WORCESTER, Mass.- Art Trapotsis, CEO of Consolidated Sterilizer Systems, needed help to solve a problem with his equipment. A typical sterilization chamber from the company contains about two hundred to three hundred welds and requires the precision and time of a skilled welder to be built.
While the Billerica, Mass.-based company has six or seven welders on staff, it needed more workers to keep up with demand. The labor shortage, however, has made it hard to find employees.
Trapotsis was one of the dozens of manufacturing executives who took part in the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s Manufacturing Mash-Up on Friday at the Polar Park baseball stadium in Worcester. He was invited to speak because he took advantage of a $20,000 grant from the state’s Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (MERT 2.0) to help address his welding problem.
Polar Park opened in 2021. Source: Christine Nolan
Through the grant process, he was introduced to the nonprofit MassRobotics and Tom Fuhlbrigge, CEO of Scalable Robotics Inc. Scalable provides a code-free, point-and-click system that teaches a robot to make multiple precision welds.
The system has the potential to reduce Trapotsis’ labor woes. And while Consolidated Sterilizer Systems is still determining if Scalable Robotics’ system is the right fit, Trapotsis said he thinks he is going to go for it.
“The payback period—we went back and forth on this—is somewhere between two and three-and-a-half years,” Trapotsis said last week on the Polar Park DCU Club stage. “It was a no-brainer for us. I think we are going to pull the trigger.”
This is the second time MassTech has put on the event and more than 1,300 people registered to attend, according to Christine Nolan, director of the Massachusetts Center for Advanced Manufacturing at MassTech. Last year, 600 people registered.
The center’s mission is to bolster the state’s manufacturing sector, Nolan said.
“It’s all around three things: innovation, creating an environment to help all of you succeed, and workforce development, which we know you’re all struggling to find your next hire,” Nolan said in her introductory speech to event attendees. “But the good thing about the mash-up is it’s all here today.”
MassRobotics residents offer to help manufacturers
MassRobotics, is a Boston-based robotics cluster organization that provides office space for more than a dozen robotics startups, including Scalable Robotics. It has teamed up with the state on the MERT grant project as a participating partner, helping companies receiving grant money to find the right solution for their needs.
The U.S. Economic Development Administration funds MERT. It was created in response to the pandemic and supply chain problems.
“It’s a program that has been expanded to help manufacturers to transition and improve their efficiency,” MassRobotics Executive Director Tom Ryden said in an interview with Robotics 24/7. “Our role is to help small and midsize manufacturers look at the potential of automation and robotics to help them improve efficiency, get into new markets, or transition from one type of product to another.”
Brig. Gen. David Trybula, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, served as MassRobotics keynote speaker during its session.
Trybula, who also serves as the senior commander of the U.S. Army at Natick Solider System Center, pointed attendees to pay attention to national manufacturing innovation institutes.
“They are public-private partnerships that were founded about a decade ago,” he said. “They’ve got a cost-share model that includes public-private partnerships along with state funding for two purposes. One is to onshore manufacturing. Two is to take things from Manufacturing [Readiness] Level 4 to 7.”
“So, taking something from being able to fabricate it, to being able to say, ‘We’re pretty close to knowing that we can manufacture,’” said Trybula.
MassRobotics also spotlighted several of its resident startups, including Flexxbotics, Southie Autonomy, and Tutor Intelligence.
Manufacturing Mash-Up exhibitors
The event featured booths highlighting local manufacturing partners, including state agencies such as MassHire, MassDevelopment, and MassMEC.
Local technology companies also had booths, including Amazon Robotics, which has a facility in Westborough, Mass., as well as Pison, Synagex, Tulip, and 6K.
Attendees saw some manufacturing technology in action at the Innovation Center. The FORGE Showcase area featured 20 of the supply chain nonprofit’s manufacturing partners.
New this year, over 300 students from the state's Innovation Pathways high schools, community colleges, and universities were also invited to attend. They also participated in a series of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) challenges.
Massachusetts state Rep Jeff Roy, D-Franklin, and state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, chairs of the state’s manufacturing caucus, also hosted the state’s annual manufacturing awards ceremony. (See the sidebar to check out the winners.) The local state legislators chose the winners in their respective districts.
About the Author
Cesareo Contreras is associate editor at Robotics 24/7. Prior to working at Peerless Media, he was an award-winning reporter at the Metrowest Daily News and Milford Daily News in Massachusetts. Contreras is a graduate of Framingham State University and has a keen interest in the human side of emerging technologies.
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