Robotics parts maker ATI Industrial Automation plans to add 275 employees over the next four years in conjunction with a major expansion of its factory and corporate headquarters in Apex.
The employee-owned company’s revenue has been growing at a 20 percent annual clip in recent years, prompting it to invest a projected $6 million to nearly double its footprint by adding an additional 65,000 additional square feet, said co-founder and CEO Robert Little.
Groundbreaking for the expansion – which will include additional factory and warehouse space, plus a new engineering and robotic lab – is scheduled for Friday afternoon.
“In order to advance our robotic tooling, we need a state-of-the art laboratory to test new designs as well as create new designs,” Little said.
ATI’s workforce has doubled in size since 2012 to about 300 employees, including 250 in Apex. So the 275 new hires the company expects to add over four years would nearly double its workforce again.
“That’s a trend we’d like to create over and over again in Apex,” said Joanna Helms, the town’s economic development director.
With its expansion, ATI will rank among the five largest employers in Apex, which historically has been a bedroom community.
“We’re just pleased this expansion will allow more Apex citizens to work right here at home,” Helms said.
ATI’s hiring list includes factory floor personnel, engineers, salespeople and administrative staff such as planners, accountants and purchasers. Annual wages will range from $30,000 for hourly workers on the factory floor to $85,000 for engineers.
“We manufacture here, we design here and we sell from here,” Little said. He projects that annual revenue will hit $70 million this year, up from about $60 million in 2016.
Don’t look for any press releases from the state announcing that ATI’s expansion plan has made it eligible for financial incentives.
“We have never received anything from the government, and we have no plans on asking for any special treatment,” Little said. “We’re here because the area offers us a talent pool of educated personnel that we need, and we’re appreciative of that.”
Founded in 1989, the company’s flagship product is its Robotic Tool Changer, which enables attaching different tools to a robot so that it can perform different tasks. It also makes robotics accessories such as grippers, paint guns and arc welding guns that attach to the robots, as well as force torque sensors that let a robot know if it is pushing, pulling or twisting too hard or not hard enough.
“I like to say that we provide the tooling for the end arm of the robot,” Little said.
It’s a great time to be in the robotics business. Market research firm IDC projects that global spending on robotics and related services will more than double over the next four years, jumping from $91.5 billion last year to more than $188 billion in 2020.
“Labor is going up in cost but robotics are going down in cost,” a trend that is expanding the use of robotics for products that up to now have been assembled by hand, Little said.
ATI made a breakthrough last year when it developed patent-pending technology that enabled it to lower the cost of products such as its power torque sensor while boosting their capabilities.
In addition to benefiting from a robust market and its technological advances, Little said ATI’s 2012 adoption of an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP, also has boosted its fortunes.
“We had a very strong talent pool of employees here,” Little said. “We wanted them to be a part of the company’s success. It also helps a lot with retention as well as just general morale.”
Every employee, no matter what their job, receives stock every year they work for the company.
“Everybody has the same stake in the game,” Little said. “If the company does well, the stock goes up. If the company does poorly, the stock goes down.”