Lee, we see Suhner has moved aggressively into the robot tool area. Can you give us a little history on those products?
Suhner has had a history of drilling and tapping in the machining industry. But another division had been heavily involved in grinding and polishing. So we essentially combined automation, the machining side, with the abrasive side. Suhner has been involved in grinding, polishing, deburring for many years, and now we’ve taken that knowledge and put it into our end-of-arm tooling for robots and created a line of Robot tools.
How do these tools impact the aerospace industry specifically?
There are many applications. As you know, we only supply the end-of-arm units as components. So it leaves it up to the customer. He can organize them to meet his needs. The product is versatile enough to meet a variety of customers’ requirements.
Are there long-term plans for expansion of the product line in terms of functionality? Your new cooperative venture with PushCorp suggests so.
Yes. The robot industry has much potential. So we’re all asking, “What can we do to better our products? What can we do to help customers?” After working with PushCorp, we decided they had a product we needed, and they decided we had a product they needed. So we started talks in January, and in February we came up with an agreement for our pad changer: They will use our pad changer, and we’ll develop a four-inch, five-inch, six-inch pad changer for their robots.
How have composites impacted the Suhner business strategy in aerospace manufacturing?
As you know, composites have been really heavily involved in aerospace, as well as many other industries, because of their benefits. We’re going to continue to see advancements in that area. With that being said, Suhner developed our STACKmaster product. When you start doing composites, it’s usually not just composites; it’s usually a stack of composites or a stack of different materials. You may have a layer of composites with a layer of aluminum or a layer of titanium. So then you need to drill those. And, as everyone in the industry knows, it takes different sets of parameters to drill each of those materials. The STACKmaster is really a smart drill. We call it “adaptive drilling.” It will adapt to the material it’s drilling to change its parameters. That gives customers high quality, quick holes.
So the stacking nature of composites is a blessing and a bane. But you’re trying to make sure it’s more of a blessing?
Right. Depending on how you organize the stacks, they offer customers many benefits. As you know, in the aerospace industry, weight is key. But they also need strength. So the type of stacks, and the number of layers, all offer benefits to the manufacturer. But they still need a way to drill it. You’ve heard of “good, fast and cheap.” We’re working to get them good, high quality holes as quick and economical as possible. That’s what the STACKmaster is.
Lee, do you partner with any robot manufacturers or do you sell turnkey systems to the industry?
We try to be the experts in our field. So we try to let the experts in other fields do what they do well. So we do not sell any turnkey; we sell components only. Usually in the robotic world, we work with a robot systems integrator to provide a turnkey solution.