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From Site Selection magazine, January 2005

Robust Times For Robotics

Automakers, New Applications Boost Demand


Craig Jennings has a problem most presidents of manufacturing companies would love to have: Market growth for his products is so great that he's constantly looking at ways to boost capacity around the globe.
       Jennings is president and COO of Motoman. Based in West Carrollton, Ohio, Motoman specializes in robots for thermal applications, material handling and coating and dispensing. A subsidiary of Japan's Yaskawa Electric Corp., Motoman has rapidly grown to be the second largest North American robot company. Demand has forced Motoman to grow its production capacity in the last few years by 50 percent, and more growth is needed.
Motoman is expanding its robot manufacturing facilities around the world. Rapid growth has made the Ohio-based company the second largest producer of robots in North America.
       "We went from producing just under 1,000 [robots] a month to 1,500," Jennings says, adding that the company needs to produce 1,800 per month to fulfill current orders.
       Enabling the growth has been a major global expansion program. Motoman expanded its facilities in China, Slovenia and Finland, and just added a factory in Monterrey, Mexico. Closer to home, the company has doubled capacity at its peripheral production facility in Mississauga, Ontario.
       The Monterrey facility will serve the food and beverage, automobile and agriculture and construction markets with welding, cutting and palletizing robots. Motoman supplies Tier 1 and Tier 2 auto suppliers.
       Jennings cites a lengthy laundry list of location decision considerations. One key factor is the cost of money, which has Motoman constantly moving production around the world.
       "Currency is something you have to deal with," Jennings says. "We don't want to go where the currency is strongest. That will make it too expensive for weak currency nations to buy our robots."
       Jennings says the weak U.S. dollar may help bring some of Motoman's production back to Ohio. A few years ago, Motoman moved some production out of Ohio to various offshore locations. Now, with more capacity needed, the company's facilities in West Carrollton and Troy may be expanded.
       "It doesn't have to be Ohio, but we would likely look there first because we have good relationships with local and state government," Jennings says. A prerequisite in any project is proximity to customers. Other factors on the list include available infrastructure and skilled workers as well as state and local incentives, he says.
       The U.S. robot manufacturing industry developed largely up and down the I-75 automotive corridor. Other applications developed elsewhere, a major example being the semiconductor industry on both coasts. In recent years, robotics industry growth has been powered by the growing automobile and recreational vehicle manufacturing base in the Southeast.
       "The Southeast has been very hot for automation," Jennings says. "It's really driven a large surge in activity. The auto industry uses robots for most everything and it continues to be a strong purchaser. Usage in the food and beverage industry is increasing."
       The pharmaceutical and medical sectors, early adopters of robotics, are also increasing their deployment of the technology, Jennings says, noting that medical procedures figure to be a growing niche. The exploding market for flat panel TVs and computer screens will be another driver of growth, he says.

Robotics on a Worldwide Roll
       Figures from the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Robotic Industries Association (RIA) mirror Moto-man's success story. RIA reports North American robotics companies logged a 13-percent rise in new orders from the North American market through the first nine months of 2004, selling 11,384 robots valued at US$745.1 million. North American robot builders also sold 943 robots valued at $56.9 million during that period to manufacturers outside of North America, a 185-percent gain in units.
       RIA estimates that about 142,000 robots are now in use in the U.S. Material handling is the largest application area. Jennings, a past president of RIA, estimates industry growth for 2005 will be in the seven to 12 percent range.
       The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in its World Robotics 2004 report says worldwide investment in industrial robots rose 19 percent in 2003. The UNECE estimates at least 800,000 robots are working in industry around the globe. Japan leads the way with 350,000, followed by the European Union with 250,000 and North America with 112,000. Germany dominates Europe with an estimated 112,700 units.
Boring machines steadily pierce gneiss and granite as the Gotthard Base Tunnel progresses. The project is divided into five work sections. Before excavation began, surveyors, using satellite GPS, laid out a grid of fixed points across the project area.

World's Longest Tunnel Will Speed Swiss Rail Traffic

The collision of two continental plates about 100 million years ago created the Alps, giving Switzerland and neighboring countries breathtaking scenery. The mountain range, which is virtually synonymous with the
central European country, has also presented considerable transportation challenges through the centuries.
       Now, one of the world's great infrastructure marvels is progressing, promising rapid north-south travel through Switzerland. The 57-km. (35.4-mile) Gotthard Base Tunnel will be the longest in the world and will allow rapid rail transportation through the Alps. When complete, the tunnel will reduce the travel time between Zurich and Milan by an hour, to 2 hours, 40 minutes. It will become the primary rail route through this part of Switzerland and will supercede the current, circuitous route and its steep ascents and descents. The tunnel will also be another
The Gotthard Base Tunnel is the centerpiece of Swiss railway improvements that will greatly reduce travel time from Zurich to Lugano and southward to Italy.
cog in the long-range plan to link all of Europe with high-speed rail.
       The project consists of two single-track tunnels located 40 m. (131 ft.) apart. They will be connected by pedestrian "galleries" every 325 m. (1,066 ft.). There will also be two multifunction stations at the one-third points of the tunnel that will include cross-over tunnels and emergency stop areas.
       Not only will travel time be reduced, but the capacity for moving freight through the region will approximately double. Swiss officials anticipate a shifting of goods from trucks to trains. Freight trains will travel at speeds up to 160 km./h (99 mph). Passenger trains will be even faster, moving at 200 to 250 kmph
(124 to 155 mph). The route is a flat-trajectory line whose highest point is 550 m. (5,503 ft.) above sea level, compared to the apex of 1,150 m. (3,773 ft.) on the existing line.
       Excavation of the tunnel is now more than 35 percent complete and the current estimated year of completion is 2015. Drilling has proceeded more slowly than originally forecast and the project is now a few years behind its original schedule.
       The tunnel is part of a CH30-billion (US$24-billion) project, which will extend and modernize the Swiss railway network by 2022. The tunnel's cost has been estimated at CH7 billion (US$5.6 billion), but will likely rise as construction progresses. Financing comes from taxes on heavy vehicles and oil, plus
loans and a value added tax.
       "The tunnel will be one of the most important connections between the north and south of Europe," says
The Bodio portal, just north of Lugano, is the southern entrance to the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Twin boring machines are driving through the mountain from this site. They are averaging an advance of about 20 m. (66 ft.) per day.
Giosia Bullo, spokeswoman for the AlpTransit Gotthard Company. "There are 20 million potential users between Stuttgart and Milan."
       Excavation requires a certain expertise. Bullo says miners from Austria, Germany and Italy were recruited for the task. By the time the tunnel is complete, more than 13 million cubic m. (17 million cubic yards) of gneiss, granite and other geologic material will have been removed from the mountain. In keeping with Switzerland's environmentally friendly policies, virtually all the excavated materials will be recycled in some manner.
       About 20 percent of the rocks removed during construction will be used to make concrete for the tunnel construction. Some of the unusable excavated materials will be used to fill in old quarries in the region.
       "We're in the middle of a tectonic plate, so there are a lot of different types of rocks," Bullo says. "The idea is to recycle as much material as possible."
Huge German-made tunnel boring machines are adaptable to changing rock conditions. When the tunnel is complete in about 10 years, more than 13 million cubic m. (17 million cubic yards) of rock will have been excavated.

       The Zurich to Lugano route will also include two shorter, but by most standards, long tunnels. The 20-km. (12.4-mile) Zimmerman base tunnel is being built north of Zug. In the south, the 15-km. (9.3-mile) Ceneri base tunnel will connect the line to the Lugano area. Construction will allow a further underground extension toward Italy in the future.
       The Gotthard Base Tunnel is just one of two major borings through the Alps. In west-central Switzerland,
The Lotschberg base tunnel runs from Frutigen in the Kander Valley in the Canton of Bern to Raron in the Canton of Valais. It is 34.6 km. (21.4 miles) long, making it the world's fourth longest, and is also a two-tube, single-track rail tunnel with each tube carrying trains in opposite directions.
       Much further along than the Gotthard project, Lotschberg is slated to open in 2007. Construction on Lotschberg began in 1999. It will be the first high-speed north-south rail link through the Alps, and will cut travel time from Bern to southern Switzerland in half.
— John W. McCurry



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