Factory floor and quarantine floor

Transitioning to the “New Normal”

May 15, 2020
How an engineered product solutions provider pushes through COVID-19.

Many industry suppliers and distributors have spent the past few months adapting business practices and operations as the coronavirus pandemic rolls on. Hydraulics & Pneumatics checked in with The Knotts Company, an automation solution provider operating in New Jersey and New York, to get its perspective on the current state of affairs.

The company got its start as a distributor of pneumatic lines in 1952, but now represents industry-leading manufacturers of industrial, automation and robotics products, said Mark Howe, who worked his way through multiple roles at Knotts before his appointment to the role of vice president of sales and marketing. He studied mechanical engineering to help him build the foundation he needed to understand how machines work.

Howe explained that The Knotts Company is keeping pace with its strategic plans to expand its capabilities into automation and motion control services and components, as well as co-engineered solutions. And these days, not unlike most businesses, the company is learning to contend with unforeseen changes, including making operational adjustments and enforcing protocols to maintain safe operations.

Hydraulics & Pneumatics: What are your partners/suppliers telling you about the challenges they’re facing under the constraints of the pandemic?

Mark Howe: Our region has been hit hard compared to other areas of the country and we are being faced with new challenges that require significant changes to how we conduct business. Thankfully our supply chain has been relatively stable and successful weathering the current pandemic. Our U.S.-based partners have been making the changes required by local governments and continue meeting the current demand level. This really is a testament to the strength of U.S. manufacturing and its ability to adapt and overcome to meet our customer needs.

H&P: What are some of the fundamental changes that we’ve already seen as a result of the pandemic? How do you anticipate your specific product areas (robotics/motion control/pneumatics) or competency areas will be affected when we move to a new normal?

MH: Manufacturing was already experiencing a change due to the labor gap, which I anticipate still being a challenge post-pandemic. The current pandemic has exposed new potential risks and challenges for manufacturing. How do you service your customer base while protecting the health and well-being of your workforce? Social distancing is now required, so changes need to be made on the production floor.

One of the fundamental changes I expect to see is that automation will be used to help mitigate the risk of the current workforce and ensure business continuity for the employers. I anticipate that our markets will be more open to investing in technologies like Universal Robots and Inspekto as they look to automate low-value tasks on the production floor. They don’t need to worry about social distancing with collaborative robots.

The “new normal” will require manufacturers to rethink how they use valuable floor space, and both simple and complex automation can help them address this challenge. This is where we can leverage our resources and partnerships to help them successfully implement the right solution for the application.

H&P: The Knotts Company offers 80/20 assembly services; how does this solution fit with your services in custom design of electro-mechanical and pneumatic controls and assembly? 

MH: Before we discuss more how it fits into our company’s product lines and services, let’s discuss what it is. 80/20 is a manufacturer of a modular T-slot aluminum system that can be used in just about every industry or application. 80/20 is a perfect solution for automation solutions, robotic arms, machine frames, guarding, enclosures, displays, workstations and more. The system has an incredibly large portfolio of parts and components, which can be overwhelming.

The Knotts Company has invested in product specialists to support our customers as they design different applications using the product. We have also been providing our customers with the ability to purchase 80/20 fully assembled since we started representing them in the early ’90s. Shipping 80/20 fully assembled provides our customers with more time to focus on their core competencies.

It’s an incredibly flexible product with endless applications and is also the foundation of many different systems, from basic workstations for fully automated machines. The ability to mount and quickly adjust other pneumatic and electrical components on 80/20 is one of the reasons it fits well in our products and services portfolio.

H&P: Your company recently added sensor company Leuze to its roster of suppliers. How does this new partnership fit in with your line card?

MH: The partnership with Leuze gives us another resource to support our customer base with innovative technology. Their product lines fit in multiple industry verticals like material handling, packaging industry and machine tools, which is critical to our strategy of providing value to the diverse markets in New Jersey and New York.

Leuze has an extensive line of sensors and corresponding accessories for industrial automation in six different product areas. They also manufacture light curtains in the USA, which is a nice bonus during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. I recently worked with their functional safety engineer and the experience reinforced our decision to partner with Leuze. He quickly and efficiently helped develop the solution for our customer and provided detailed information to properly set up the light curtains.

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