DURYEA — To hear the cold hard facts about robots and jobs, talk to Mike Duffy and John Mele.
They’ve been working on equipment that will box frozen dough at the rate of 520 pieces a minute at the Gonnella plant in Hazle Township.
Four robots will be working around the clock at the task that’s done by hand, but the people doing the work won’t be cut, said Duffy, chief executive officer of Keystone Automation Inc. “This will also allow them to grow the company and produce more products because they can utilize the people in other capacities,” he said.
To get the word out about their companies and connect with manufacturers and vendors, Duffy and Mele put together a robotics open house Thursday and Friday on the plant floor of Duffy’s Keystone Automation Inc. Duffy’s company designs and builds the machinery that contains the robotics from Mele’s Jam Works LLC.
It was the first-of-its-kind showing in Northeastern Pennsylvania, according to Duffy.
“In order to see the equipment and level of technical stuff that’s going on here you’d have to drive to Philly or New York City,” he said Friday afternoon during a break in the event.
Some of the companies in need of the services and products provided by Keystone and Jam Works traveled elsewhere for them in the past.
In the course of the networking he does as part of his business, Mele said, he heard from people who were surprised at what was available locally.
Mele, a Dunmore native, who began his technical career in the U.S. Navy like Duffy, of Scranton, recalled a conversation that lead to landing the Gonnella job. Company officials had been working with someone in Virginia that does robotics, Mele said. When he told them about the homegrown resources, their reply, Mele said, was, “We had no idea there was somebody in our area.”
“We really are kind of one of the unknowns in the area,” Duffy added.
He’s been in business since 1999 and at the Clark Road location in Duryea since 2005. Mele founded Jam Works in 2007 and established a partnership with Keystone in late 2011 or early 2012. They have a combined workforce of 36 people.
“We own almost 7 acres,” said Duffy. “So the plan is within a couple years, we plan to expand and build out the back and hire more people.”
But the holdup is a lack of qualified people. Duffy asked for more involvement from high schools and guidance counselors to inform students about the benefits of skilled labor in manufacturing. The regional average annual wages for employees in manufacturing is $47,000, and Keystone pays commensurate wages Duffy said.
“We need to get these kids into the trades,” he urged.
Schools such as Luzerne County Community College and Johnson College have good programs that teach the basics, Duffy said.
Katie Leonard, vice president of institutional advancement at Johnson agreed. The Scranton school’s precision machining technology program has evolved into an program offering a degree in advanced manufacturing.
“They come out prepared to be solid entry-level employees for companies like Keystone Automation,” Leonard said.
As Keystone and Jam Works land work they depend on others such as Penn-Air & Hydraulics of York.
Frank DeBona, sales engineer with Penn-Air, said the Gonnella project is a good example of the spill-over effect.
“He’s using some of our products,” DeBona said of Duffy.