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Otis Technology goes lean with materials handling

Mobile robots, an AS/RS and supply chain software transformed this manufacturer’s processes.
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
April 14, 2011

Conventional wisdom holds that robotics and automated materials handling systems are for the industry’s big guns, not for the little guys.

In the case of Otis Technology, conventional wisdom is wrong. A manufacturer of firearms cleaning systems in upstate New York, Otis Technology has installed three mobile robots (ADAM Robots) in a manufacturing and distribution facility that measures just 80,000 square feet.

The company began to install automation in 2008 with two primary purposes in mind. The first, and most important, was to enable Otis Technology’s implementation of lean manufacturing processes. The second was to further a philosophy that employees matter.

“In the history of the company, we have never laid off an employee,” says Mike York, director of operations. “To stay competitive, we are looking at automation to free up our employees for value-added tasks and to increase our throughput, not to reduce our workforce. We are proud to be American-made, American-owned and American-employed.”

But its automated materials handling wasn’t limited to mobile robots. Otis Technology has also installed a warehouse management system (WMS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, automated data collection, a wireless voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) communications system, and a two-aisle automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS). One aisle features 512 pallet positions for unit load storage while the other aisle includes 3,240 positions for mini-load storage. 

Since going live, the results have been impressive:

  • On-time deliveries increased from 85% to 99.92%.

  • Otis Technology has saved $2 million in inventory.

  • York estimates the mobile robots are saving the company 94.2 hours a day in time employees used to spend walking back and forth in the operation. That’s roughly 1 hour per day per employee.

Going back to a philosophy that employees are integral to the company’s success, some of that savings has been reinvested into employee training in lean techniques that will yield more improvements in the future. 

Growing a business
Otis Technology is unique in a number of ways beyond being a small company committed to lean and automation.
For one, the 26-year-old company is female-owned and operated. Doreen Garrett, founder and CEO, was just 16 when a bullet jammed in her rifle after she tripped over a stick in the woods during a hunt with family members in rural New York. After walking 2 miles back to their hunting camp, she cleared her gun with a weight and some string she found in her grandfather’s kit. The experience gave her the idea for a field kit to clean a gun’s muzzle.

After getting tossed from the first gun show where she showed off her prototype because she was under 18, Garrett went back to the show wearing makeup and high heels and came away with orders from the military. Her father helped her establish the company, since she was not only a kid but a young woman in a male-dominated industry. Today, Garrett’s siblings are also involved in the business.

Early orders were produced at the family’s kitchen table and then a horse barn. In 1996, the company moved into its current offices, and in 2004 it broke ground on the manufacturing plant where the product is assembled. In 2006, the company added an on-site day care center to help employees.

While Otis Technology does not release sales information, it is now the largest employer in its part of the county. Still, it has maintained a family-owned culture with a commitment to the local economy. “Our area needs jobs,” says York, “and we think we have an important role to play in our area.” 

Otis Technology is unique in another respect: While many manufacturers outsource some or all of their production processes, Otis Technology remains a vertically integrated company, with some 31 work centers on the floor. “We produce 90% of what we kit,” says York. “As a result, we have multiple work centers going into work-in-process, followed by work-in-process going to other work centers.” 

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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