While the economic downturn is taking a toll on many companies, at least one supplier of low-cost automation products says its sales are on the rise.
It’s been about four years since AVG Automation (www.avg.net) launched its EZAutomation direct sales division based on a low-cost, e-commerce model. “Every single year, we’ve had a growth year, and in fact, the last quarter of 2008 was our best fourth quarter of all, despite so much uncertainty in the market,” said Shalli Kumar, AVG chief executive officer. Kumar made his remarks during a Jan. 9 press conference held at the company’s Carol Stream, Ill., headquarters to announce several new products, and to discuss the company’s views on the proposed federal bail-out of the U.S. automotive industry.
Kumar attributed the recent strong growth in his company’s sales in part to budgetary cutbacks at many manufacturing companies. This is causing broader acceptance of “innovative” automation products such as those made by AVG, which can provide a significantly lower-cost alternative to products supplied by well-known vendors such as Rockwell Automation and GE, he said.
AVG’s Uticor division, in Bettendorf, Iowa, for example, recently launched a series of visualization panels that are drop-in replacements for Rockwell’s PanelVision and GE’s QuickPanel product lines that can save manufacturers up to 50 percent per installation, AVG said. Another product announced at the press event—EZ Remote I/O on EtherNet/IP—provides a module with eight analog input/output channels and built-in EtherNet/IP network capability that can plug into a Rockwell Allen-Bradley Logix family programmable logic controller (PLC) system. The EZ Remote I/O module’s $300 price compares to around a $1,000 cost for comparable capability from Rockwell, Kumar said.
AVG also launched new software products at the press conference, including EZ Plant View, a $299 package that allows plant management to remotely view, drill down or take control of the operations of multiple machines on a factory floor using an Ethernet or Internet connection. The EZ Plant View software requires AVG’s $99 RMC (for remote monitoring and control) card—introduced about a year ago—to be installed on each machine to be monitored. Also new is the capability for AVG’s EZ Soft HMI (for human-machine interface) software—developed for the company’s EZ Series Touch Panels—to run on any Microsoft Windows-based computer.
In addition to offering significant cost savings on automation products, Kumar contends that AVG is one of the last companies that still manufactures all of its products in the United States. All AGV products are made either in Bettendorf, where the EZ Automation and Uticor division are headquartered, or at AVG’s Carol Stream plant. Perhaps 50 percent of automation products supplied by Rockwell and GE are manufactured offshore, according to Kumar. He said that AVG can keep pricing on its U.S.-made products competitive with those made offshore thanks to innovative designs that make heavy use of surface mount technology, enabling automated manufacturing.
Kumar said that AVG is hoping to instigate public discussion on the proposed federal bailout of U.S. automotive suppliers based on what he said is “wasteful spending” on automation by the Detroit 3 automakers. He has written letters on the topic to several well-known commentators, including CNN anchor and syndicated radio show host Lou Dobbs.
“While the taxpayer is being asked to fork up billions of dollars to bail out the automotive industry, the Big 3 continue to waste hundreds of millions of dollars every year on plant automation alone,” Kumar said in a Dec. 19 letter to Dobbs, which he released at the press conference. “General Motors, Chrysler, as well as Ford, do not allow competitive bidding on automation control devices while protecting their old, inefficient and outdated suppliers such as Rockwell and GE.
“Detroit spends close to $1.2 billion per year on automation control products that are supposed to increase plant productivity and reduce costs. Most of these products are not even manufactured in the U.S. any more,” Kumar said in another part of the letter. “On the other hand, there are American companies that can provide better products for half the cost, saving Detroit $600 million per year, with products that are manufactured in the United States of America, further creating additional high tech manufacturing jobs here in the homeland.”
AVG’s position, Kumar told editors at the press conference, is that “the bailout is OK, but with some really stringent conditions. Rockwell, in a way, is a partner of ours; we do a lot of things together,” Kumar pointed out. But if U.S. automakers moved to a more open policy on automation buying that didn’t lock in suppliers such as Rockwell, he said, the savings could be significant.