Toledo Engineering Company Builds Solutions for Manufacturing Workforce Shortage

Tom Ballay, Autotec EngineeringAutotec Engineering President Tom Ballay will tell you he is a problem solver. He’s staring down perhaps the biggest problem to face the manufacturing sector for decades: the workforce shortage. Manufacturers across the region and around the country say they can’t find qualified, reliable people to fill open positions. The answer for some manufacturers may be waiting right inside Tom’s giant facility on Brent Drive in Toledo.

Autotec Engineering designs and builds automated systems to replace the workers that many manufacturers can’t find or can’t keep. Ballay says it isn’t about worker reduction.

“It’s about replacing jobs for workers they can’t find or jobs that have a heavy work component and huge workers comp claims.”

He says food packaging and agricultural technology are big areas of opportunity for Autotec Engineering: labor intensive businesses, many struggling to fill low level labor jobs, due to immigration labor issues and other challenges.

He cites a California chicken producer as an example. Tom says the business has people manually loading boxes of frozen chickens: 30 or 40 people tied up in boxing chickens. He says they consistently have 40 to 50 open positions for labor. Exposure to medical claims from these physically strenuous jobs is another risk.

Autotec designs and builds automated systems to do the work instead of people, taking product and wrapping, boxing and palletizing it with no humans involved. In other words, an elaborate automated system consisting of robots and conveyors would step in and do the work instead of people.

Ballay says e-commerce is another expanding opportunity: material handling that involves unpacking pallets, storing material and goods individually, then finding and shipping those materials and goods out again. He says think of the Amazons of the world. As the marketplace shifts, Tom says the two biggest trends he sees are automation of labor and e-commerce. He’s watching future trends as well.

“The next frontier in agricultural in terms of automating what’s now manual could be picking in the fields. One day elaborate automated systems could replace people in the fields.”

Autotec is growing in this dynamic and rapidly changing climate, he says. The business employs people of many skill levels: skilled programmers, controls engineers, tool makers and others. Tom says the company has 45 employees, compared to 17 only two years ago.

He says their focus has shifted as technology has transformed industry. Tom has clear objectives for where he wants to take the business.

“I want us to be an extension of other businesses and I want that from my vendors as well. GJM’s Bob Bobek is an in house advisor on financial planning. Any decision I make regarding commitment to capital or hiring, Bob’s been a part of.”

Tom says when Autotec lost its controller, Bob stepped in and acted as controller, reviewing work in progress and he still reviews that work. Tom says Bob’s been there for 25 years as a sounding board for ideas, people and key decisions.

“Tom is a visionary, always thinking down the road,” says Bobek. “That’s the way it should be.”

Tom thinks of Autotec as solution providers for their customers. He says he strives for quality by asking questions of himself and his team when it comes to meeting a customer’s needs.

  • Did we correctly identify the issues and provide a solution?
  • Does the solution enhance the business?
  • Is there exceptional execution?

Autotec has been in its current location for only about a year. Tom sees growth on the horizon. He says he hopes to double the size of their shop. He’s thought ahead, purchasing six acres and leaving them room to grow.

There’s no question that robotics and automation have transformed the way we produce and move materials and goods. Those transformational changes will surely continue, and Tom sees Autotec as an important contributor. He says it’s pretty simple: he wants to be known for good engineering.

“If they said nothing else on our tombstones but that we’re good engineers, that would be great.”

Autotec Engineering will be a featured presenter at Gilmore Jasion Mahler’s spring Manufacturing Financial Executive Roundtables on automation in manufacturing. The events are scheduled for May 24 in Findlay and Maumee. The Findlay presentation is from 11:30 am-1 pm at Findlay Country Club and the Maumee presentation will be from 3-5 pm at Brandywine Country Club. The sessions are open to chief financial officers and other key financial decision makers within area manufacturing & distribution businesses. Those individuals can RSVP to

Established in 1996, Gilmore Jasion Mahler, LTD (GJM) is the largest public accounting firm in Northwest Ohio, with offices in Maumee and Findlay. Locally owned, GJM offers cloud-based accounting services and provides comprehensive services including assurance, business advisory, tax, risk advisory and healthcare management. The Firm’s professionals specialize in industries including construction & real estate, healthcare, manufacturing & distribution and utilities.

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