Automation allows manufacturer to leave China for U.S. production

MANNING, S.C. -- Success rode into Manning, South Carolina on a bicycle built by two: man, and machine. Every 13 seconds, another one rolls off the assembly line.

“Typically bicycle spokes are dropped into the hub one at a time by hand. This machine does it automatically and only in about thirty seconds,” said Arnold Kamler, owner of Bicycle Corporation of America, or BCA.

“Using the same amount of people, we can do about three times as many hubs in a day,” Kamler said.

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A BCA employee and robot working together

CBS News

BCA has been in his family since 1905.

The company has a factory in China, but Kamler recently moved ten percent of BCA’s business back to the U.S. Why? Wages for Chinese workers had soared out of sight.

Kamler bought an abandoned factory and created 140 jobs -- a lifeline in this distressed industrial town. But the only way to make it work was investing in robots.

“We’re creating jobs with the automation and being able to be price-competitive with China now and it will get even better in the future,” he said.

$6 million of automation does the work of more than 100 workers.

Kamler was asked whether his employees see the robots as a future threat to their jobs.

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Arnold Kamler

CBS News

“We’re not replacing other jobs with these robots,” he said.

“What we’re doing is we’re adding more equipment that makes us more efficient.”

Production manager Albertus Jones sees the machines as co-workers.

“A lot of people have that misconception that automation decreases jobs. It’s just a different type of job, a more skilled job,” Jones said.

And without the robots, the human jobs wouldn’t exist, either.

A new model that could allow American manufacturing to ride high again.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.