Technology may always be changing, but the Industry 4.0 revolution is here to stay.
Flow-Rite details its journey designing and implementing IoT technology in webinar.
Watch the webinar recap here.
Yet, with Industry 4.0 technology firmly taking hold in the manufacturing sector, many companies are unsure about how to best integrate the technology into their operations. From product development to people development, Industry 4.0 is forcing manufacturers to embrace their inner “FIO” capabilities and “Figure It Out.”
Navigating through the implementation of Industry 4.0 technology, and how that implementation impacts the larger workforce, was a key discussion topic during a recent webinar, hosted by the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West and MiBiz. The webinar, titled “The Future of Work in Michigan’s Manufacturing Sector” featured advice and commentary from both the manufacturing and technology side of Industry 4.0.
During the webinar Todd Hart, president of Flow-Rite Controls, detailed how the company, a manufacturer of water control products for a variety of markets, implemented a sophisticated IoT technology into lead-acid batteries. Part of that journey involved hiring Joe Bennett, a software development manager with Complete Automation Resource, to help implement IoT technology into the Flow-Rite’s operations.
“When I look at Industry 4.0 technology, I look at it as a reinvention of the manufacturing in the United States,” Bennett said during the webinar. “I would say anyone out there contemplating it, just get started. You’re not going to learn unless you just get started.”
During its journey, Flow-Rite faced challenges transforming from a traditional manufacturer to one that integrates sophisticated sensors and into its products and developing the software to run them. Specifically, Flow-Rite implemented a series of smart sensors and designed software to monitor lead acid batteries used in forklifts. Their BatterySteward actively tracks water levels inside lead acid batteries to provide predictive maintenance data. The system also monitors core indicators such as temperature, voltage and impact. The technology syncs ups via bluetooth to the companies wifi network or via cellular data.
A FOCUS ON PEOPLE
To implement its BatterySteward technology, Flow-Rite made sure it rallied its employees around the central goal of creating and implementing an IoT technology. The company worked to knock down existing silos in its organization and brought in a variety of technology experts to educate the workforce on Industry 4.0 solutions.
Collaboration was key. Instead of approaching the technology from the traditional engineering approach where products shift between, engineering, design, sales and other individual aspects of the business, Flow-Rite allowed its teams hands-on experience with the product throughout the entire development process.
“This is going to be cross functional project,” Bennett said. “No matter what it will probably touch every part of your business.”
During the webinar, Bennett noted that senior leadership should play a key role in breaking down silos and ensuring the entire company remains focused on the goal of implementing IoT technology.
To find workers with the necessary digital and technological skills to launch BatterySteward, Flow-Rite opted to hire primarily those workers who fit with the company culture. Hart noted that while workers needed baseline expertise in technology, the manufacturer made its hiring decisions on culture, opting to train workers where necessary to bring them up-to-speed on the technology.
“It’s definitely been a journey with getting people on board,” Hart said. “But also, getting our other folks who may have been doing more mechanical research and design and moving them into this space … as it relates to going inside a lead acid battery was a pretty good learning curve for them.”
Outside of the talent component, the Flow-Rite team learned a number of lasting lessons during the design and implementation process for BatterySteward.
Key to its launch was learning how to quickly pivot and change the design, technology or other components within the project. Several times, challenges such as the availability or performance of sensors required Flow-Rite to return to the “drawing board” and reassess the product.
“Once you get into IOT, there are so many options,” Bennett said. “When we’re doing product development, I think there were a lot of times when we needed to go back to the drawing board. And when I say go back to the drawing board, I mean, think about do we really need this. Is it worth the time and effort to do the development or is it better to just get it out in the field right away so you can start getting some knowledge and feedback from the customers.”
Most importantly, Hart suggested any manufacturer interested in IoT technology should focus on communication with the rest of the workforce during the development and implementation process. In particular, Hart stressed the importance of creating a culture of belief within the organization. Flow-Rite began its IoT journey four years ago and is now just gaining traction in the market, Hart said. To maintain motivated, the entire organization must coalesce and be steadfast in its beliefs regarding the technology.
“The most important piece of all of it is the communication piece,” Hart said. “Understanding that it’s not an overnight journey and just communicating all that over and over again.”