Robots Get Off the Bench

Benchmark’s fascination with robots is paying off not just on the assembly line but with attracting new customers, too.

The EMS company yesterday announced a deal with KeyMe, a maker of automated key-cutting kiosks that will be first deployed in 7-Eleven stores across the New York City area.

The technology itself is neat: The kiosks enable customers to scan and store a digital copy of their keys to enable the creation of a spare copy at a later time eliminating the need for a physical key in order to make a copy.

KeyMe was very clear that Benchmark’s experience with robotics played a role in winning the program. “[Benchmark’s] extensive knowledge in automation, robotics and precision cutting enabled us to develop this revolutionary product, solving an age old problem and ensuring that consumers never get locked out again,” said CEO Greg Marsh.

Benchmark has been installing a series of interactive, programmable robots called “Baxter” designed by Rethink Robotics to perform simple tasks. The human-like machine has two arms, a head and an animated face that can display a range of emotions or thoughts ranging from “I understand” to  confusion. Benchmark uses them for packaging, testing and sorting.

While Baxter isn’t ready for the precision of the SMT line, at $22,000 per unit, he is very affordable. Benchmark not only uses the Baxter series, the EMS company builds them too.

Now, it would appear, Benchmark has gone the next step to leverage that knowledge toward building a new, industrial customer base. As its dependence on IBM wanes, this is an important development.