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Riley's robots: $42 million
Robotics companies meet with governor, agree to make donations to proposed center

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Twelve robotics manufacturers have committed in principle to provide $42 million worth of robots for Gov. Bob Riley’s dream robotics campus in North Alabama.

Representatives from the 12 corporations, described as the worldwide movers and shakers in the robotics business, met with Riley on Thursday. They discussed the key elements the state needs to include in planning such a campus.

Riley envisions a robotics campus likely affiliated with a two-year college and close to the aerospace research hub in Huntsville.

But the governor said the campus also must be easily accessible to the state’s growing manufacturing sector and include elements that help support other industry. He wants to include assistance for small manufacturers that cannot afford to have full-time employees with such expertise.

Calhoun Community College, which has a robotics program, and Wallace State Community College in Hanceville both want the robotics campus.

Riley said there is no decision yet on where to locate the center.

A Decatur Daily reporter was the only media representative at the meeting.

Riley has no firm timetable on construction. He expects to present funding proposals for the campus construction to the Legislature in 2008 and said he and two-year college system Chancellor Bradley Byrne will discuss possible sites before then.

The manufacturers' commitment to pay for that cost relieves the state of a major expense and may hasten the project, Riley said. From the beginning, one of his main concerns was finding a way to pay for the robots.

"I'd like for it to be ready by Christmas," Riley quipped, but he conceded that even the first phase will take longer.

Riley credits Alabama Industrial Development Training Institute Director Ed Castille with gathering key manufacturers to help design different elements of the robotics campus.

"Everybody has agreed in principle to provide their own equipment at the center," said Castille. "Nobody has signed on the dotted line, but they all want to be a part of this."

He said the state sought a mix of robotics companies to get involved in designing the campus.

Riley said his original one-focus, industry-training facility idea evolved into a three-facility campus. One facility would train workers in using the specific robotics equipment that different companies use, another would provide equipment testing and one would be a demonstration area for new equipment.

Riley hopes the center will train about 700 people each year to be "functionally literate" in robotics.

'Ever-expanding'

"I see this as ever expanding with no downsizing in the foreseeable future," Riley said.

Both Mercedes and Toyota said they would send people there for training, including people from other parts of the world, he added.

A Rockwell Automation representative said he already has received calls from other states wanting information on how to develop what Alabama is doing.

"Don't tell them," Riley said.

Castille said almost all manufacturers use robotics and they finally found somebody who will listen to what they need.

The manufacturers suggested specific elements that the state needs to include in the robotics campus. Among them:

  • Protecting the proprietary information of individual manufacturers.

  • Designing building interiors to secure the privacy of different companies using the facilities for testing or product demonstrations.

  • A set-up that trains but also has room to demonstrate new equipment to customers.

    ABB Robotics representative Andy FLaisch suggested the state design its robotics training programs like four-year college co-op programs, in which students work some semesters and go to school during others.

    While the process takes longer to complete, FLaisch said, the employer would have a relationship with the newly trained employee who would be more likely to remain with the company.

    "We need you to help us build this," Riley told the company representatives. "Use it like a lab. Tell us how big you need it, what you need in it. When we are through, we want this place to be the best place like this in the world."

    Robotics representatives

    These company representatives participated in Gov. Bob Riley’s meeting on robotics:

  • Michael Rhodes, account manager, Kawasaki Robotics

  • Don Leu, area manager, Rockwell Automation

  • Greg Graves, branch manager, Rockwell Automation

  • Doug Schenher, vice president, Motoman Robotics

  • Chris McCulley, regional sales manager, Motoman Robotics

  • Frank Kramarczyk, president, Sanyo Equipment

  • Andy FLaisch, account executive, ABB Robotics

  • Mark Sadie, Southern Region team leader, Omron Automation

  • Kevin Baker, North American team manager, Omron Automation

  • Tim Foley, vice president, Omron Automation

  • Bob Roberts, Kuka Robotics

  • Randy Abdallah, senior vice president, Walbridge Aldinger

  • Mark McClelland, executive director of business development, Walbridge Aldinger

  • Dan Lamble, senior engineering manager, Walbridge Aldinger

  • Richard Haller, president and COO, Walbridge Aldinger

  • Terry McIlvain, Life Sciences Instruments, PerkinElmer Robotics (bio robotics firm)

  • Mark Laxton, product specialist, PerkinElmer Robotics

  • Dave Felton, sales, Daifuku

    M.J. Ellington

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