TAUNTON, Mass. — maxon precision motors inc., the U.S. division of Switzerland-based maxon motor AG, yesterday officially opened its new U.S. headquarters and manufacturing facility here.
Building the new headquarters was a two-year process, said Chris Blake, president of maxon precision motors. “Taunton was very welcoming in a business and a social sense,” he said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“Great partnerships like this don’t happen by accident,” said Tom Hoye, mayor of Taunton. “We’re so glad maxon chose Taunton for its home for the foreseeable future.”
Working with developers, users
“We work closely with customers to understand the market,” said Martin Zimmermann, chief sales officer at maxon. “We want to double the business in the next five to 10 years, and the U.S. can be as much as 30%. The nice thing about robotics is that the technology crosses industries.”
“Today, we typically focus on hardware, but we’re moving to a systems approach,” he said. “We have application teams and business units, such as for robotics, to communicate with customers. We need to understand what systems will deliver, so we develop with customers. We already have local experts for aerospace and medical.”
Last November, maxon opened an innovation center near its global headquarters in Sachsein, Switzerland. The precision motors maker spent about $30 million on the center, which is intended to help coordinate its internal research and development. The building will also house additional production of microdrives for medical systems.
maxon precision motors history
After being founded in 1961 in Europe, maxon started selling its high-precision motors in the U.S. the mid-1970s, recalled executive board member Dr. Karl-Walter Braun. The first U.S. distributor sold his operation back to maxon in 1981, when it opened an office in Menlo Park, Calif., with 10 employees. The company went from $15 million to $40 million in returns during that period, Braun said.
In 1987, Blake helped maxon open its office in Somerset, Mass. The company later moved to Fall River, Mass.
U.S. turnover rose from $25 million in 1996 to $90 million in 2007 and $130 million last year. The company’s total global revenues in 2018 were $525 million, and the U.S. is the largest market for maxon’s products, said Eugen Elmiger, CEO of maxon motor ag.
Room to grow
The new building, which combines a steel frame with laminated, 6 in.-thick Canadian fir floors, was built by Compass Group Architects with expansion in mind. It has an area of 59,000 square feet, including corporate functions from administration and design to manufacturing, warehousing, and logistics.
“I don’t like it; I love it!” said Braun of the new building. “We’ve spent a lot of money. Now we have to let this baby go and start production.”
Bart van Belle, director of manufacturing at maxon precision motors, led visitors through the new facilities, including engineering, model and machine shops, and assembly areas. One worker will walk around each cell in the production line, taking parts and operating precision laser welding equipment, he said.
There will also be areas for making the DCX high-performance DC motors, ECX brushless motors, and GPX configurable planetary gearheads. They will be set up identically to manufacturing units in Switzerland.
In addition, there are measurement labs for parts. “Because our motors are mission-critical, our quality-control system checks each product, 100%,” van Belle said.
“The model shop is bigger than the one in Fall River and will provide fast prototyping for the North American market,” he said. “maxon took the bold step of building empty space and room for growth — we can push two of these walls back another 100 feet each.”
The human touch
“Sure, we could have located production in other parts of the U.S. or in China, but we like the quality of employees here and the proximity to Europe,” Elmiger told The Robot Report.
“We don’t just sell to anyone that wants to build here,” observed Louis Ricciardi, president of the Taunton Development Corp. “I don’t recall any groundbreaking in which a company put all its employees on buses so they could join in.”
maxon precision motors’ staff in Massachusetts has grown steadily from three people in Somerset to more than 50 in Fall River. Company executives said they expect to reach 100 employees in the next few years. The global organization currently has about 2,500 employees worldwide.
In addition, maxon is sending teams to and from Switzerland and Germany to help set up the new production lines. It has also hired temporary and co-op students from the Diman Regional Vocational Tech High School in Fall River.
maxon applications to watch
Aerospace and healthcare are primary markets for maxon precision motors, said Elmiger. Applications include exoskeletons, collaborative robot arms, and force feedback for aircraft cockpits.
Leading robotics companies including Intuitive Surgical, Mecademic, Sarcos, and Universal Robots already use maxon precision motors’ products.
“We expect many more minimally invasive surgery robots, and the medical market is very robust in the U.S.,” said Zimmermann. “It’s mature here, continuously developing new products. Asia is very different: It’s aggressive in costs and timelines.”
Cobots (including grippers) and exoskeletons to assist people with disabilities and industrial workers are other sources of demand, and they have strict requirements for costs, power density, and form factor, he said.
“Dynamics and stability are important,” Zimmermann explained. “You don’t want products to be over-engineered, because that adds weight and cost.”
“We’ve worked with JPL [NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory],” he said. “We’re already in SpaceX, and commercial space travel could be disruptive.”
maxon precision motors is looking above and beyond for its products, business, and applications.