Connected Factory Global (CFG) recently had the opportunity to catch up with Matt Tyler from Vickers Engineering, Inc. in New Troy, Michigan. Matt, who is the President and CEO, has been with Vickers since 1999.
I learned about Vickers from Sofia Nordenstam at the Association for Advancing Automation (A3). CFG has been conducting research on advanced technology adoption by small medium manufacturers. A3 has a great video series on their website titled “Why I Automate” and Vickers Engineering is one of their featured members.
Matt shared that Vickers decided to make a big bet on automation in 2006. Their focus was on the need to increase throughput, improve quality and enhance worker safety. Matt says that Vickers “stumbled upon automation” somewhat reluctantly. On of first candidates for new technology was a transfer machine which would help automate what had been a very manually labor intensive machine-to-machine transfer. The management team was somewhat concerned about the workforce’ reaction to the investment in automation but was pleasantly surprised to find the employees embraced the commitment to new technology. It created a new mindset on the shop floor.
“Operations which had been 80% brawn and 20% brain, were completely reversed.” Vickers then realized that they were able to recruit and retain employees who were looking to be technically challenged.
Vickers first turned to their existing automation vendor for advice. DMG Mori Seiki referred Vickers to Ellison Technologies from their Davenport, IA location. As Vickers continued to introduce additional automation throughout their operations, they also grew their internal capability to design advanced work-cells and program robots and other automation equipment.
From an ROI perspective, Vickers put a pen to paper in order to determine what the ROI might be. “In the end, like many small businesses, the person that had to become comfortable with the ROI was their leader.” What they realized very quickly after implementing the new automation was that the ROI was 2 to 3 times quicker than first thought in terms of months to payback. Not only did the investments in technology reduce labor content, but it also created new manufacturing capability which opened up new markets and industries which Vickers had never previously considered.
Other positive outcomes from the continued investment in technology include reductions in takt time, lower defect rates and increases in flexibility/capability. Vickers now has the internal knowledge and capability to design and program 6 machine work cells. They have also implemented in-line gauging and hard gauging.
Vickers now competes on the global stage against competitors from Japan, China, and Mexico as well as domestic. Since 2009, they have focused their attention on top line and bottom line growth. They have outgrown their past “job shop” mentality of quoting anything and everything. Because of their increased capability and quality, Vickers is much more selective which allows them to say no to projects which do not fit wit their growth strategy or will not leverage their automation capability.
Vickers is now also pursuing “digital transformation” into their factory floor operations. They created their own barcode labeling software to track production in real time. They are also in the process of implement cloud-based ERP/MES software. As Vickers automates more of their production information flow, cyber security is a key consideration. Within their industry vertical supply chains, their OEM customers want to know that Vickers has a plan to address data security.
To stay on top of the front office and shop floor management best practices, Matt participates in various peer groups. Two that he recommends to others are the Chief Executive Network, sponsored by CEO Magazine and the National Tooling and Machining Association which has local chapters and networking events. Vickers has also grown the effectiveness of their senior management team and now manages the business across six individuals with key roles and responsibilities.
Matt’s parting words for other small-medium manufacturers that are at critical decision juncture relative to investing in automation is to “not overthink it. It is critical to not become intimidated by today’s technology or ROI investment concerns.
Matt will be a guest speaker at the NIST MEP National Summit in Denver, CO which is scheduled for May 1-3, 2017.