Automation is really what’s going to help keep this country going. In the bigger economic picture, you’ve got to create things.” Scranton resident Mike Duffy has built his company on this foundation. In 1999, he founded Keystone Automation where he and his team of designers, engineers and machinists design and build specialized machinery for manufacturers. Originally, Mr. Duffy, the President and CEO, was the only employee in an 1,800 square foot facility. Now, he employs 40 others who work in a 21,000 square foot facility. The one-of-a-kind and sometimes confidential machinery they develop provides manufacturing solutions for the gas, military, plastic, packaging, biotech and medical industries. The diversity in their work has allowed them to bring creativity and experience to each project and has fostered their continual expansion.
Also foundational to Keystone Automation and its growth are the employees, who Mr. Duffy puts great care into choosing. His philosophy on employment is to “hire people you’d invite to your house for a Sunday dinner.” He is passionate about his employees, often recent graduates who he refers to as “the kids,” and the work they do because they are innovative, motivated and “on their A-game.” By treating his employees, customers and vendors well, and intensely focusing on each project for all of his clients, Mr. Duffy has created and fostered Keystone Automation and will continue to see it grow in the future.
How did you discover your passion for designing and building machinery?
I did mechanical work in the Navy. When I moved to the area, I took a job with Gould Battery in Dunmore and was assigned to work on electrical equipment-specifically programming a PLC that controlled the assembly of the batteries. I enjoyed telling machinery what to do. That led to me going to Penn State, getting my degree and eventually starting Keystone Automation. It all started on that battery line at Gould.
You are originally from Owego, NY. What specifically about this area made you want to raise a family and build a business here?
My father and grandfather were raised in Scranton. My mother had relatives here too. My dad was an electrician and moved to New York in the ‘50s because of lack of work here. My wife Melissa and I moved here in the ‘80s because of a lack of work in NY. When I started Keystone I didn’t realize how good a climate PA has for businesses. As Keystone has grown I realize how fortunate we are to live here.
How does your company benefit the area?
We currently employ about 40 people at Keystone, split equally between engineers and manufacturing positions. We sponsor different charities where possible. We work with local schools and universities to promote technology and technology careers. For several years we have been on the Wilkes University Industrial Advisory board.
As technology advances at a rapid rate, how do you ensure that you provide manufacturers with the latest automation allowing them to keep up with industry competitors?
We go to trade shows to see the latest and greatest products. We also have a good relationship with our suppliers and routinely have them bring in new product demos to keep our engineers on the cutting edge. We encourage our engineers and designers to participate in training courses and seminars provided by several of our suppliers.
The services you provide have the power to prevent companies from moving their manufacturing facilities overseas. Do you see a bright future for the American automation industry?
There are certain manufacturing activities that cannot be automated. Even with the advances in technology we can’t automate everything. Those operations will always go to the lowest labor costs. The great news is that there are far more manufacturing operations that can be automated – including those that have already moved overseas. We routinely help companies by automating their process to keep costs down. With the advances in technology, not only are we able to allow companies to remain here, we are helping some of them return because of the lower cost of automation. There is a very bright future for automation because of the creative and inventive spirit here, especially in the Northeast. That spirit is what drives and distinguishes us from the rest of the country and the world.
Has Keystone Automation been affected by companies moving overseas searching for economic manufacturing?
No. It is interesting that many of the companies that went overseas realize that the total cost of ownership is about the same as if they kept the work here and just invested in a new process such as automation. We are seeing quite a few of these companies knocking at our door looking for our help.
In what ways can companies like yours shed light on the stigmas of technical vocations and encourage young people to consider careers in your industry?
We bring in student tours to show how manufacturing isn’t the dingy, dark sweatshops of the ‘70s. Today’s manufacturing centers are well-lit and clean. There are larger companies that employ hundreds of people but a lot of the companies are smaller with technically savvy people who really make a difference. Years ago we did a job for a string cheese manufacturer in upstate NY. There were people at the plant threatening to slice our tires. We provided an automated line to weigh and pack the cheese that saved the company from being closed. No one at the plant was displaced and they continue to be in operation. What they didn’t know was that if the plant wasn’t able to be profitable, it would have been closed and everyone would have been looking for a job. Nowadays it seems that people welcome the automation because they know if the employer is able to manage costs, their jobs will stay here.
For the technologically un-savvy, describe the kind of machinery you produce and how it benefits manufacturers.
We produce all sorts of unique machinery–everything from machines that go in a clean room to 10 ton automated gantries and machines that make cannoli to security doors. Our machinery is used for new processes, making an operation safer, improving production output and/or reducing costs. Each machine is as unique as the product it produces.
What about the environment at Keystone Automation would make a possible future employee want to work there?
We have a very creative, varied environment. Ideas are welcomed and appreciated. Under one roof we build machines from the concept to engineering and design, machining, welding, wiring, assembly, testing, then installation and training. There is a great deal of satisfaction in seeing the entire process in action.
If a manufacturer was contemplating entering a business agreement with Keystone Automation or another, equally as advanced and creative machinery provider, why would they choose you?
We have a proven track record of success. We’ve been doing a large variety of projects in a large variety of industries. Our experience in so many different industries lets us bring a very unique perspective to each project. Plus we’re fun to work with.
To what or whom do you attribute your success?
Melissa, my lovely bride of 27 years. She has been my best supporter and has stuck with me through the tough times and long hours. They call her “Momma Keystone” at the shop for good reason.
How do you continue to grow professionally?
I surround myself with some of the brightest engineers, designers and skilled craftsmen in the area and appreciate their contributions.
Which of your previous experiences has been the most impactful?
My military service gave me the confidence to handle any challenges thrown at me.
Getting Personal with Mike Duffy
President and CEO,
Family: My lovely bride of 27 years Melissa and our daughter Allison who is 24 years old.
Education: Associates Degree in Electrical Engineering Technology from Penn State. I went to Newark Valley High School in Newark Valley, NY. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but it definitely prepared me for life.
Favorite aspect of NEPA: The people are great! I’ve traveled around the world and have lived in many places. We have some of the nicest people who live here. Top choice for recreation: Melissa and I own motorcycles and enjoy riding on the back roads.
Favorite Quote: “Do something you really like and hopefully it pays the rent. As far as I’m concerned that’s success.”
Favorite Food: Brisket and BBQ are at the top of my list. One of my favorite local spots is B3Q Smokehouse in West Pittston.
Most Daring Thing I’ve Done: Joining the Navy and starting Keystone.