot to us. It's kind of neat. They called us up because they saw us on the Internet."
Viewers of the show will see various RobotWorx engineers and technicians demonstrating a variety of welding systems, which they have reconditioned and integrated for industrial customers. The 15-year-old business's mission is to fill the void in the market between the large full-service robot integrators and small welding distributors who try to install robots.
The research department at Actuality Productions, the company behind nearly all of the "Modern Marvels" series, found RobotWorx on the Internet, Philip Kruener, free-lance producer of the episode, confirmed. He described RobotWorx's history as "one of those great American stories."
"It certainly proves how one guy with an idea can build a company," said Kruener, who is based in Los Angeles. "It certainly shows that crazy future that we all know is coming where a lot of work is going to be automated and overseen by machines."
Wanner's enterprise has grown to a workforce of 30 to 35 employees in large part because of a close relationship with the World Wide Web, which Wanner learned early in his company's history serves as a valuable marketing tool.
This knowledge of the power of the Internet hasn't escaped others in the plant.
"The majority of our customers we get through word of mouth or through our Web sites on the Internet," said Josh Holtsberry, sales manager and welding technician. "That is a conscious effort."
Wise use of the Internet represents an evolution in the way a robotic company does business, said Jarrod Bichon, RobotWorx vice president.
"Before the Internet you went to trade shows and got to know people in the industry" to learn of new technologies. "Now, you hop on the Internet."
To take advantage of such a trend, RobotWorx employs eight people, nearly one-third of the company's employee roster, who work on its Web site.
The appearance on "Modern Marvels," like the company's sponsorship of a McGill Motorsports car on the NASCAR circuit last year, boosts RobotWorx's reputation as a legitimate robotic company among prospective customers, Wanner said.
"Things like NASCAR and "Modern Marvels" enhance our credibility," he said.
Actuality Productions, the show's production company, spent 12 hours at the company's 100,000-square-foot facility at 370 W. Fairground St. interviewing the principals and recording video.
Bichon, who demonstrated the plant's use of computer software to enhance its integration of customers' robots, said working in front of a television camera made him "a little more nervous," but was "not a big deal."
He looks forward to seeing the show.
"Yeah, I'll definitely watch," he said, adding, "It's a fairly popular show. We're kind of hoping for a little bit of exposure."
The program also can provide viewers with a "little bit more information and paint a little bit more vivid picture of what robotics has done in the in the industrial arena," Bichon said.
Acknowledging concerns expressed by some that the introduction of robotics has taken jobs away from people, he and Holtsberry said the opposite is the case.
"Robots aren't taking jobs away," Holtsberry said. "It keeps us competitive in the world market. In reality it's keeping jobs here that otherwise would go to Mexico or China or wherever."
The Marion company has integrated robotic systems in all 50 states, as well as all provinces in Canada and Mexico.
Kruener said "one of the nice points" made by RobotWorx officials was that "often the people that they bring in to oversee the robots are actually guys who are welders first and robot technicians second. They can train a good welder to operate a robot." But training a robot operator to be a welder is more of a challenge.
Producing the welding episode, he said, gave him a newfound appreciation for the skill. "It's an art and a craft and a science that I certainly underestimated when I undertook the show," he said.

Reference: http://www.robots.com/articles/viewing/producer-finds-blend-of-art-craft-and-science-in-marion-company