Seegrid recovering from bankruptcy

Seegrid Corporation makes vision-guided industrial vehicles, technology developed by Carnegie Mellon University. CEO Jim Rock shows autonomous tugger robots at the warehouse in Coraopolis.

CEO Jim Rock said the plan for rescuing Seegrid involved taking the Findlay company into bankruptcy in October 2014, a decision that could have shaken the confidence of customers who purchased the company’s vision-guided industrial vehicles.

But less than a year after emerging from bankruptcy fortified by an additional investment from O’Hara-based Giant Eagle, a full-service grocer and convenience store operator, Mr. Rock said Seegrid is doing better than expected.

“I was personally concerned that that would set us back for some period of time in terms of selling our robots,” said Mr. Rock, an industrial engineer by training. “By and large, [bankruptcy] didn’t hurt us.”

Seegrid, which installs robotics on forklifts and other vehicles used in factories and warehouses, gained 10 new customers this year, and 2015 sales are expected to be more than double the $6.3 million collected last year, Mr. Rock said. He declined to name customers but said users include some of the biggest names in manufacturing and online retailing. The company employs 80 after having laid off about 40 during the bankruptcy. About a dozen job openings are posted on the company’s website.

“We’re doing really well in terms of standard business metrics,” Mr. Rock said.

According to Seegrid’s website, companies that use its robotic vehicles include Giant Eagle, Cabela’s and Daimler Trucks North America. Bankruptcy court records indicate Seegrid had sales of $1.6 million in 2012 and $6.2 million in 2013.

At the time time of the bankruptcy filing, the company’s two biggest investors, Giant Eagle and CEO Anthony Horbal, the former owner of Three Rivers Health Plan, were battling for control of the company. Giant Eagle won the battle, crafting a reorganization plan that creditors signed off on before the bankruptcy petition was filed.

To replace Mr. Horbal, Giant Eagle brought in Mr. Rock, 47, former president of Vocollect Healthcare. Giant Eagle knew Mr. Rock through its investment in Vocollect Healthcare, which provided voice-assisted care to the nursing home industry. Mr. Rock said Giant Eagle’s commitment to Seegrid was critical in his attempts to recruit a management team that could turn the company around.

“Giant Eagle has funded this company through thick and thin,” he said.

Seegrid purchases forklifts and other industrial vehicles and outfits them with cameras and computers that allow them to move safely from point to point, whether it’s moving items from a warehouse to a loading dock, or parts to a production line in a factory. The vehicles “learn” routes through cameras mounted on them that take pictures of their environment twice every second, then send that information to the computer that guides the vehicle’s movement.

Mr. Rock said a human driver can hop on an equipped vehicle, hit a record button, then drive the vehicle along the intended route. At the end of the line, the driver can hop off, hit a play button, and the vehicle will follow the route it just learned, he said.

The ease of programming and reprogramming the vehicles is what makes Seegrid different from its competitors, Mr. Rock said.

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