Vent makers turn to Noblesville firm’s technology

The same automated-valve technology that SMC Corp. of America uses to help cyclists properly inflate their tires is seeing new, widespread use in the production of life-saving ventilators.

SMC Marketing Director John Halvorsen said the pneumatic automation company’s 1.6 million-square-foot facility in Noblesville is perhaps the largest producer of valves and small regulators in the world. So when SMC’s Japan-based parent company saw a 10-fold increase in demand for breathing assistance machine components due to the spread of COVID-19, the manufacturer picked up a lot of new clients.

SMC is working with established ventilator manufactures and new entries into the market, like United Kingdom-based G-Tech, which normally manufactures vacuums.

“Typically, our products are not used on ventilators,” Halvorsen said. “Now, we are working with ventilator companies not only in the United Kingdom, but also in Spain, Italy, France, Austria, Hungary, China, the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Peru and Chile.”

SMC Corp. of America is used to creating actuators, control valves, vacuum parts, sensors, switches, air-preparation equipment and temperature controls for clients in the automotive, semiconductor, food and packaging, natural resource and machine tool industries. Though it has worked with life sciences companies, it hasn’t supplied parts for ventilators until recently.

In addition to new ventilator components, SMC has broadened its offerings to support the production of other novel coronavirus-related products. Halvorsen said the company is supplying manufacturers with parts to be used in oxygen concentrators, sterilizers and pneumatic components used in the production of face masks and hand sanitizer.

SMC is also gearing up to produce valves for blood analysis machines that are used to test for COVID-19 and other diseases.

Despite that versatility, SMC is not immune to the economic hardships brought on by the global pandemic. One week ago, the company laid off 95 of its nearly 1,000 employees.

“Though we’ve seen this increase in life science opportunities, we’ve seen a decrease in our other vertical markets,” Chad Bosler, SMC’s vice president of operations, said. “Business as a whole for SMC is down anywhere from 20 to 30% due to COVID-19.”

Company officials hope steps they are taking now will lead to a swift recovery when the automative and non-pandemic-related markets rebound.

One such measure will introduce robot workers in the 1 million-square-foot distribution center SMC opened last May just north of 146th Street and west of Howe Road.

Next month, workers will start installing a 90,000-square-foot, $20 million  warehouse automation tool called AutoStore. The new approach to internal warehouse infrastructure will automate SMC’s operations by topping vertically stacked shelves with a fleet of robots programmed to retrieve items for distribution.

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