Established in 1970, Vickers Engineering (Vickers) has evolved into a world-class precision machining company serving the automotive, oil and gas, agriculture, defense and industrial markets. Located in New Troy, Michigan, Vickers has over 100 CNC machining centers and several automated machining cells housed in their two plants, which total 170,000 sq. ft. Even while experiencing compound growth, Vickers has been able to maintain its core values of quality, reliability, outstanding people, and superior customer service.
Connected Factory Global (CFG) recently met with Vickers’ president and CEO, Matt Tyler (MT), to discuss their smart manufacturing journey and their strategic roadmap going forward. Tyler had just returned from the Smart manufacturing Summit in Seattle, Washington. The event was sponsored by Chief Executive Magazine and was hosted by Boeing and Microsoft. Matt is a member of the Chief Executive Peer Network. The following interview highlights the insights Vickers’ gained from attending the event.
CFG – What motivated you to attend the Smart manufacturing Summit in Seattle and what were the key takeaways for you?
MT – The summit opened my eyes to the key principles and business benefits of Industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing for a company like ours. In terms of our competitive capabilities, one of the next strategic steps on our journey is in the area of real-time information flows. We have spent the last ten years addressing the fundamentals first, such as the opportunities associated with lean processes, continuous improvement and factory automation. The next level of value drivers is likely to come with an investment in the implementation of smart manufacturing practices.
CFG – Is your leadership team ready to take the next step on the smart manufacturing journey?
MT – The answer is yes. The irony is that we had a factory floor quality situation occur just as I returned from the Smart Manufacturing Summit. In our weekly operations review, we were discussing a variation spike that was showing up in our equipment monitoring data. The variation was correlated with a quality defect that resulted in significant scrap and costs to recover and ship good parts. As I was ranting about the situation, my operations manager was scribbling the word “infrastructure investment” in his notes. We then had a discussion about the topics discussed at the Smart Manufacturing Summit and how real-time, closed loop information flows could have prevented, or at least minimized, the impact of the quality defect.
CFG – Why is now the right time for Vickers to begin this smart manufacturing journey?
MT – We have grown our sales revenue several-fold from where we were just five years ago when we launched our factory automation journey. This growth has required many strategic decisions over time. For example, we have transitioned from 90 percent prototyping to 90 percent production part manufacturing. We have improved our quality processes to 2 PPM by implementing in-line gauging. We have balanced our throughput and WIP (work in progress) inventory goals by leveraging work cell automation and designing our work cells to match production takt times. To take our business to the next level and stay competitive, smart manufacturing seems to be the logical next step.
CFG – What are the some of the key decisions that you and your leadership team will need to consider as part of your smart manufacturing strategic roadmap?
MT – I think there are at least three big decisions we need to make relative to smart manufacturing:
The first is organizational alignment. Vickers has several opportunities to grow our top line sales and bottom line profitability and the implementation of smart manufacturing solutions is just one of those. We are also discussing new service offerings, new markets to enter and new customers to pursue. Like every organization, we have limited financial and human resources so aligning and prioritizing competing strategic initiatives is critical to our success.
The second is training and education. Today, we lean on our existing equipment vendors for automation advice. DMG Mori and Fanuc have been our strategic go-to partners that have taken us to amazing levels of factory automation. They can likely help us going forward, but I have also assigned a new MBA on our staff with the task of understanding Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing so they can educate our management team and shop floor associates on what it is, why it’s important to Vickers’ future success and how we should move forward on our journey.
The third is technology selection. We already know that our current ERP system is antiquated and we are looking at implementing Plex to replace much of the manual enterprise and shop floor planning we do today. However, there will be many other decisions to make regarding best-fit solutions for connectivity, data analytics, visualization, dashboards and other needs. We have to make sure that we understand our requirements and have a good grasp of all of the alternative technologies and solutions providers in the industry ecosystem today.
CFG – As you prepare to begin your smart manufacturing journey, do you have any advice for other organizations who are considering how they can incorporate smart manufacturing into their operations?
MT– The best advice I have is just to do it. Get started, do your research and engage help along the way from others who can support you as your smart manufacturing journey progresses.