In its nearly half century of existence, Cox Automation Systems has established a strong presence in the United States by offering highly innovative and flexible technology. More recently, the Illinois-based company has extended its reach globally, thanks to international associations, reports Dan Harvey.
Cox Automation Systems LLC operates on the belief that no one-customer or client-should ever have to “force-fit an application.”Recognizing that each situation involves unique challenges that requires custom-engineered solutions, the Bloomingdale, Ill.-based company has evolved into a world leader when it comes to developing and manufacturing turnkey automation solutions for its customers’ assembly lines, packaging lines and test equipment.
In its 40-plus year history, Cox Automation System has strived to achieve the highest levels of automation technology. As a result, the company has established new standards in its industry.
As a high-quality automation supplier for the leading manufacturers and engineering companies in the United States and throughout the world, and covering every element in synchronous and asynchronous equipment, Cox applies its own high standards and unique capabilities toward the production of the most advanced systems, it tailors its specialized expertise to meet customers’ needs-which can include stringent factory and product requirements-with individualized and economical solutions. Its track record of success includes the conceptualization, design and construction of custom automation solutions for clients in the medical technology, pharmaceutical, automotive and consumer electronics sectors.
Cox Automation’s beginnings date back to 1965, when William Cox established a relatively small business that offered local customers a small fixture feed system and reliable tool and die shop. According to the company, these early years involved ventures in parts feeding which led to mechanisms that further led into stations. Stations then blended into automated assembly lines.
In the 1980s, the business was bought by Ed Hedeen, who steered his purchase toward system integration and, in turn, the company’s future. “That is mostly what we do today, as we’re building larger systems that are completely automatic,” says John O’Hara, director of sales and marketing for Cox Automation Systems.
In 2000, the company was purchased by an internal management team that ran it until 2005, when it was acquired by Conzzeta Holding, a Zurich, Switzerland-based company with core business areas that include machinery and systems engineering as well as consumer and industrial products. Cox proved an attractive fit for Conzzeta, as the holding company likes to invest in smaller companies that occupy leading positions in international niche
markets. “Conzetta was looking to establish its own automation systems group, and the purchase enabled the company to do just that,” reports O’Hara.
Conzzeta placed Cox beneath a divisional umbrella along with another company, Robert Seckler AG, a global leader in production automation for the automotive industry. Seckler proved an appropriate complement to Cox, and the two companies formed Conzzeta’s automation business unit called Ixmation.
As a result of this merging, Cox has locations in the United States and Switzerland, and it has placed its innovative equipment in 28 states and 19 countries. Its extensive reach has been accomplished by its association with Conzzeta, as well as its ability to provide the most reliable and cost-efficient machines, characterized by the most advanced technologies and consistent procedures, in the automation market.
According to O’Hara, Cox particularly focuses on designing and building custom assembly and test equipment “That involves working with customers who need something more than a standard, off-the-shelf offering,” he says. He pulls a representative example from the automotive sector. “If a customer has a component for an automotive brake system, they can turn to other companies that offer a standard machine that makes those components. But we look at both the components and the customer’s specifications and then propose a system that we will design and build from the ground up.
Moreover, this customization is coupled with system integration. “While we will manufacture the components, we’ll also buy commercially available components,” says O’Hara. “That is where system integration comes in: We integrate custom manufactured components with commercially available components to produce a machine that makes whatever a customer needs.”
But Cox takes its service a step further. Again, O’Hara uses the automotive industry as an example: “One of the challenges in dealing with the automotive sector is that the product development, which is typically the customer’s responsibility, is sometimes not far enough along to completely define how the machine should be built. So, often we find ourselves working with our customers throughout the project to follow developments in their product design and making sure those developments make their way into the machinery, so that when we are done, we are actually making the right component.”
Projects and Procedures
All along, Cox’s activities are governed by quality and appropriate procedures. In 2000, the company developed a project quality assurance program called Ideal Process Flow (IPF), a system that organizes a project team at the project level. IPF provides a sequential chart that governs all activities throughout a program. Further, it clarifies employees’ roles and specific objectives related to a customer’s specific project. Project teams include a project manager, business development engineer, and applications engineers, among other principals.
Most of the manufacturing is done at Cox’s ISO: 9001-certified facility in Bloomingdale, a 90,000-square-foot, temperature-controlled production site that includes approximately 3,000 square feet of clean room space, where filtered air keeps dust from getting into critical processes. Facilities also include a tool room/metal shop where components such as custom bracketry and mounting stanches, etc. are made. “We also outsource some of our manufacturing, but except for special circumstances, just about all of the system assemblies are performed within our Bloomingdale facility,” reports O’Hara. “The systems are completed here, we get them up and running, and when the machine is ready to go, we break it down and take it to our customers’ facilities, where we perform the installation.”
Because of such dedication, Cox Automation Systems has become one of the largest system integrators in the United States. “The equipment we build is among the most sophisticated control systems in the country,” says O’Hara. “We’re at the higher end. In particular, robotics and test equipment can have some fairly stringent requirements on the control side, so we find ourselves at our most competitive when we’re working on that type of system.”
One specific area in which Cox Automation Systems rises far above its competitors is its chassis offerings. “The chassis is the basic machine structure that systems are built on and how parts move from station to station,” explains O’Hara. “This could be a rotary dial table or a palletized system. Many of our competitors work with one type of chassis. But we have avoided limiting ourselves to one or two particular chassis. We have the ability to apply whatever chassis technology is necessary and most appropriate for each individual situation.”
According to the company, chassis are selected based on requirements for speed, precision, process times, and the number of machine stations, and Cox can offer the best machine chassis for a client’s specific project. Its chassis range includes automated assembly (palletized conveyor, rotary dial, inline and palletized walking beam, continuous motion, indexing link, robotic work cell, Web material processing, packaging); semi-automated assembly (lean cells, manual assembly stations, semi-automated stations, tooling fixtures, prototype or proof of concept); CTS standard (4800 PCB depaneler), and test (process validation [force, distance, precision], online vision inspection, leak test, pressure decay, mass-flow, helium mass spec, electrical testing, eddy current flow detection, flow test; final function test).
“Having this ability to apply as many different types of machines as appropriate very often supplies us with creativity and innovation,” says O’Hara. “Essentially, it gives us a marketplace advantage: if it seems we aren’t as cost effective in competing with other people on the same ideas, we have the flexibility to apply new or different ideas that may give us a cost advantage.”
In the past two years, Cox has focused on being able to service customers anywhere in the world. By joining with Conzzeta Holding, it is starting to realize that ambition. “We’re now working on partnerships and acquisitions in Eastern Europe, Asia, and even within the United States, to provide more local service and sales and even more integration capabilities,” says O’Hara
But, as he indicates, success is not just based on presence across the world. More importantly, it’s about providing a product that applies – and that is what Cox Automation System has always been about.