When COVID-19 started sweeping through the country earlier this year, a local robotics company started receiving calls.
AndyMark, a Kokomo company that primarily manufacturers parts for school robotics teams, was in a prime position to help at the start of the pandemic due to products they were already producing.
“We were contacted by dozens of people early on inquiring about the availability of one of our gear motors,” said Mary Baker, customer service specialist for AndyMark.
It turned out their gear motor was included in two designs for ventilators, one through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one through a group based in Israel. Both designs were open-source, meaning anyone could access it for free.
“People were scrambling for ventilators, and a lot of people around the world grabbed onto these open-source designs, especially the MIT version,” Baker said.
The company quickly pivoted, updating its website and producing more of the gear motors than they ever had before.
“It was kind of a risk, and we hoped we would sell them,” Baker said. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to meet our customers’ needs.”
This wasn’t the first time, however, that AndyMark sold items like its gear motors outside of school robotics.
“It’s not uncommon for a mentor or volunteer to use our parts on something they’re developing at work,” she said.
In fact, that’s how their gear motor ended up in the MIT ventilator design. One of the people working on that project was a FIRST Robotics mentor who realized the part could be used in the ventilators.
The gear motors weren’t the only products AndyMark had on hand that helped combat COVID-19. The company also produces polycarbonate shields typically for use in robotics competitions. Now, however, they’re used as dividers in schools and churches. Baker’s priest uses them in order to safely provide communion, and several area schools are using them in classrooms and cafeterias.
Demand for these two products came as a relief for the company, which was heavily impacted by the pandemic. As schools closed and gatherings were canceled or limited, AndyMark’s main customer base stopped ordering.
AndyMark provides robotics parts and kits for FIRST Robotics teams in K-12 schools, and they provide parts for some college teams as well. Early in the pandemic, FIRST events were canceled and teams were no longer placing orders.
“When this started, everything came to an abrupt standstill,” Baker said.
Thankfully, she said, things are starting to pick back up.
“FIRST has adjusted to the current environment,” she said. “They’re doing remote events, they’ve extended the season, and we’ve seen an uptick in sales since many schools are back in session.”
Moving forward, AndyMark will continue to look at markets outside of just school robotics teams. Not only do they sell to teams, but they also manufacture tactical robots that can be used in a number of ways, such as during hostage situations or to assess items like solar panels that can be hard to reach.
“We try to listen to different opportunities and see if they’re a good fit for us,” Baker said. “We’re always looking for ways and opportunities to expand our market.”
Charlie Sparks, president and CEO for the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance, said he’s proud to see Kokomo companies adjust even in the midst of COVID-19.
“It’s encouraging to see a local company like AndyMark adapt to current needs and market conditions,” Sparks said. “We congratulate them on their ability to succeed.”
AndyMark products can be ordered online at www.andymark.com.