Manufacturing is in flux. Changes are inevitable in any industry, but the gradual move from manual to automated processes has changed everything. A company operating in the industry can fight or lead, so Invotec Engineering is setting itself at the front of the pack and pioneering adaptable processes and products to support this developing market.
Custom automation equipment builder Invotec is directed primarily toward the medical device market. Initially, the company had a broader set of customers and focused on complex applications in automotive, consumer products, medical, and electrical fields. However, over time, the company has found the best fit for its capabilities is in the medical industry.
“We have been working in this industry for all twenty-five years of our existence, but now, we are focusing on [the medical industry] primarily. We provide full solutions, so we have mechanical and electrical design engineers as well as fabrication and manufacturing – full service from the doorstep to the dock on the other side. We provide installation and after service, everything,” Director of Business Development Noah Smith explains.
Targeting the medical market was a natural decision. Changes were happening within the industry, and Invotec was perfectly placed to grow alongside its customers. “When our company was founded, we had two large customers, one of which was in medical, the other was in automotive. We took those first two customers as our primary direction with our business, and since then, we’ve worked in both fields. But the percentage share has always been predominantly medical,” says Smith.
Smith concedes that this focus has always been driven by its clients and core competencies. “It was customer-led. The company was founded in Dayton which has a large automotive and medical presence. Our capabilities fit best in applications with intricate components and complex assemblies, and it often involves helping our customers develop their manufacturing process. The automotive industry has grown to include more pre-defined processes, whereas medical device companies have a diversity that requires determining the level of automation necessary to manufacture their products successfully.”
There was, however, a lot in both experience and skills from the automotive industry the company could use. “From the outside, they are vastly different markets with differences of machinery, but what we worked in was the smaller and more intricate automotive areas such as airbags, electrical; it was the small, detailed aspects of the industry. That definitely has some crossover in areas such as testing and detailed assembly for medical devices. Really, what we focus on is that highly-regulated, safety-system-type needs with small parts and small assembly.”
Being in a position to use cross-industry skills, coupled with a growing bank of experience, ensures that Invotec holds a definite advantage over its competitors. “We also found that medical customers require more of our core competencies or flexibility and being able to work with them on how feasible their product is – particularly the manufacturing aspect of it – because most product engineers are not automation engineers, and those are definitely two different skills,” Smith explains.
“Our customers are onsite in our facility five days a week. They use our meeting rooms, and we have a separate break room for our customers. That really lends itself to the medical industry because they are trying to develop their product at a rapid pace, and a lot of the time, they won’t have a finished product when they decide to start working on developing their automation.”
The company is adamant that its customer is more of a partner. Invotec is also acutely aware that in the medical field, every project has different parameters. Nothing can be off-the-shelf. “It is very much customer-led, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Some of our customers have their processes and their product farther developed than others, so we really take the customers’ lead.”
While this is an exciting prospect for the customer and the company, Smith acknowledges that this comes with an element of risk. “Also, because we have twenty-five years of market experience, we can help them move in the right direction. To go from an operator-assembled part to a fully-automated line is very risky for both us and them, so often, we develop an intermediate at least one step, if not two steps before they need to go fully-automated,” he says.
“It is all driven by their product, what their projections are in the market, what kind of volumes they need to get to, whether the issues they are having are quality related or operator consistency or volume. Each customer has a different story, and each product has a different story. We don’t have a standard product that we go to a customer with; we collaborate to understand their production and their product, and we adapt all of our systems to them.”
Invotec takes this risk seriously and ensures that its customers develop automation at a healthy and manageable pace. The company guides the customer through to an automated process at a sustainable rate; something that perhaps its competitors do not offer. What makes the company stand out is what it refers to as the ‘three F’s:’ “feasibility, flexibility, and focus. The first thing we work on is the feasibility to the customer to make sure that we both understand what their product is, what the capabilities of automating that are, and what the risk factors are for both of us. That leads into flexibility. We don’t have a standard product; everything changes to what the feasibility leads us towards and what the customer needs. The focus is that we have got dedicated program and project managers, experienced staff, and a lot of different specialty areas that provide us with the focus to solve any of our customer’s issues.”
This growing industry is not without its challenges, as change is abundant. The impact of global markets on Invotec – and the industry in general – cannot be discounted. “The primary hurdle we face – and this is industry wide – is a lack of commercial componentry availability. The global market is growing substantially, and so actually procuring and being able to get realistic lead times on these commercial items is an everyday challenge. Things that used to be five to seven business days can now be five to seven weeks and sometimes thirty to forty weeks. It really challenges your project schedules, and customers are always needing their product faster and faster.”
While this is an issue across the industry, Smith understands that it is a simple case of supply and demand. This is not something that can be overcome easily. “A lot of production is offshored to China, and previously, that market was still manually operated, but now China is automating substantially, and so, because of their market size and their overall growth rate, they are soaking up the supply from the rest of the world, so you are starting to run into raw material shortages, product shortages. The overall global market in automation is growing, and supply can’t keep up with it.”
The future for Invotec is one of continual change and growth. Recently, steps were taken to exploit its newly acquired global reach. “The really exciting part is that about a year ago, we were acquired by the HAHN Group from Germany. They are a collective of automation-only companies that focus on the machine building automation marketplace. We have started to incorporate some of their best practices – some of their vast experience – so now we have a global network of likeminded companies. We are using that investment and those experiences to aid our expansion plans that are already in process.”
The company is celebrating a milestone year. Invotec Engineering has been in business for twenty-five years. The reason for this longevity is difficult to pinpoint, but Smith believes that gathering skilled and knowledgeable staff has given it a platform to grow and sustain its place in the industry. “I don’t think it is one individual moment or event necessarily; it has come from a business culture from our founders. They are both engineers, and they both have found value in collecting experience from the knowledgeable people in the industry. We really have a large brain trust of experience and knowledge. We have reputable industry people that understand the team mentality and teamwork environment. It helps us explain to customers that they are more than that; they are our partner and our priority. That combination of culture and experience is what has helped us to last twenty-five years and, I have no doubt, twenty-five or fifty more.”
This is not a company to rest on its laurels, however. ‘It is an exciting time for us, because not only can we look at the past twenty-five years and celebrate how we got here, we can look forward.”
This is a cause for celebration. Noah Smith insists, however, that the only direction in which Invotec Engineering is interested, is forwards. “We are expanding regionally, so that we can offer our customers all these services. That is just the tip of the iceberg, because, the closer we get to our customers, the better we can share our experiences and grow.”