Hidden away in a secluded cul de sac off the village of Drangan’s main thoroughfare is a family business that is playing an important role in leading edge collaborative robot technology for industry.
The Drangan set up is capable of , to put it in its most simple terms , of designing and planting “the brain power” into the collaborative robots known as cobots.
“My neighbours would not have the first idea of what I am at here, a lot of them would not have a notion of what’s going on here” said the man behind the operation, Jerry Horan, a native of the village.
He set up Horan Automation with his wife Kathleen in 1996 and is now well placed to be at the forefront of cobot technology,with a turnover of E1m and a projected turnover of up to E5m within a few years.The company client base ranges from small business to blue chip multi nationals and has started to export to the UK again and plan to export to France the following year.
The rural location is unique for an enterprise that is among the leaders in this country of embracing the new cobot technology and identifying how that technology can be used to benefit industry.
Jerry Horan, who started out as a fitter before establishing his own automation business, one that is now recognised as specialists in the area providing expertise to companies who are exploring what cobots can do for them.
Jerry has designed robots for the last fifteen years but cobots are the leading edge technology and he welcomed engineering managers from top multi-nationals and students to his premises last Thursday to view a demonstration of what cobots,supplied by ABB, Kuka and Universal , can do.The event was sponsored by Boston Scientific and co-ordinated by Tipperary Chamber of Commerce.
“Basically these three companies are cobot suppliers, they sell the cobots to us. At that stage they are only a machine , there is no brain power in it,it does not know what to do.We write a programme,which takes about between a month and six weeks to write, and train the robot to do whatever the new task is” said Jerry.
”We have to write a programme in their own language, develop a programme for the cobot to enable it to go where it needs to go, catch when it should and let go when it should” said Jerry.
The cobots differ from the robots already in use in manufacturing in that they are much safer and are responsible to human touch.
“I have worked with robots for about fifteen years now. The main difference between a robot and a cobot is that you can work with the cobot,the robots we worked with before had to be in a safety frame, they were dangerous machines and had to be turned off before you went near them.These cobots don’t need to be in a safety frame, you can work with them , you can touch and they stop and touch again and they continue , it is a massive change” said Jerry.
The company started out in a workshop in Cashel in 1996 and four years later they moved to Drangan after purchasing the present site from the county council.
Jerry, who grew up on his parents farm a mile away from the location of the business, predicts further growth for the company.
Among their clients are companies like ,Stryker, Glanbia,EirGen,Bulmers Dairygold,Kerry Group,Dawn Meats,Green Isle. and GSK .
Horan Automation did employ nine at one stage, it is now down to five because the business model has changed in that while Horan Automation design and draw the pieces they sub -contract the work out to about ten companies around Ireland and one in Poland.
“We probably will work back up to around nine again because we are getting a lot of inquiries about the cobot technology” predicted Jerry.
“When I started out as a fitter all those years ago, I never imagined it would come to this, it is very difficult work but very challenging and enjoyable” said Jerry.
One of the demonstrators on the day, Colin Dullaghan from ABB described Horans as unique in that its location is so rural as companies involved in such leading edge technology would be based in hubs in the main cities.
TJ Kinsella, Boston Scientific and President of Tipperary Chamber said the event and the support for it showed the important role which can be played by the chamber in supporting development and growth of business.
He was pleased that the chamber facilitated a discussion on cobot technology and their use.
The chamber leader said his company, Boston Scientific ,like others , would be exploring cobot technology.
“We will be looking at cobot technology to see where it has a place alongside our people and with other forms of automation” he said.
The event, he said ,showed the technical competence that was available .”We dont necessarily have to go abroad ,we dont even have to go beyond the Tipperary border looking for the expertise, that statement can be made beyond robotics and automation” he said.