Making the Case for Automation

Drew Greenblatt, president of Marlin Steel Wire Products LLC, a Baltimore-based manufacturer of fabricated wire products, is a champion for automation. He will speak on the topic during a panel session at the Automate 2011 show March 21-24 in Chicago.

Drew Greenblatt, president of Marlin Steel Wire Products LLC.
Drew Greenblatt, president of Marlin Steel Wire Products LLC.

Greenblatt laid out some of his thoughts on the benefits of automation—both for manufacturers and for their employees—during a recent podcast interview with Automation World Managing Editor Wes Iversen. Following is an edited excerpt from that conversation.

Automation World: At Automate 2011, you will be speaking on the topic, “Grow Great Jobs and Profits With More Automation.” Can you please share some of what you will be presenting?

Drew Greenblatt: I believe that automation is critical for factories to pursue. A lot of times, automation gets a bad rap. But automation, I think, is intrinsic to improving the livelihoods of employees, and improving the chance that companies will survive this terrible recession.

Employees in factories that are highly automated, in general, are paid much better. It shows up in their wallets, because they’re doing higher level work. In our factory, we have $2.5 million worth of robots. And our people who are programming those robots, setting those robots up and double-checking that those robots are running well, are paid far in excess of the average employee in other vocations, like those in the restaurant or retail industries.

Running automated machinery is a lucrative way to become part of the middle class of America. And I think it’s important to understand that the people who run those automated pieces of equipment have good jobs.

AW: A lot of people say that automation eliminates jobs. How do you respond to that?

Greenblatt: Well, I reject that. Automation creates jobs. And the reason is that if you don’t automate, that factory is going to go away, so you’re going to lose every single job in the factory.

The jobs that are created in automation are better jobs, higher paid jobs, jobs with benefits. In our case, we have BlueCross BlueShield for all of our employees. And we pay 100 percent of the cost of any post-secondary education such as college or associate degrees.

You really invest in your people, because you want those robots slamming away doing their mission, and you need to have really good talent making sure that those robots have a lot of up-time, and that they’re running good quality parts consistently.

And there’s another thing we haven’t talked about, which is safety. A highly automated factory is much safer than a factory where there are a lot of processes that are done by hand.

AW: I’ve read that you’ve had a long run of growing profits and revenue at your company. How much of that is attributable to automation?

Greenblatt: We’ve had six years of record revenue growth, record profit and record cash flow. And this has been due to a couple of things. But high on the list is automation.

We have been reinvesting back into the factory, adding more technology, more automation, so that our employees are like supermen, and they’re able to do tremendous feats, consistently faster than any other factory in the world. And because of that, we win more jobs, and because of that, we’re growing, and it becomes a very positive, virtuous cycle.

You know, when I first bought the company in 1998, we had a gentleman who was paid $6 an hour to hand-bend wire for baskets, and for wire forms, and he would do 300 bends an hour. Now, we’ll have one gentleman running four robots, and those four robots will produce 20,000 bends in an hour.

So it’s dramatic leaps in productivity. The employee is paid more than four times more than what he used to be paid. In the old days, employees had no health insurance. Now they do. When I first bought the company, nobody owned a car. Now, you can’t even find a parking space in my parking lot. So it really helps the employees, because the company is safer. They have a future. The company is more prosperous, so we can afford generous benefits.

AW: What is the employee count at your company compared to a few years ago?

Greenblatt: When I bought the company in 1998, we had 18 employees, and now we have 25. And we’ve been making huge investments in our team, so that we can really optimize and maximize this wonderful technology that we have.

When people say that with automation, you lose jobs, it’s erroneous. Without automation, we would have gone from 18 to zero. I’d rather go from 18 to 25.

Drew Greenblatt, Marlin Steel Wire’s President, also serves as Chairman of the Regional Manufacturing Institute, which focuses on improving manufacturing in the Baltimore region. He is also a member of the Executive Board of Directors of the National Association of Manufacturers. Past positions include President of Diamond Properties Inc., Potomac, Md., and President of Lifewatch, a commercial and residential security firm in Bethesda, Md. Greenblatt earned a Master of Business Administration from the A. B. Freeman School of Business, Tulane University, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa.

February 2011, Related Podcast - Podcast Bytes: Job Creation Through Automation
To hear the podcast, visit
http://www.automationworld.com/podcast-8355

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