September / October 2022 MiMfg Magazine 15 whelming outcomes . A common challenge that manufacturers face is developing more systems integration across their departments to increase efficiencies . Vitek says that manufacturers need to have an understanding of their current limitations and opportunities for improvement .
“ There are typically a number of challenges happening and they are likely interconnected ,” says Vitek . “ Companies are trying to collaborate across different boundaries ; they ’ re trying to find the right technical resource and they ’ ve got data everywhere . They ’ ll need technology solutions to bring that all together into one place .”
Rate of Adoption
Having been in the automation world since 2005 , Mohrland sees the rate of adoption for Industry 4.0 as “ slow ” considering the amount of technology that ’ s available . However , he believes Michigan can be at the forefront of this new wave considering the state ’ s long history with automation and applying cutting-edge technologies to the manufacturing process .
“ I guess I ’ m Michigan proud but it ’ s kind of known as the automation capital ,” says Mohrland . “ I think there are just tons and tons of good resources available and a lot of skill here .”
At Sandalwood , they call this adoption “ climbing the pyramid .” Vitek says there is a lot of education and research that should take place before a company decides on a particular solution .
What we do is very customer-driven . We work with the big OEMs and really the specifications of our machine tools are driven by the customers ... we have to move with the times .
— Mark Hendel • IMPCO Microfinishing Systems
“ The hard part is being able to pick and choose which technology is right and can be beneficial across various applications ,” he says .
For example , if a manufacturer has its own MRP system , rather than look for an upgrade or a new feature to the existing technology , finding solutions that manage “ processes and workflows ” can create efficiencies and a better working environment for those on the shop floor .
“ We ’ re looking at ways to actively track issues related to the movement of materials on the floor and in the supply chain . We ’ ve found that we can use low-cost social media-like solutions for that ,” says Vitek .
The team at Livonia-based Sandalwood Engineering & Ergonomics is dedicated to providing Industry 4.0 solutions to improve manufacturing processes and outcomes .
Reaching this point of adoption can be challenging but not impossible even for legacy companies like IMPCO . The company is over 85 years old and is credited with building the world ’ s first automated crankshaft 75 years ago , yet they continue to listen to the needs of their customers and evolve .
“ What we do is very customer-driven ,” says Hendel . “ We work with the big OEMs and really the specifications of our machine tools are driven by the customers .”
Now that the industry is running headlong into the EV markets , IMPCO is adapting to meet the new market demands .
“ EV definitely seems like the next evolution for road vehicles . Well , of course , we have to move with the times ,” says Hendel . “ We ’ re still supporting the crankshaft world , but we ’ ve started doing development work on electric vehicle components , transmission components , rotor shafts , rotor assemblies and other EV-related materials .”
What ’ s the ROI ?
When considering a new investment in technology , the first and probably most important question is : What ’ s the ROI ? Mohrland says talking about the rate of return is a good way to speed up the adoption of a new process or system .
“ There are definitely companies scared to make that up-front investment but , once you start working up the ROI calculations , then it starts to make sense ,” says Mohrland . “ In a lot of cases and solutions out there , I see manufacturers realize their return on investment within a year or less . I think that ’ s pretty low risk overall .”
So , no matter what kind of challenge you ’ re facing , it ’ s likely there ’ s a technology-based solution out there that requires an upfront investment but will produce a beneficial and long-term ROI both on the bottom line and within your workforce .
Because , while these solutions may be digitized in nature , the ultimate goal is to improve processes and the work environment for humans . Whether you ’ re considering an ERP system to create more communication and efficiency between departments , or if you ’ re eying a robot to perform strenuous , manual labor — your humans will thank you for it . 6
Have a manufacturing story to tell ? E-mail communications @ mimfg . org .