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Medical Automation Equipment Is Prescription for Growth

Automation GT feels the squeeze. These days, space is tight in its offices and in its shop.

One reason is that the Escondido firm has plenty of work. Several of its custom-built factory automation machines sit on its production floor, in various stages of completion. Their inner workings are encased in big, glasslike boxes. No two of the machines are alike.

Complicating matters is that the company has decreased its square footage, albeit temporarily. It’s all part of an impending move to larger quarters.

There is quite a demand for Automation GT’s machinery. The privately held company achieved 100 percent growth between 2011 and 2012, CEO Simon Grant said. The executive said the firm will almost double its revenue again in 2013.

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“The economy is starting to lift all boats,” Grant said. Capital budgets are loosening among his customers, he said, including many in the Fortune 100.

Almost all of Automation GT’s clients are in the biotech, pharmaceutical or medical device fields. The company also has a few defense clients.

Increasingly, factories need machines to handle the miniaturized parts that go into devices such as the Apple Inc. iPhone, Grant observed.

Near Sourcing

Also helping the company, Grant said, is a mood that favors “near sourcing” — bringing production back to the United States. He said this can help companies protect intellectual property, stay in compliance with government regulations and avoid labor “horror stories” that are sometimes associated with producing products on foreign soil.

Foreign labor costs are also going up, he said.

Automation GT has 20 full-time employees and 20 contractors. “We’re hiring quite aggressively,” Grant added. Indeed, the company has 10 positions open.

The firm ships its machines worldwide, but the bulk of its production goes to the southwest United States.

The machines on the factory floor on a recent day were varied.

One builds up a medical device by passing the assembly through 18 stations. “It’s hypnotic to watch,” Grant said. The machine performs 15 assemblies per minute, limited by the time it takes for glue to dry.

A different machine measures the porousness of specialized paper by running fluid through it and measuring the fluid it passes.

A third machine weighs small bottles of a consumer product and checks the tightness of their lids.

It wasn’t so long ago that Grant was an executive with Amgen Inc. It was then that he decided that medical automation would be “a great opportunity.” He discovered Automation GT, whose history goes back to 2002, and entered discussions to buy the business in early 2011. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

Relocation to Carlsbad

The company will soon depart its cramped quarters in Escondido and head 13 miles west to a larger building in Carlsbad. Since it’s a small firm, Grant will double as a truck driver for what promises to be a long weekend.

“There are lots of moving parts” in choreographing a company relocation, Grant observed.

For the moment, Automation GT is making do with 3,660 square feet of space. It recently left a nearby second building with the same amount of floor space; the company decided to put whatever things that it did not need immediately into long-term storage. The firm’s new building in Carlsbad is 13,000 square feet. If that’s not enough, Grant said that Automation GT has an option to add more real estate in Carlsbad.

One good thing about the move is that it won’t be an old-school transfer of information technology from one building to another.

These days, Automation GT has its services in the cloud: document management, email, telephones, customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning.

Transferring them, Grant said, ought to be as easy as getting a phone line to the new building.

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