With 170 employees and counting, Innovative Automation is hailing success with its first full foray into research and development.
The 31-year-old Barrie company has entered into an agreement with commercial bonding juggernaut 3M over Innovative Automation’s two-year-old RoboTape robotic taping system.
“We have a second version of the RoboTape product which is the 3M optimized version,” said the Barrie company’s president, Michael Lalonde. “Being the world’s largest supplier of tapes, they were very interested in it as they try to move customers from fastened joining technologies to taping joining technologies.
“We worked with them to create an optimized version of the product for what they call DHB tapes, which are very high bond, two-sided tapes” used in manufacturing processes, he added.
RoboTape replaces manual work, which helps to offset labour shortages, now widespread in industry.
The machine, Lalonde explained, is the first product created through the Barrie company’s newly developed research and development department. While Innovative Automation has always been involved in research and development on a per project basis, this is the first time a department was assigned to create a specific product.
Innovative Automation was created in Barrie in 1989 with three people to address custom automation and integrates third-party equipment such as robots or dispensing equipment. It largely services the automotive sector, particularly tier one parts suppliers, but also works with medical devices and customer goods.
During the pandemic, Innovative Automation, located on Welham Road in the city's south end, built machines that assembled COVID swab kits.
As a custom machine builder, the company had built custom equipment for applying foam tape to an automotive part.
“We had the idea we could build a standard, off-the-shelf product; there was really nothing in the market that could do what we set out to do,” said Lalonde. “So we started an R&D department and they spent nearly two years developing the product and it’s now been on the market for two years.”
The machine takes any lined or tape product, such as foam, two-sided tape or Velcro, dispensing it to a robotic head which applies it on any three-dimensional contour or surface, which Lalonde describes as a major challenge.
So far Innovative Automation has sold more than 30 machines, which cost in excess of $100,000, with continuing support from the company. It just ordered material with the goal of manufacturing another 100 machines by the first quarter next year.
Lalonde anticipates hiring another 50 or more people in engineering and skilled trades within the next three years to build this business unit to support itself.
Meanwhile, Innovative Automation has immediate opportunities for programmers, electricians, mechanical builders, and developers, as well as mechanical and electrical designers.
“We probably have 20 positions that if we could find the right people tomorrow we’d hire them,” said Lalonde.
The 3M relationship sees a collaboration in sales efforts and in trade shows, with Innovative Automation continuing to sell its original RoboTape.
“The goal of this relationship… is giving credibility to the product, it’s giving us worldwide exposure and it’s just allowing us to reach a much larger audience,” said Lalonde.
The R&D department continues to support RoboTape and has started to work on complementary technologies so that it can offer a wider range of products as Innovative Automation works toward developing new offerings in the automation space.