Friday April 5, 2013

Richard Zens

Editor’s note: For Career Week this week, The Banner ran a guest column each day from a local manufacturer, and today’s column by Abacus Automation is the final one. The columns were an initiative of Bennington County Industrial Corp. and coincide with a host of Career Week activities.

Abacus Automation, off East Road across from Willow Park, makes REALLY Cool Stuff.

We design and build "one of a kind" machines for manufacturing factories all around the globe. Our machines have been sent to very interesting places where we travel to install and train the customer’s technical folks on how to operate and maintain these unique machines. In addition to the many locations in the USA (including lots in the Northeast, to Florida, Texas, California, Wisconsin, Ohio and even the top of Mount Haleakala on Maui, Hawaii), we have also installed our machines in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Brazil, Europe (France, Ireland, Luxembourg & Poland) and in Asia (China, Singapore & India).

Dixie Zens and Don Alvarado first met at Union Carbide (now Energizer) in the 1970s. They started Abacus in their basements in 1983. In 1985 they moved into the Incubator Building on River Streeet, North Bennington, to work full time on Abacus and hired their first few employees. With a growth to 20 folks, a need for more space necessitated a move to an 8,000-square-foot building on Morse Road in 1992. Still growing, in 1999 Abacus built its current facility on Shields Drive in Bennington, expanding to 30,000 square feet and 35 to 40 employees.

The "really cool part" of Abacus requires ALL employees to be creative and solve unique problems that crop up when you are building a first of its kind machine. Work is always new and different, which makes it fun to come to work.

These machines are designed from Blank Screens (which used to be "blank paper" on drafting boards before Computer Aided Design), and end up as fully functioning machines to assemble, package, test or process all sorts of products.

Some of the most fun machines:

* GAMES: Packaging Play-Doh using a Giant Robot with a 10-foot reach to pick up 238 cans of Play-Doh at a time and separate colors for packaging in the four-pack you see in the stores. Packing Monopoly using six robots and vision cameras to locate and reorient games pieces and cards to fit in the pockets of the game boxes.

* CONSUMER PRODUCTS: Assembling, testing and packaging Perfume Pumps at up to 600 per minute; winding Caulk Line on spools without stopping, using a special Stanley knot which allows for winding in either direction to consider those who are left handed; packaging Razor Blades in a Cookoo Pack allowing users to try the newest blades by adding one new cartridge in a previous version dispenser; setting the teeth on saw blades at 10 inches per second; and assembling felt-tip markers to be operated by visually impaired folks.

* AUTOMOTIVE: Assembling LED tail lights which include vision guide laser soldering; operating a five -robot assembly of air vents for heat and air conditioning; assembling steering columns for cars and trucks; and assembling snti-lock braking devices.

* AIR & SPACE: Processing composite parts including jet engine fan blades; casting compressor blades for gas turbine engines; laser-cutting and welding for air bearings using commercial jet air conditioning systems.

* MEDICAL: Assembling syringes for taking blood samples adding anti-coagulant and needle protector after use; laser-welding arthroscopic cutting tools, which can cut bone; and forming needles for stitches.

* OTHER: Assembling Hot Runner Manifolds for plastic-molding systems using vision guide service devices; assembling Fuel Cells to be used to power larger office buildings such as the New Freedom Towers in New York City; and testing explosive devices in a heavily enforced containment enclosure.

These a just a few of the many machines designed and built at Abacus in Bennington by our very talented staff. We have great opportunities for electrical and mechanical technicians, programmers, mechanical and electrical designers, drafters and more.

Abacus is a cool place to work.

Richard "Dixie" Zens is co-owner of Abacus Automation.