VIDEO: How a Century-Old American Manufacturer Automated Production while Preserving Timeless Craftsmanship

Behrens Manufacturing and its galvanized steel products are part of American history. The number one US-made steel can manufacturer has been making quality metalware in Winona, Minnesota since 1911. Behrens has faced its share of challenges, including increasing labor costs, and a shortage of available workers. Here's how they used automation to solve those challenges.

February 3rd, 2023 4 min read

Behrens Manufacturing and its galvanized steel products are part of American history. The number one US-made steel can manufacturer has been making quality metalware, including tubs, pails, buckets, and trash cans, in Winona, Minnesota since 1911; as a veteran in the industry, Behrens has faced its share of challenges. 

“I’ve been in manufacturing for 16 years, and manufacturing in the US is tough,” says Bill Bellingham, VP of Manufacturing at Behrens. 

To help combat the myriad of challenges facing today’s contract manufacturers, Rapid Robotics works to develop tailored automation solutions for companies in various industries, including Behrens, allowing them to keep pace and remain viable.

Slowed production and interrupted growth

In the wake of a pandemic and record inflation, manufacturers across every industry are facing labor shortages, increasing expenses, and the unpredictable nature of relying solely on human labor. 

Behrens was no exception. Before automating, they were facing high and increasing labor costs, including recruiting fees reaching thousands of dollars. Despite their best efforts to pull in talent, only a few open operator roles on the second shift were filled.

Running shorthanded production lines can cause longer cycle times and heighten the risk of on-the-job injuries. And when it’s hard enough to just keep up with production, developing new products (like Behrens’ patented Infinity Lid) can be increasingly difficult. 

“We’re constantly trying to look forward and see what the next best thing is that we can do,” says Bryce Tschumper, Equipment and Facilities Manager. “What we’ve been doing is investing…into new equipment.” 

But they needed someone (or something) to operate that equipment. 

Automation: the path to production efficiency 

Behrens was hiring talent at an unprecedented rate. But they were still falling short in production. 

“We didn't have enough people to run our assembly lines to make enough trash cans to satisfy our retail customers,” says Bellingham. They had to try something new. “Now we're introducing new technology into our factory…to make our people and equipment even more efficient.” 

Enter Rapid Robotics, makers of the Rapid Machine Operator (RMO), an all-in-one robotic solution with:

  • No upfront capital costs

  • No systems integrators

  • No lengthy programming sessions

  • No AI training required

Rapid Robotics deployed 3 RMOs to fill several open operator roles for Behrens.

“The whole process of installing a brand new cobot was… a three-day process,” says Tschumper. “It was really, really easy….They [Rapid Robotics] knew what they were doing.“

“The beauty of what Rapid does and did for us is they're able to integrate the robot under our equipment in a very timely manner,” says Bellingham. Where other automation solutions can take months (or even years) to integrate, Rapid’s RMOs can be fully operational only a day or two after being delivered.  

Rapid results

With the option of RMOs, automation became affordable and accessible to Behrens. Since RMOs get to work on day one, it wasn’t long until the company began to notice some big results.

Production lines went from sitting idle to running three shifts. Cycle times were reduced, and margins improved by lowering overall labor costs.

“It dropped our cycle time by 40 percent,” says Bellingham. “We’ve seen units per labor hour go up significantly, all which translates to a major impact on our bottom line.”

Deployed RMOs have made the production floor at Behrens more productive, innovative, and safer.

“These robots have eliminated that risk [of repetitive motion injuries] for us, and the staff loves that,” says Bellingham. 

But has the quality that Behrens is known for diminished as a result of automation? Rachel Steinfelt, Director of Inside Sales and Customer Services, believes that the integrity of the company’s products is stronger than ever.

“Even though the processes have changed and things are more automated, you still see the same workmanship in every product….Our products have stood the test of time, and I think they will for another hundred years.”

“My biggest takeaway from the whole experience is to start [automating] sooner,” says Bellingham.

Experience the benefits of Rapid automation

Manufacturing is hard, but automating with Rapid is easy. Find out how by booking your free, 30-minute discovery call now.

Rochel Maday headshot

Rochel is a tech-savvy freelance writer with a passion for breaking down complex topics into easy-to-understand language. She enjoys creating engaging content that amplifies the voice of the tech industry and helps readers understand its ever-evolving landscape. When she’s not writing, Rochel enjoys watching documentaries (the later at night, the better) and going on adventures with her husband and their four children.

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