Posted by Jay W. Curry

Dan Allford, President of ARC Specialties, joins us to discuss robot integration for automated problem-solving.

Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.


Jay Curry: Hello, Texas. Welcome to Texas Business Radio. Wow, we’ve got a great program. We’re going to be talking about robotics. This is going to be the program on robotics. We have some experts. We have some companies that have been implementing them. This is going to be a fun hour, and I’m excited to be here.
Matt Register is out. This is Jay Curry, your host for this segment. Matt will be back for the next segment. Before we get started, let me remind everybody, texasbusinessradio.com, that’s where everything is, texasbusinessradio.com. It’s all there in high definition color, all about our sponsors, all about our guests, all about our hosts, anything you need or want to learn about, Texas Business Radio is right there. Now, we do monitor #tbr on Twitter. You want to send us a tweet, #tbr as in Texas Business Radio. It’s easy to get a hold of us, but number one, texasbusinessradio.com.
All right, let’s get started. Our very first guest is a dandy, Dan Allford, who is the president of Arc Specialties. You talked about somebody that knows, I mean really knows robotics, Dan’s the man. Dan, thanks for joining us.

Dan Allford: Appreciate this opportunity to be here.

Jay Curry: Well, this is going to be a lot of fun, so let’s start with just tell us about what Arc Specialties all about.

Dan Allford: Arc Specialties is a robot integration company here in Houston. We’ve been doing this since 1990. What an integrator does is they take a robot and applies it to a specific problem that a customer may have. That may be welding, painting, grinding, whatever, inspection, because a robot alone won’t solve the problem, and that’s when you bring the integrator in.

Jay Curry: You’re an integrator for robotics, and that means you’re going to find the solution, right?

Dan Allford: Right.

Jay Curry: You’re going to analyze and find the solution.

Dan Allford: Yeah, yeah. That’s our issue. We don’t have enough problems, so we’re out there looking for other people’s problems.

Jay Curry: In this market, I mean robotics, give me a break. It’s a big part of the future from drones all the way down to what’s going on in the manufacturing and things of that sort. How do you do that? How do you figure out what needs to be automated, needs robotics?

Dan Allford: It depends on the end user, but one way this happens is somebody’ll call us, and they know they need to automate. To be competitive, you need to automate. It’s been going on since the 1900s when we automated farming. We went from 50% of the population farming down to less than 2%, so the first automation success story is actually farming. Nobody’s complaining about not walking behind a plow.
The folks will call us and ask us to come out and look at, usually, a specific problem. I’ll kind of turn it on ’em, and I’ll say, ” Well, why don’t we look at the whole plant? Why don’t we start at the receiving dock? Let’s walk through the entire manufacturing process and get all the way to the shipping dock.” During that tour, which can take couple three hours, whatever, and depending on the size of the plant, I’ll simply take notes, or one of my engineers will take notes on all the possible applications. It’s not uncommon for us to actually completely change the direction that, that company is going on automation. They may think they want a welding job, but we’ll see that cutting or drilling or something is a more appropriate first task.

Jay Curry: What I love about this, my career was automating back office, automating accounting, making all of the people back in the back office efficient. What you’re doing is out there on the ground floor working with the shops, working out in the field, any place that a person could be replaced. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re fired. They’ll find, obviously, another good spot in the company, but where it’s more effective to have a robot to do the same type of work. That just amazes me. How does that happen? You have to program and you have to build it? You build them, right?

Dan Allford: Both. We’re integrators for several of the large manufacturer’s from around the world. We’re running Swedish robots called ABB, Japanese which is FANUC and then German KUKA and even some Denmark collaborative robots called Universal robots. Here in Texas, everything’s bigger and we’re having to build our own robots to handle some of the big jobs, for example; blow out preventer’s, they weigh a 100 thousand pounds.

Jay Curry: Yeah, you’re not going to do that with the little…

Dan Allford: No sir.

Jay Curry: … robot you sent in from Japan that came in a box.

Dan Allford: Well, the Japanese build some big robots. They’ll pick up several tons, but that pales in comparison to 100 thousand pounds. In that case, we’re designing and building our own robots right here in Houston, Texas.

Jay Curry: That just astounds me. Let’s talk about, everybody thinks robots are gonna replace people, but the reality is and we’re gonna hear from some of our other guests how that’s not true. It makes the company more efficient, it allows some very talented people to now move and shift what they’re doing for the company to be more valuable and then just eliminates this repetitive over and over again tasks.
Is that the philosophy?

Dan Allford: Yeah. My robots aren’t doing the fun stuff, trust me. They’re doing the hot, dirty, nasty, dangerous jobs. I’m a computer geek from way back. The analogy I like to bring up is back in the early 60’s, one transistor cost one dollar. If you fast forward to this time, one dollar will buy you millions of transistors. That’s all due to automation and efficiency improvement. Without that improvement, you wouldn’t have a cell phone in your hand that has computing power that exceeded that on the lunar lander. Efficiency is prosperity.

Jay Curry: No question about it. This is the new level of efficiency. Give me some examples of…I know when we talked before we came on, you have this audit program that you do that you kind of alluded to, but tell me how that goes, because I think that’s very important in making the customer understand the value and the problems to be solved. Sometimes it’s not what they think it’s going to be. Talk to me a little bit about that.

Dan Allford: It’s kind of interesting. The origin of that is, one of my good customers here in town, one of the rock bed manufacturers, we’ve been solving problems for them in welding and then in machining and then drilling and they said, ” Well what else can you do?” I said quite a bit. We came up with what we call MAAP, manufacturing automation audit program. Which means we simply go through the shop; it’s a form of free consulting in reality. We’ll target these projects that we see that automation could be easily applied to and that’s what you want to do. You want to tackle the easy stuff first.

Jay Curry: What you’re doing is you’re going in, you’re looking at the processes from the beginning to the end. You’re not looking at the front office, you’re looking at where the repetitive type of work’s doing, where you have to have huge things or it could be very small. You’re analyzing their processes and looking at ’em and then recommending to them prospects for automation, for robotics, and discussing it with them. Is that what you do?

Dan Allford: Yeah absolutely. We’ll come up with a long list and then we’ll go to lunch and come back. We’ll call the list, say that project is about to be over, or that’s a small volume or whatever. Those that are left over, what we’ll do is, rough order magnitude proposal, just to see if it’s economically feasible. I can at a glance tell you which are the target projects and which are not. What we do… I have an advantage, I get to work in all industries…

Jay Curry: Yeah.

Dan Allford: …from plutonium to candles. I’ll take an idea from one industry, bring it to another; makes us look smart. In reality that’s what humans do best. They reapply solutions to new problems.

Jay Curry: What type of business owner, CEO… when’s the time to call you? Should they look at their own processes and try to figure it out or should they just call you for a cup of coffee and have you come in and look and see?

Dan Allford: Either way. Some of our customers… we’re building stuff for CAT and that’s a pretty sophisticated end user. We’ve got stuff in their plants all over the world. They typically will call us with a specific problem and a probable solution. That’s fine. We can work with that. Others they just know that to be competitive they’ve got to automate and they give me a clean sheet of paper. Anything in between the two is fine with us.

Jay Curry: Okay. You come in, it’s not just installing. It’s integrating it into their processes.

Dan Allford: Oh installation is trivial.

Jay Curry: Right.

Dan Allford: We don’t trust our customers to install either. I’ve got people in Romania, I’ve got people; right at the moment in Mexico. We do the full installation and make it run. This is turnkey automation because that’s what it takes to get these things going.

Jay Curry: It’s amazing. You get a robot. It’s working for you. What can I expect now? Is it just going to be working day and night; all the time and don’t have to do anything? I think I gotta have somebody to program it. Someone;s got to oil it. What about it possibly hurting someone else? Give me some background of what goes on after it’s installed.

Dan Allford: Oh all the above. Maintenance isn’t too bad, most of the gear boxes are sealed now so maintenance is typically the wear parts. In welding, that’s contact tips, gas cups.

Jay Curry: Typical stuff.

Dan Allford: Wire liners. Same thing a human would have.

Jay Curry: Yeah.

Dan Allford: It’s whether it’s lights out or not, really depends on the part and how repeatable it is. Oddly enough, we weld the Bradley’s and the Paladins, all the fighting vehicles and you would think that those would be lights out automation, but in reality what we’ve learned welding these big parts, is you can’t hold them accurately enough to do lights out automation. In that case I’ve got a human being involved in the whole process, monitoring and changing the process. Other machines, they run lights out. I can’t give you an answer Jay.

Jay Curry: Depends on how it has to be applied. Sometimes a human as to set things up so the robots can do their work, right?

Dan Allford: Well yeah. In Maine, we’re doing potato skins. Potatoes look all different. Don’t they?

Jay Curry: Yes.

Dan Allford: Well, no they don’t.

Jay Curry: No.

Dan Allford: If you buy a number three potato, they all look alike. That customer is pretty clever. They bought standardized potatoes and that facilitated automation.

Jay Curry: No kidding. I’ve never thought… because I think potatoes; none of ’em look alike. But I guess you can get standard sizes and a robot could pick it up. They showed me, one of your customers I talked to showed me a robot, I think it was in your office, that actually poured beer and they were thinking about putting that in a brewery or something like that.

Dan Allford: That’s one of our collaborative robots. That’s kind of a new area that’s kind of interesting to me. These robots are designed to be intrinsically safe. If they hit a human, they don’t hurt them. That robot’s, actually it’s day job is plasma cutting. It does a wonderful job doing that, but in the evenings what we’ll do is change it’s hand and it becomes a bartender. We’re going to have that running at the Offshore Technology Conference in May. You can come have a beer.

Jay Curry: Sounds like a plan. To wrap it up, you’re kind of the one stop shop, right? If you have any feeling that robotics would fit into your organization, ARC Specialties is the way to go.

Dan Allford: Yeah and if we can’t do it, we won’t do it. I’ve got a full lab. I’ve got 80 guys now and a pretty formidable team. If I had to go up against ’em again out of my garage, I’d fail. We’re vertically integrated. We design and build everything right there on the floor. If we can’t handle it, we’re candid about it.

Jay Curry: Okay. If one of our listeners as an interest, wants to get ahold of you, how should they do that?

Dan Allford: Dan@arcspecialities.com. Or 631-7575, area code 713. Or go to our website; www.arcspecialities.com.

Jay Curry: ARC being A-R-C specialties dot com. There you go. Dan, what a great story, we’re going to have some fun this hour with some of your customers. I appreciate you coming in and kind of getting us kicked off here.

Dan Allford: It’s been a pleasure.

Jay Curry: All right folks. We’re gonna have to pay some bills, so don’t you go anywhere. We’re going to be right back.

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About the Author
Jay W. Curry

Jay W. Curry

Along with hosting “Texas Business Radio”, Jay is a Professional Certified Coach and Master Chair facilitating four Houston-based Vistage peer groups. In addition to being a best selling non-fiction author, the 2015 release of his award winning novel, Nixon and Dovey: the Legend Returns, adds novelist to his title. Jay holds a BS in Mathematics from Oklahoma State and an MS in Computer Science from Kansas State. You can learn more about Jay HERE.

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