CR Automation is confident Heinz Wattie's Bright Stack Robot will open more doors for international business.
CR is already a technology partner for LiWayWay, a snack food manufacturer with 26 plants located in China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
While visiting the ENZA Foods' Hastings plant LiWayWay was impressed with the reverse engineering and retrofit of older manufacturing equipment with modern automation system, leading to Hawke's Bay solutions for manufacturing plants in Shanghai, Manila and Ho Chi Minh City.
Since buying out his partner in 2015 Mr Richards has taken CR into two complementary business streams - Mechatronics (Robotics, mechanical and electrical infrastructure) and Industrial Automation.
Seeing a need for better manufacturing automation he hired eight multi-disciplined senior engineers last year, before he had work for them.
The majority were from Compac Sorting Equipment, which was closing its Hastings manufacturing plant.
"It was one of those right time, right place and a truck-load-of-luck moments," he said.
"It is hard to find people with that sort of experience - one example is Brent Symes who has 30 years robotics-design experience.
"We got them on board without any specific project and then we very quickly secured a large project."
The large project was thanks to Mr Richards sharing his vision of a specialist mechatronics firm with existing client Heinz Wattie's, which promptly engaged CR to design, build and install a Bright Stack Robot at Heinz Wattie's Hastings plant.
Mechatronics team manager Craig Petersen said there were several companies competing globally in the field but CR's can-stacking robot had the edge.
"One robot does three lines and the way we form the patterns is quite unique," he said.
"We are using a servo-driven magnetic transfer so our accuracy of pattern forming is a lot better. When we form a layer it is critical that all the cans end up in the right spot because the stack's strength is from the cans being lined up on top of each other."
CR is confident its success will open doors for more bespoke robots overseas and are confident of their ability to deliver.
"For a team that only came on board around September/October last year and delivering in this time frame, is extraordinary," Mr Richards said.
Manufacturing and installation was a team effort with DSK Engineering, one of Hastings' largest engineering firms situated next door to CR.
Mr Richards said he never sought growth for growth's sake, but made conscious decisions to expand the company against predictions of regional decline and challenges of skilled labour shortages.
Part of the labour solution was an ongoing commitment to providing work experience to graduate engineers and ensuring CR attracted and retained experienced engineers, many IPENZ-registered.
"I just want to have the right resources for the demand we have," Mr Richards said.