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August 1, 2014

A new Kind

Automation and robots creep into service centers but won’t yet replace people.

When executives at the Earle M. Jorgensen Company decided their Schaumburg, Ill., plant needed a major upgrade, replacing people with machines was high on the agenda. Manually stocking and retrieving steel products for the company’s three-shift central hub was holding back the firm’s ability to deliver inventory to satellite service centers—not to mention customers. The solution: a 60-foot-tall, custom-designed Kasto robotic inventory system that automatically loads, weighs and delivers pipe and bar to the machine that needs it.

Or rather, the Kasto system was part of a much larger solution. Kasto, though it has plenty of developing competition, seems to be the market leader at this point. Like many service centers, EMJ Schaumburg had grown piecemeal for decades, with saws and storage racks added when and where space could be found. The company spent $40 million and more than five years upgrading a facility that acts as a central warehouse for more than 30locations across the United States. The process required the company not only to add advanced machines, but also to rearrange the entire layout and flow of the facility
and install new, integrated software systems.