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Sunday, 01 April 2018 22:51

Rockford firm uses big data to time machine lubrication, maintenance

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Jimmy Kukulski, the founder and owner of the Rockford-based Elite Lubrication Specialties, uses industrial sensors and other technology to monitor customers’ machines to determine when lubrication and maintenance is needed. The tech-based system helps keep machines running with less downtime, Kukulski said. Jimmy Kukulski, the founder and owner of the Rockford-based Elite Lubrication Specialties, uses industrial sensors and other technology to monitor customers’ machines to determine when lubrication and maintenance is needed. The tech-based system helps keep machines running with less downtime, Kukulski said. Courtesy Photo

 

ROCKFORD — Getting West Michigan manufacturers to embrace cutting-edge technology can be “a tough nut to crack.”

That’s according to Jimmy Kukulski, the founder and owner of the Rockford-based Elite Lubrication Specialties (ELS). 

Unlike a traditional lubricant provider, ELS offers intelligent asset management systems like predictive analytics and oil analysis to help prolong the life of customers’ machines. According to the company, that means delivering the proper quantity and lubricant at the right time. 

ELS deploys a range of sensors at customers’ plants to monitor their machines using industrial Internet of Things and artificial intelligence-based systems to determine when the lubricants should be cleaned or changed. That could mean a company changes the oil in its machines every six years instead of every six months, all while avoiding failures. 

“We look at the oil and clean it … and there’s good uptime,” said Kukulski, referring to the machines his systems monitor. “Every time you (avoid taking) the asset down to do the lubricant change and it’s not making a product, that increases profitability.”

The net result of deploying the technology is that customers can keep their machines running longer with less downtime for maintenance. They also use a lesser quantity of the lubricants ELS sells, since the technology helps determine when a lubrication is needed, rather than when a maintenance schedule says it is, Kukulski said. 

The company’s predictive analytics technology also helps manufacturers identify problems so they can keep machines running and operating more efficiently. 

“If you have fewer failures, and I help you have more uptime, that’s a feather in my cap,” he said. “That’s my goal. I don’t really care how much oil I sell you. It’s nice, because I get paid that way, but if I can get you considerably less (downtime for maintenance), it makes me look really good and I get more customers.” 

Customers of ELS include the Lansing Board of Water & Light, Auburn Hills-based Guardian Industries Corp. and Allendale-based Leprino Foods Co.

ELS, which employs four part-time workers, has grown to more than $1 million in annual sales in 2017, with projections of $1.5 million to $2 million in sales this year, according to Kukulski. 

The company typically works in the food processing, fleet manufacturing and power generation industries, offering products that clean or transfer oil, store lubricants or provide oil analysis and predictive analytics. 

When Kukulski decided to move into the technology market, he wasn’t sure what the initial response from customers would be. But by building relationships with startups and vendors, Kukulski’s been able to keep up with the next wave of industrial IoT and artificial intelligence, creating “algorithms built on cleanliness and extending life cycles.” 

Despite some early resistance to his tech-based offerings, Kukulski said he’s found success convincing local manufacturers to change how they run their operations. In part, that’s because he explains why many of the automotive OEMs that local suppliers work with — namely, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors — have adopted AI, IoT and other tech-based solutions on their shop floors. 

“It’s an easy sell to people who have seen it,” said Kukulski, a native of Grand Haven who founded ELS in 2016. 

Research indicates more manufacturers will be adopting the kinds of technology Kukulski offers in the years ahead. 

According to a report from Market Insights, “factories are growing smart every year,” and by deploying new analytics and big data systems, manufacturers can now “speed up” or “slow down” production.

Similarly, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts the U.S. is expected to invest nearly $700 billion in the next 20 years in the energy sector that ELS serves, “which opens up the colossal market for machine condition monitoring equipment.” 

Kukulski hopes more local manufacturers adopt the technologies, too.

“I really want to see West Michigan start to embrace this,” he added. “I noticed that there was a vacuum between the broader, more technical aspects of asset management and lubrication (solutions on shop floors). Now, you can have precise lubrication, you can have better lubricants … We are trying to pull people from preventive to proactive (maintenance).”

What’s more, ELS brought those services to market a cost well below international competitors, he said. 

“Anything (our customers) want from these systems, they can have it,” Kukulski said about the data collected. “So at each (manufacturer), we’ll use this data to build these algorithms and continue to push that technology forward.” 

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