Joe Dyer wants manufacturers to know that automation isn’t an end goal but a means to drive greater productivity, profitability and efficiency in the workplace.
For manufacturing executives, this may mean adopting technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality (AR).
It’s a world of “new technologies, new solutions,” and Dyer wants manufacturers to partner with tech companies like his to “guide them through that process.”
“We partner as opposed to only solve,” said Dyer, team leader of manufacturing technology at Disher Corp., a Zeeland-based engineering, consulting and product development firm. “I always say to our customers, ‘I don’t want to work with you too little or too much.’ That seems kind of counterintuitive, (but) I don’t want to undersell or oversell; I want to give you exactly what you need when you need it.”
Dyer describes Disher’s “holding hands” approach to working with manufacturers.
“We want to be the guide, to come alongside them and just guide them through that (process) and work with them to figure out what they thought of and what the possibilities are (for automation), and bring some wisdom to the knowledge that’s out there,” Dyer said.
Disher is not a “robot integrator” but rather helps manufacturers find productivity improvements in their operations. If that means adding automation or another technology solution, then so be it, Dyer said.
“We don’t want to just go in and say, ‘We can automate this, this, and this,’ because there’s already people doing that,” Dyer said. “Some of our partners already do that — that’s their niche. What ours is, and what differentiates us, is we want to offer value and productivity improvements.”
Disher helps companies better understand technology and how it may fit into their shop floors in a process based on the Toyota Production System, a lean manufacturing strategy that reduces operational waste like overproduction, overstock or underutilized workers.
For example, Disher’s engineers walk through manufacturing plant lines and offer advice on where they see waste occurring, Dyer said.
“Reducing waste, if not done with the proper sequencing automation effort, will result in the automation of waste,” he said.
Joel Rottman, an automation engineer at Disher, coaches customers on the new technology and makes sure the client understands the products in place.
He said as businesses acquire or invest in automation, it’s done with an “ergonomic” purpose.
“So they’re doing this task and you see right away, (an employee) is doing that (process) over and over and over and over again,” Rottman said. “Maybe we should automate that, give a tool to someone assembling something to help them so they don’t get hurt.”
Rottman added that Disher can help a manufacturer “automate anything, but … we don’t want to automate waste. If they’re wasting something, wasting value, not adding value, you don’t want to automate that. You want to get rid of that waste.”
The response from manufacturers has been to jump on board, Dyer said.
“It’s not the idea of automating a job away — that is the wrong approach,” he said, noting the Toyota model prioritizes having employees think constantly about their efforts, not just work mindlessly.
“We start to take what a human being is good at — that cognitive value-add creation, so to speak — and take away the repetitive, non-value (operations),” Dyer said.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Other tech firms in West Michigan are helping manufacturers realize the “fundamental” benefits of using automation and AI to improve the customer experience with their consumer products.
Grand Rapids-based Carnevale ID LLC, a software development firm, worked with Salt Lake City-based Traeger Grills to adopt technology that allows users to control the company’s wood pellet grills remotely via an app.
In so doing, Traeger capitalized on “a huge market advantage by connecting it to the internet,” said Mike Carnevale, president and founder of Carnevale ID. The technology changed how Traeger thought about its operations, but it also helped customers eliminate wasted time by making the process more efficient.
“The opportunity is enormous,” Carnevale said, citing the Nest Labs’ home automation play in programmable, self-learning thermostats that connect to the internet. “The innocuous Honeywell thermostat that’s been on everybody’s walls for 80 years, well about five to six years ago, (Nest) connected that thermostat to become the hub of home automation.”
Traditional products in the marketplace now benefit from this type of connectivity, he said.
“If we are looking at a consumer experience of any kind, we are going to recognize that those consumer experiences are going to be impacted by spatial computing, augmented reality and IoT,” Carnevale said.
The opportunity for technology adoption in the manufacturing industry will continue to grow as more and more monitoring and machine-to-machine communication takes place. Already, machines have sensors embedded “everywhere,” Carnevale said.
“Monitoring that was typically done by humans is now being aggregated into a comprehensive, factory-wide system that’s capturing all of these data points and proactively alerting the managers of potential issues,” he said.
The proliferation of powerful smartphone technology today allows for easy monitoring of machines that at one time needed massive computer systems to run, said James Andreas, a software developer at Carnevale ID.
Andreas explained Apple’s image-analysis and machine learning technology has enabled new time-saving tools that manufacturers have deployed to quickly solve problems.
“(Companies) already have something in their pocket that you can point and see if something is wrong,” he said. “We can leverage the tech that now everyone has, instead of depending on a large specialized piece of equipment.”
For user experience design firms like Carnevale, the ubiquity of the technology will expand its uses for manufacturing.
“Our company designs and develops next generation experiences,” Carnevale said. “It allows us to guide companies to understand how best to take advantage of these next generation technologies — like AR and VR — to power their workforce.”