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Welcome to the STIHL USA Blog

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Welcome to the Machine: Automation at STIHL Inc.

Recently a lot of companies have talked about how they’re bringing industrial facilities back to the United States. They call it “in-shoring,” and it is the newest buzz word. Of course we like to remind folks that we never left, and that we have been proudly building STIHL equipment here in Virginia Beach since 1974. We have a history of technical innovation, and that includes the way we manufacture our equipment.

Built in quality
Staying competitive in the global market isn’t easy, and one way that we ensure a high-quality product and a competitive price is through something called vertical integration.  Basically it means that in addition to assembling product, we actually manufacture many of the parts that go in to those products. Things like pistons, crankshafts, tanks, housings and string trimmer line. As we like to say we don’t just inspect the quality; we produce the quality.

A new kind of employee
Another way we stay competitive is through automation. By the end of this year we will have more than 150 robots working in our plant, making us five times more automated than the average U.S. manufacturer. Robots have traditionally taken on tasks that involved heavy lifting, or mass production. As the technology has advanced, we use them increasingly in applications where speed and accuracy are critical.  We also use them where the task is monotonous or highly repetitive. This reduces the stress on our employees and frees them up to focus on areas involving critical thinking and analysis. And unlike a lot of companies that introduce robots, no full time employee at STIHL Inc. has ever lost their job because of automation. Instead we use it as an opportunity to either retrain and move to another station, or use it as a catalyst to encourage our employees to advance their careers. For example, one heat treat worker helped  implement one of the very first robots. He was so enthralled with the machine that he went back to school to pursue studies in the robotics field, and is now the department supervisor. Other employees have also gone from assemblers to highly skilled technicians.

Side by side
Our latest addition to the robot line is collaborative robots. They are a revolution in robotics because they can work right beside our people on an assembly line without solid safety barriers. We are one of the first manufacturers in America to introduce these in to operation, and the first here in Virginia. Collaborative robots are extremely flexible with simple programming so they can be adapted to a variety of tasks and deliver higher productivity than just the employee alone.

What’s next?
We are never satisfied and as robotic technology improves, we will be finding new ways to put them to work and improve our quality and efficiency. Ultimately our goal is to remain true to the values and vision of our founder, Andreas Stihl, and continue to build the highest quality product for our servicing dealer to sell to you. That's what has made us the number one selling brand of gasoline powered handheld outdoor power equipment and we intend to keep it that way.*

*A majority of STIHL powerheads are built in the United States from domestic and foreign parts and components. “Number one selling brand” is based on syndicated Irwin Broh Research as well as independent consumer research of 2009-2014 U.S. sales and market share data for the gasoline-powered handheld outdoor power equipment category combined sales to consumers and commercial landscapers.