Italian material handling equipment company System Logistics Corp. opened the doors of its upgraded manufacturing facility in Lewiston, Maine, on Friday, launching a renewed effort to compete in the warehouse automation market with rivals like Schaefer Systems International Inc. and Kardex Remstar.
System Logistics said it made the $6 million investment to upgrade its 102,000-square-foot facility so its Modula division could build automated picking and storage solutions such as vertical carousels, horizontal carousels, and its leading product, the vertical lift module (VLM).
The factory adds a U.S. production center for Modula's 50-foot-tall VLM after years of building them exclusively in Italian facilities. The new domestic production will give the company an advantage in meeting fast-growing U.S. demand for automated warehouse equipment, said Luigi Panzetti, CEO of System Group, parent of System Logistics.
"The U.S. is an important part of our expansion strategy, so we have made this big investment," Panzetti said in an interview. "In the medium term, we think North America can saturate our manufacturing capability. We will see if we can also make vertical lift modules for South America, depending on costs."
Modula brought its manufacturing facilities to the U.S. to meet a large potential for sales growth in North America, where fewer warehouses have installed automated picking equipment than space-constrained European facilities, he said.
It will take about a week to manufacture each $100,000 VL, and equip it with goods-to-person, pick-to-light material handling systems and touch-screen computer screens to link each system to the DC's enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, the company said. The facility will employ about 60.
With plans to invest an additional $4 million by 2016 and to hire additional staff as sales increase, the new facility won praise from local business and political figures.
"We're here to celebrate the reinvention of manufacturing in the Lewiston area," Maine Sen. Angus King (I) said in a press conference at the building. "Manufacturing is the engine of economic growth, but you can't build an economy taking in each others' laundry. Somebody, somewhere, has to build something!"
The facility could also help train a new generation of skilled laborers by hiring regional business and technology students. Students enrolled in the bachelor's degree program in Information Technology at the University of Southern Maine may participate in a future internship program with Modula, according to Chris Maher, the school's associate dean for science, technology, and health, who also attended the opening ceremony.