On the Safe Side

The Weekly Report – February 20, 2023
As more manufacturers embrace automation to address the worker shortage, Advanced Machine Guarding Systems is ready with customized systems to ensure employee safety.

It’s always a pleasure when we can bring attention to an important issue and highlight one of our client companies at the same time. That happens in the next issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine, when the topic is automation and the company is Advanced Machine Guarding Systems (AMGS) in Hibbing.

Automation remains top of mind for manufacturers because it offers a path to fill gaps in the labor pool. That’s why helping manufacturers get automation right is an important focus for us at Enterprise Minnesota – in the magazine, on our website, at our workshops and through our consulting services.

A key–but sometimes overlooked–aspect of effective automation is keeping employees safe as they use new or different equipment. Enter Jason Wobbema, the founder of AMGS, who has more than two decades of experience in robotics integration and manufacturing safety systems.

AMGS is well-positioned to serve companies ramping up automation. Wobbema says his ability and willingness to work with customers to design exactly what they need to ensure safety surrounding their specific equipment gives AMGS an edge in the market, which is currently dominated by companies from Europe, China, and India.

“Every one of these projects has something unique about it, whether that’s cutting a hole for a conveyor or whatever. It’s our ability to customize it for our customers, to withstand North American safety rules, and really provide a product that meets those standards,” Wobbema says. “That’s what most foreign companies don’t do. They simply sell panels and posts. They don’t do anything else.”

Wobbema had helped another European startup in the same arena quickly grow its sales from near-zero to $3.5 million and was eager to beat that former employer at its own game. Having worked as a robotics integrator for years, Wobbema saw the shortcomings of products already on the market. “I continued to buy and use our competitors’ products and never was very satisfied. So, I just thought I could do better,” he says.

Manufacturing experts say AMGS is perfectly positioned for the coming boom in automation.

“The shortage of employees is forcing companies to implement automation where they can, and that will only drive demand for his product,” says Jim Schottmuller, one of our business development consultants.

“Automation is the wave of the future for manufacturing,” says Betsy Olivanti, community development director for the city of Hibbing. “And that’s truly being driven by our workforce issues.”

Olivanti adds, “In my opinion, he’s really on the cusp of being able to integrate automation into their facilities, along with that service and essential support around guarding those operations.”

The story of AMGS isn’t just about automation and safety. As you’ll see from writer Peter Passi’s excellent article about the company, Wobbema’s journey reads like a lively business school case study, covering innovation, financing, cost management, worker training, and marketing. Look for the full feature when we publish our spring issue on February 23.

Ensuring worker safety is just one of a host of issues facing companies boosting their automation efforts. For companies considering–or in the midst of–advancing their level of automation, I strongly recommend our upcoming manufacturing workshop.

Optimizing for Automation with our continuous improvement expert Eric Blaha will be held on April 26 at Alexandria Technical & Community College. Eric will  show manufacturers how a systematic automation approach will support long-term productivity improvements.

Manufacturers will learn:
•    How to optimize people and production to meet goals despite labor shortages
•    Understanding the automation horizon, and
•    The essential connections between automation and continuous improvement thinking

Register for this April 26 workshop here

Industry News

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How two Digi-Key engineers reimagined electronic component shipping
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Rush City-based Plastech to close Minnesota molding site, cut 71 jobs
February 15, Bring Me the News

Upsher-Smith opens state-of-the-art pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Maple Grove
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