Cobots Proving to Be a Smart Choice at Metalcraft

There are many reasons Iowa manufacturers come to Ramco Innovations looking for automation.

“Certainly, a lot of it is that it’s hard to fill a lot of positions these days,” said Joe Stoltz, vice president of technology for the West Des Moines company. “And once you find people, it’s hard to keep them doing a repetitive job.”

So how do you get more work done without adding staff? The correct technological solution for any particular company depends on exactly what you need machines to do. But Iowa manufacturers can’t answer those questions until they understand their options.

That’s why Ramco decided to join CIRAS as a technology partner in the new Digital Manufacturing Lab powered by Alliant Energy. The new lab opened in September in the Iowa State University Research Park, creating a place where Iowa companies can experiment with different technologies and see what works best for their particular businesses. (See story, page 6.)

Chris Hill, director of the CIRAS Technology Assistance Program, said Ramco and other technology partners will be “key to our efforts at using the lab to help companies de-risk technology adoption.”

For Stoltz, “it’s turned out to be a good partnership, because CIRAS is in a lot of the small-to-midsize manufacturers that need our services. They do a great job of educating the manufacturers on the technology, trying to reduce the fear of the unknown.”

Metalcraft, a Mason City manufacturer of ID tags and labels, recently purchased a collaborative robot from Ramco—a machine designed to easily work alongside humans. Metalcraft has its cobot installed on a cart so that the company can quickly add more labor when and where it’s needed to keep up with fluctuations in consumer demand. The machine switches between spots on the production line, either stacking sheets of metal or pushing buttons to program ID tags.

“It’s just something we’re trying to do during the day to give our folks a break,” said Metalcraft’s Jim Miller. “We can let them do something that’s a little more challenging, more fulfilling, and we’re trying to get a little more throughput. . . . It’s nice to have a lot of flexibility.”

Metalcraft is still learning about technology, Miller said—through Ramco, attending trade shows, and contact with CIRAS.

“What we’re finding is that this cobot is not perfect for every situation we have, but there are a lot of places where it fits our needs,” Miller said. “We’re being cautious.”

“We still want to grow,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we’re competitive.”

> For more about collaborative robots, contact Abhay Grover at or 515-509-1485.


A version of this article was published in the Winter 2020 edition of CIRAS News. To read more of that edition or others, please explore elsewhere on our website.