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How To Make Your Mark by Engaging Employees

How To Make Your Mark by Engaging Employees

How To Make Your Mark by Engaging Employees

There’s a difference between being a business owner, and being a true entrepreneur; the latter has a passion, a spark, a hunger to drive their legacy forward and make a lasting difference in their industry. Mark Whitten is one such individual. His commitment to not just his company – but the people and culture behind it – is truly inspirational.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to chat with Mark, President & CEO of Spartanburg Steel. Mark took over this 40-year-old ship two years ago, and it was clear that change was urgent. After ending up in manufacturing by accident, Mark found it his responsibility to conquer SSP’s recent hardships and transform it into the 2.0 powerhouse it is today.

In this exclusive interview, Mark reveals his best-kept secrets behind what goes into building a successful team – which is his number one priority and the driving force behind his business’s success. He also exposes his thought processes behind true performance, along with the value of hard work and determination, explaining how he grew from an hourly employee in a manufacturing facility to the industry authority he is today.

Mark truly has some invaluable insights to share, including the monthly habits he and his team implement to sustain the success they’ve worked so hard to build. This is not an interview you’ll want to miss out on. Hit the button below to check it out right now!

It seems building an engaged team is your number one priority in terms of building a successful business, would you agree?

I started my career as an hourly employee in a manufacturing facility. So, the way I look at leadership is different. I’ve seen good leaders and I’ve seen some not so good leaders in my day. And that formed my thought process that having an engaged workforce that understands the goals of the organisation and is pushing along with leadership in order to achieve those. We do coffee chats with employees, we do surveys, we do Ask the President box. We have one on one meetings. So, yeah, I do believe engagement is a critical part of business.

What kind of challenges have you found with team culture & how did you overcome them?

Two years ago, I came to Spartanburg, and it’s a 40-year-old company, so there’s a lot of history, there’s a lot of “we’ve always done things this way. Why do we need to change?” So a lot of resistance around the need to change.

Obviously, I saw the need to change as I came into the organisation, and I saw that we weren’t performing well to our customers, to our employees, and also financially. I had all the reason in the world why we needed to change. But if you’ve been here 25 years or 30 years, in some cases with some of our employees, they really didn’t understand the reason, so that resistance means continuous educating, discussing, sharing, getting the people to understand their reasons.

There’s a lot of selling to the operation, of why we need to do this and how and what’s the benefit to them. And to me, it’s always job security. I mean, you have to be competitive. You have to be financially performing in order to be sustainable long term, and that’s really what the message is to the workforce here.

You mentioned that you started as an hourly employee in a manufacturing plant. Tell us a little bit about how you got your start in manufacturing?

I went to college and I took Business Administration, and I realised that I couldn’t really understand what that was going to lead to. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at that time. Then my mother found an advertisement for a new company that was opening up in the city, that was close by to where I was living, and they were advertising new company freight liner, trucks it was. They were building a new facility, hiring from the ground up. My mother shared that with me and said, you should apply there. I said, I don’t know anything about it, but sure. And that’s how I started.

I got hired and I started on the floor as an employee, loading steering gears and frame rails and different things like that for these heavy, classic trucks. And I fell in love with manufacturing from that point forward and just continued my career. I ended up working for General Motors for a period of time, then with most of my career spent with Magna International, a tier one automotive supplier to the automotive industry.

What is it that you love about manufacturing?

Every day is a new challenge, as I’m sure you can appreciate. It’s fast moving. It’s a lot of high energy, a lot of changing continuously. I think it’s fun, but it burns a lot of people out, especially in the automotive space. It’s a highly competitive space to be in. I love running around with my hair on fire most of the time. And if you don’t like to work that way, it’s probably not great for you to be in that space. But I do. It’s not boring, it’s not like coming to work and having a monotonous or routine role.

You really got to be a chameleon. You got to be able to move between, the tactical day to day stuff where you’ve got the whirlwind, it’s constantly happening and then you have to be strategic and have vision and plans to achieve the greater good.

You mentioned that you started as an hourly employee in a manufacturing plant. Tell us a little bit about how you got your start in manufacturing?

I went to college and I took Business Administration, and I realised that I couldn’t really understand what that was going to lead to. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at that time. Then my mother found an advertisement for a new company that was opening up in the city, that was close by to where I was living, and they were advertising new company freight liner, trucks it was. They were building a new facility, hiring from the ground up. My mother shared that with me and said, you should apply there. I said, I don’t know anything about it, but sure. And that’s how I started.

I got hired and I started on the floor as an employee, loading steering gears and frame rails and different things like that for these heavy, classic trucks. And I fell in love with manufacturing from that point forward and just continued my career. I ended up working for General Motors for a period of time, then with most of my career spent with Magna International, a tier one automotive supplier to the automotive industry.

One of your values is that ‘Structure drives behaviour’. Tell us what that means and what you feel that does?

Well, just to give a little bit of colour around my vision, SSP 2.0. 2 years ago, when I joined the organisation, and again, it’s a family run business, 40 years plus. This has been a very successful company for many years. They went through some hardships in the last few years. It’s one of the reasons I came. But I wanted to honour the past.

I didn’t want in any way for the team here, the employees here, nor ownership to feel like I came in and we’re going to change everything and we’re going to do everything different. I wanted to honour 1.0, I call it. So SSP 1.0 is the past and SSP 2.0 is the future. It doesn’t mean 1.0 is bad, it just means that we have to change. The world is changing and we have to change along with that. So that’s 2.0 and there’s a lot of components to 2.0.

One of the pieces of that is accountability and structure. And as I came into the organisation, I didn’t really follow who reports to who or what the structure was. And I knew if that was the case, that our employees didn’t understand what the goals of the organisation or who to report to etc. So that whole structure piece, getting structure, creating the structure, creating accountability and creating cadence. That’s how we run our operation, minute by minute. It’s really the three components.

And so my belief is, exactly as you say, is structure drives behaviour and ultimately it drives the results.

How does that vision trickle down throughout the business and help you achieve those monthly, quarterly, annual goals?

The 2.0 gave us a clear line in the sand where we could kind of separate ourselves from the past and we could then start to move towards a future state. When you talk to the team here, any level of individual in this business, they will reference 2.0 all the time. Even things like, “well, that’s not 2.0, that’s 1.0”. So they’ll recognise that was the past, and this is the future.

It has made it fun, it gives us all a ‘what’. I have visual tools and we’ve got a roadmap of 2.0, what it looks like and the components of that. We talk a lot about the goals of the organisation with the employees and making sure that everybody understands that. But really, that 2.0 is the vehicle of how we will achieve world class results.

We know we’re not world class yet, we don’t claim to be. But we have a desire to be. And that’s really what that vision statement was about. We want to be a world class company, we want to do things in a world class way.

So it’s really creating that vision. And I can tell you it’s working because in 2021 we had our best year in the last, say, four years, customer issues went down by 80%. We were profitable for the first time in four years. I really give the credit to the team here.

Have mentors played a role in helping you to get where you are today?

Yeah, absolutely. Interestingly enough, and I go back to referencing my start in my career was as an hourly shop floor employee, having those glasses and looking through those glasses, looking at management’s behaviour, I saw some great leaders, but I witnessed some awful leaders as well. And I will tell you, that both were equally important in my development because I got to see first hand what doesn’t work, what I shouldn’t do if I’m ever to be a leader.

I never planned to be a president or CEO, but I certainly witnessed some really poor behaviour from leaders and I saw some great mentors that I learned a tremendous amount. I didn’t come out of University and go directly into a management role, I went the other way and learned through the harder way of being a shop floor hourly employee and earning my time on the floor. Honestly, I think that that’s one of the reasons I consider myself to be a different type of leader.

How would you say you’ve had to change personally to get from employee to CEO?

I think having the opportunity to work in three countries, different companies, and learning from what I would refer to as a humble start, as a shop floor employee, and over time, having the opportunity to be in many different roles, in quality, in continuous improvement, as an assistant plant manager, plant manager.

The combination of that has certainly moulded who I am today and how my belief windows and how I treat others. I certainly couldn’t have predicted back when I was a young person just starting that I ever had aspirations to be in the role I’m in today. It just worked out that way. I worked hard and made a LOT of mistakes and learned from those mistakes.

What’s the best way for people to find out more about you and get in touch?

LinkedIn is the best way.

I’m happy to share information. I reply on a regular basis to most people that send me notes and messages.

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How Visualising Data is Improving Productivity

How Visualising Data is Improving Productivity

How Visualising Data is Improving Productivity

Just as there’s a storyteller behind every novel, every car on the road is made possible by the manufacturers of steel and aluminium. But not every manufacturer is created equal…

Led by Arun Thandapani, Hirschvogel is a pioneering steel and aluminium part supplier that’s changing the face of the sector as we know it. Arun and his team are taking the technological side of manufacturing to the next level, leveraging the manpower-freeing potential of automation to meet evolving industry demand.

In this eye-opening interview, Arun reveals how he and his team are going where no metal manufacturer has gone before – connecting data points to reality. By deriving meaningful insights hidden behind data, Arun and his crew are bringing the industry better results than ever before.

Ready to dive into the future of data-driven decision making in the steel and aluminium manufacturing sector? Let’s go!

How did you get involved in the automotive industry?

So, I started out studying mechanical engineering back in South India. In fact, I wanted to be a software engineer, but my father wanted me to be a mechanical engineer. So we struck a deal. I became a mechanical engineer and said, I will learn all the software on the side. This helped me when I decided to come for my masters here in Columbus, Ohio. I came to Ohio State University and pursued my industrial systems engineering, and that’s where I got introduced to manufacturing and especially metal farming forging and stamping technologies. As my first exposure to manufacturing research, I got hooked onto it.

I was able to use all my skill sets when it comes to what I learned in metal farming and also my software skill sets and programming as a research associate. I graduated doing research and stamping. But then I ended up joining Hirschvogel Incorporated here in Columbus, Ohio, as a process engineer.

And that’s my journey into manufacturing, per se. And I spent a lot of time on the floor doing specific process engineering work that gave me the hands on knowledge as to how to deal with process variables, how to handle variation, how to address them, and how to use my research skill sets to optimise the process.

 

Do you think your mix of Mechanical skills & Software knowledge has given you a competitive advantage?

One of the things that I notice is you usually have an engineer who knows mechanical stuff. They learn about hydraulics, pneumatics, specific servo motors and stuff like that. You learn basic components of a machinery, but then what you do not learn is how to take data from there and actually convert that data into information and insight. And that’s the portion where I feel the engineers who do not have a background in data or data analytics have a difficulty trying to analyse it.

So as an engineer and you’re doing some programming work, you could easily take that up and try to analyse whether it’s a correlation. You can sift through millions of data points and actually find out what are the erroneous ones, and you can remove them and do a lot of data cleaning. And that’s the majority of the time that the engineers will struggle because they see a lot of things, but they don’t know what to do with it. And if you can’t connect the data to the reality, the data is useless. So having this exposure of both working with data analytics and the process mining portion of it, along with the background of what happens, actually physically on the floor, helped me put things together and derive insights. Which was not easy.

Can you give us any examples of transformations that have been made through linking data to the processes happening on the shop floor?

Absolutely, usually data about inventory and so on is inside ERP packages, and it’s in a form where you can’t see it’s in numbers and screens. You have to scroll across a lot of screens to find out what’s happening. And what you’re missing sometimes is, what is our target? Because you don’t have a target inside, you just have no idea what’s going on.

For example, I put this table together and then we were like, okay, at the end of the year, we want to be at $50 million for the year in inventory. And then you see you blew through it because there are chip shortages and stuff like that happening in the industry and then you’re not able to control your inventory. But if you make it visual, people will get it, people see it. And if this data point is just sitting inside ERP and it’s individually managed by different people, and if you don’t give individual targets to them, they just won’t
understand what’s happening and they just don’t know how they can respond to it. That’s the difficulty when they see this. And if you see a full bar and you don’t understand what’s inside it, you got to split up.

Then you can start to ask questions and adjust KPI’s, this is the kind of thing that you can do on a day to day basis to enhance your company and your business as a whole.

So how do you think the manufacturing landscape will change over the next decade? What do you think the big drivers will be?

I think data driven decision making is going to be a commonplace going forward. We are all going to be needed to interpret the results and to ask more knowledgeable questions. Each of the machining modules and every piece of the puzzle in the value string is going to be smart, right? It’s going to put out a lot of data.

And I feel like over a period of time, certain industries will become like a black box almost where certain things are fine tweaked and there is like automated machine learning algorithms or AI engines that are running to interpret and optimise it further.

And then the people on top are going to look at the outcomes or potential choices for those algorithms to take. It could give us some meaningful courses of direction, saying, look, you could imagine almost like Iron Man kind of thing, that’s what’s going to happen, right? Can I change this or can I change that?

I think in 10-15 years from now, the spaces with which innovation is going on. I think it’s quite possible that we could go to a point where AI and ML are becoming the main interface into your manufacturing. Options could be thrown out based out from those AI engines. And the leaders and people would be making decisions from based on that what choices that it throws out.

 

Do you think that means hiring of people with different skill sets or just training of the people?

I think there’s got to be new engineers coming in. The young talent who come in, would need to know about dealing with data and trying to connect the pieces of the puzzle. You also have a workforce that’s already engaged at work. We need to now teach them, this is interesting stuff. You no longer have to use your muscle for things. Things are going to be automated. You’re going to use your brain for changing things. So, it’s exciting times.

And if we empower people the right way, I think it will be a very interesting journey for everyone involved. That’s where I think it’s going to happen, both sides. For example, we are starting our own apprenticeship programme because we would like to grow our own people. It’s a combination of mechatronics, like mechanical and electronics and robotics.

You will need engineers with all of the skill sets and that doesn’t exist. So we have to create our own. That’ll be a common place going forward. It’s not just us. Probably everyone would jump in.

Tell us about your own personal learning

Right now, there is digital twin technology, like simulation, wherein you could simulate your entire facility scenario.

Discrete event simulation is another topic which could also be interesting for the future. The way I see it is we need to be curious. Use our downtimes to steer energy towards learning. It satisfies your curiosity and keeps you engaged in achieving new things.

Power BI was something that I learned as well as digital discrete event simulation using Simio, during the pandemic. I had four weeks of being stuck at home, so started with learning, adding discrete event simulation to my portfolio. So I rebuilt the entire plant in 3D. You could see objects going around, like toys, moving material, and you could see what’s happening.

Use your time that’s available to learn. Learning is a journey that I feel it will not end whilst I’m alive. And that’s my moral, to keep going and keep myself contributing to the world.

 

Where can we get in touch with you?

At www.hirschvogel.com you can see more about my company and about myself. You could follow me on Twitter @AThandapani, find me on LinkedIn, Arun Kumar Thandapani.


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Changing the Automobile Game with Multipurpose Modular Vans

Changing the Automobile Game with Multipurpose Modular Vans

The way we move never stays the same for very long. Humans have transitioned from foot to carriage to car, and now, P.J Tezza is escorting mankind into the next generation of mobility – ModVans. The result of 1000+ hours of work and an unrelenting refusal to take no for an answer.

In this fascinating interview, P.J reveals how he turned his background in physics and software engineering into a powerhouse manufacturer that configures 10 vans a week – a number they plan to shoot up to 100 in the not-so-distant future. And to think – it all began with P.J configuring his own van for himself, made to maintain luxury, comfort, and convenience on the open road.

As an intrinsic problem-solver, P.J wanted to give America a way to move, work, and play in one multi-purpose family vehicle that’s beautiful, functional and redefines the word “modular”. No matter the nature of the vans before them, P.J and his team have the knowledge, experience, and self-taught grit to transform them into something America has never seen before.

Are you ready to dive into P.Js incredible journey with us? Let’s get to it!

What inspired you to start ModVans?

I discovered early on that I really liked engineering and I had a really successful career in software. I’ve been involved in a lot of startups and have always been excited about the creative aspect. So, eventually, I built a vehicle for myself as I wanted something for camping. I love camping and I also like to snowboard in the winter. This involves a lot of driving, especially in California which is a pretty big place. So I was looking for a vehicle that could fit my daily life and also go camping on the weekend.

When I built the van, it was a ton of work, way more work than I had imagined. But it had a lot of unique things to it. It was modular. It had a pop-up top, which was a pretty unique design, and AC as a full feature. When I was finished my friends were saying, you should sell these! I wasn’t sure at first, but driving the van around for six months, everywhere I went people were like, hey! Can I see inside your van? Where did you get it? Where can I get one?

I built the modular features because I wanted the seats and beds to be able to come in and out. I wanted to be able to use it for moving stuff, picking up supplies at the home improvement store, things like that. And it turns out that people like that. So I’ve carried that design philosophy into our product line and I now have three different models. They are all modular. You can take everything out and potentially haul bikes inside, and all your kids and dogs for one big trip. So that’s what the heart of ModVans is.

How did you build a manufacturing company from scratch?

I  had a startup that sold to another bigger company. And as a result, I wasn’t working a lot. I had a little bit of money and some flexibility for where I could live. So my wife and I moved from Northern California to Southern California. But when we came down here we realised there weren’t any jobs for people like us. So as I was getting even more questions about the van since moving to Southern California. I thought lets dust off the ModVans thing here,

So, I built a website that could take orders, and I just put it out there. I thought if I can get enough orders with deposits, why not give it a try? We got a great response right off the bat. It took me a couple of little tries, but I eventually figured out how to sell them. And my goal was, I wasn’t going to start the business unless I had five orders with deposits. I ended up with 10, after two months. So, we leased space and I started the way I would a software startup, with a minimal amount of space and a minimal number of employees.

My attitude at the time was, I’m not going to do this unless I can do it easily, the way I think it should be done. So when customers would call me and ask to talk to other customers before committing, I would say, I don’t have any other customers, you have to decide if you’re an early adopter and if you want to wait to see how this unfolds. I might have talked to 1000 people, and I ended up with 10 people who said, yeah, I’m willing to take a chance and see how it all works out because what you are building here is unique, and we’re excited about it.

Have your software skills been an advantage for your manufacturing startup?

When we launched the company and I had 10 orders. I was planning to outsource the manufacturing of the pop tops to somebody else. But I didn’t know that they sold the top separately. So with the 10 orders, it made sense to design the top my way, rather than just accepting what was on the market. So that started the process of building moulds and then making our parts.

Later on, we decided to make a new mould for the same part and realised it had some defects. We wanted to change some lines and make some improvements, so I hired a company that does a lot of work in the automotive and aerospace industry. However, they took way longer in my opinion, than was necessary to make it. I started to understand that they were used to working at a much slower pace and not really completing projects at the minimum level of time necessary.

So, coming from the software world it’s a totally different mindset, especially with a startup. We don’t have the luxury of doing things that way. If I have a project that takes too long, we’ll go out of business. So I had this attitude adjustment where I needed to really look and see what was going on and if I didn’t agree with it, to investigate. So I think that’s a big advantage.

What are your goals for ModVans in 2022?

So from a technical standpoint, ModVans is what’s called a second stage vehicle manufacturer. That means we buy a chassis that’s already completed the certifications required in the US, to be on the roads as a legal vehicle. We then modify it to become what we call a multi-purpose vehicle.

In 2021, we had a crisis in the auto industry in the US. The big vehicle manufacturers didn’t have enough chips to make their vehicles. Therefore in 2021, we doubled down on r&d and our plan is to keep working on getting better at production. So when the vehicles become readily available again, We’ll be able to jump on that. Our path is to ramp up the manufacturing that we have now. We have plans to build a much larger facility. Right now, we’re somewhere between 5 and 10 vehicles a month but we’re hoping to build a facility that will get us 100 to 200 a month

We’ve also begun on a truly electric version of our RV. One of the great things we’ve been able to do this year is going from one model to two models. We then added a whole bunch of electronics, which kind of makes it six models total. With the RV platform, what’s really exciting is getting rid of the motor. For us, not having that big motor sitting, either in the rear or the front, really opens up some great design possibilities.

Do you have any tools or techniques that have helped you build ModVans up to where you are today?

I definitely recommend the Lean Startup approach. And there’s a book, the Lean Startup. I get people all the time asking can you tell me what I should do about my business? I tell them, the first thing you need to do is read this book, and then let’s talk about it. Unfortunately, the engineering mindset is the wrong approach. The lean startup is how do we start selling before we have that?

Kickstarter and these kinds of platforms exist where you can go and figure out if you can gain market acceptance. There’s already a crowd of people that know what Kickstarter is and they understand it. And you can go out on those platforms and you can try to sell it. This way you can at least start knowing that you have market acceptance and work backwards. So you push the marketing first, that’s the Lean startup. And for hardware, in particular, Kickstarter is a very powerful approach that can save a lot of time and energy if you’re willing to tackle it that way.

What’s the best way for people to find out more about ModVans or to get in touch with you?

The website is www.modvans.com or you can find me personally on LinkedIn. I don’t know if I can always be this way, but right now if you write to me I will write you back. I think people are shocked sometimes, but I just enjoy talking to people, whatever it is. Just having a chat and batting ideas back and forth. And if I can help, that’s great, I sincerely hope I can help.



The Future of E-Vehicles…Changing the Way You Charge

The Future of E-Vehicles…Changing the Way You Charge

E-vehicles were once considered the future of mobility. Now, it’s a solid present-day reality for drivers around the world. Countless drivers are now hopping into electric or hybrid cars, trucks, and buses instead of their fossil-fuelled powered counterparts. However, what is the future for e-vehicles?

Tony Sufler, the VP of Ops and MD at Momentum Dynamics, might just have the answer. He’s the developer of a new, innovative way to wirelessly charge electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes. His pioneering idea might just be the step towards electric vehicles that can be operated 24 hours a day!

If you want to find out more about how Tony started his career and worked himself up to VP at one of the leading innovators in the electric vehicle market, watch our video now! We talk about charging changes and the future of e-vehicles.

How did you get into manufacturing and the automotive industry?

When I was a lot younger I wanted to be a chef, but my parents weren’t too keen on the idea! So I went to Penn State University for engineering. Early on in my career, I realized I was more interested in making things than designing things. My father was in the automotive industry on the retail side and in the repair industry. I always had a big interest in cars. A little bit into my career, I worked for a tier-one automotive supplier for General Motors and for Lear, who make a lot of interiors for cars. I did that for about 10 years, and really, enjoyed that industry.

In addition, I worked for a company that produced high power and high voltage transformers and power supplies. So if I had to put together my two biggest influences in my career, that’s what directed me to Momentum. We support vehicle companies and those integrations and our products are high power and high voltage. So it’s almost like the perfect collision.

How does the technology that you’re developing work?

We produce wireless vehicle chargers. So, if you have an e-vehicle, the traditional way to charge your vehicle is to plug it in. We’re focused on fleets of vehicles, whether they’re buses, trucks or automobiles. What our product does is inductive charging, so you don’t need to actually plug your car in. So in theory, with small charges throughout the day, the vehicle can run 24 hours a day without taking that vehicle offline.

We have strategically placed charging pads that are put into the ground. There’s a receiving pad on the vehicle, so once the vehicle drives over the pad, certain things happen with regard to alignment. That’s how the vehicles charge. It’s done in a short amount of time, whereas plugging your vehicle in takes longer to accomplish the charge.

What are the challenges of getting from manufacture to deployment?

Right now we’re in, what I call, the education part. We’re learning a lot about our technology with improvements. As far as operations go, my challenge is to look a bit further down the road to adequately scale to higher levels of production. That’s where I’m going to tap into a lot of things I’ve done in the past with automation, robotics etc, to properly scale the anticipated increase in business

We’re implementing a lot of processes to anticipate when customers will give us a try on a trial basis. So, we do have a number of successful deployments already. What we are learning from that is, what can we do to improve the installations? And with our contract manufacturers, what can we do to reduce the time it takes to actually produce the equipment? It is pretty complicated and, based on that, we have to formulate what the best paths are to scale that.

What are the future plans for Momentum Dynamics?

We’re solidifying our processes and developing our quality management system. We learn areas of improvement through repetition. Then, we start to develop the basis and the benchmarks for a continuous improvement program. At the same time, we’re looking at where our strategic partners are going to be.

A lot of our customers are located in Europe and a lot of our immediate opportunities will be in Europe. This is because the future of e-vehicles is accepted more in Europe than here in the States. There are a lot of influences being put into the e-vehicle market, not only for improved efficiencies but also for environmental issues. But, from where we can see, Europe is far ahead of the United States right now.

Do you have any techniques that help you achieve your goals or stay on track personally or business-wise?

I think there are two things that we do in our jobs as managers. There are certain tactical things that we have to do to accomplish tasks. But I think we need to spend a certain amount of time to take a step back. I always call it, getting in Tony’s helicopter and going to 10,000 feet to review my strategy. And it’s my job to continue to remind people of that. If we forget what the strategy is and why we’re doing it, we just become proverbial firefighters and don’t progress the big picture of what we’re doing. It’s taken some mental discipline on my part to be able to accomplish that on a regular basis.

On a personal side, I’m extremely active. I’m a very competitive duathlon, so I run a lot and cycle a lot. I compete and I think that keeps my mind fresh. I’m also an avid reader and a big proponent of the ‘why’ we do things, instead of what we do and how we do it. I’m a big advocate of Simon Sinek and a lot of his readings.

What’s the best way for people to find out about what’s going on with Momentum Dynamics?

The best way for companies to look at things we’re doing and where we’re an extremely active participant is LinkedIn. That’s where we do all our social media. We’re also in the press. We’ve been on CNN, we’ve been in local governments and discussions with the national government in the United States. So our website and following us on LinkedIn is the best way to keep track of Momentum Dynamics.



America and Automation… And the People Behind Both

America and Automation… And the People Behind Both

Automation is one of the hottest topics in the engineering and manufacturing industries. The speed, efficiency, and potential hurdles of automation are the points of discussion on every agenda – including ours today. We’re talking to the co-founder of an online platform that’s making job accessibility in the age of automation a very real and very lucrative opportunity for automation engineers in America.

Hear what Tony Wallace has to say about why automation is happening at break-neck speeds, how automation engineers and PLC programmers can stay ahead of the career game, and how America is joining the conversation.

If you’d like to learn more about Tony’s career from contractor to co-founder of Automate America, then follow along as we talk about career moves, online platforms for programming professionals, and some of his thoughts on automation as the future of America.

What lead you to creating your own automation company?

I grew up in Detroit and all of my family was involved in the United Automation Workers in America. The city that I grew up in had three auto plants right in the city. You either worked for the auto companies or you service them. I originally worked for an engineering firm, then the obvious path forward for me was becoming an independent contractor. I’d met many of them and they were making a lot of money. I thought if I want to go to the next level, I’d have to start contracting myself. I wasn’t really thinking about growing a company, but before I knew it, I had several independent contractors and that blossomed into hiring engineers. Ultimately that led us to build systems here in South Carolina.

What are some of the challenges you come across with contracting?

We had our struggles and learned that keeping an even, consistent workflow was impossible. You would get a huge one-off system, followed by a smaller one, followed by the biggest one you’ve ever had. We couldn’t keep mechanical designers, builders, electricians, and programmers busy all at the same time. I loved building automation, but it was difficult to be successful and to run a business profitably.

The problem was having the right employees with the right skills on demand. So, we set forward to helping everybody build those systems efficiently. For instance, if you have your core team of three or four mechanical designers and you get a big project, you contract the others that you need. When that part of the project is done, you move on and contract in some builders or electricians. With Automate America, if you hire too many employees you can keep them billable by contracting them back out.

Do you think automation in America is going to expand over the next few years?

Yes. I think the supply chain problems have been brought to light and importing has become much more difficult and expensive. We are seeing quite a bit of reshoring and we’re looking forward to 2022 seeing a big portion of that. A lot of companies are bringing portions of their supply chain back to America. Even if they’re not manufacturing their entire product here, they’re bringing it back, so it seems to be going well. We’re also doing work across all of North America and some in South America and Brazil and Argentina as well.

Do you think manufacturers will get a fast return on investment?

What we’re finding in America is that nobody wants to do manual labour anymore. Nobody wants to load a bracket, those days are gone. When you find an employee that’s willing to do that, the turnover is so high and the problems are immense. We have manufacturers right now that are looking for just anybody. They don’t care about background checks or drug tests, they just need to get people in. But they literally have police officers on the manufacturing floor every day because they’re having so many problems. And that’s just unsustainable, you can’t maintain a work environment like that. Those same customers are losing engineers because they don’t want to be working with felons on the floor. So all of those processes really need to be automated.

Do you have any tools or techniques that have helped you along the way?

Contracting is definitely not for inexperienced people or somebody trying to get a start in the industry. You really need to be an experienced seasoned employee to move into it. Keeping contacts and keeping a reputation, that’s the most important thing with any business, but especially in automation. While you’re an employee, you can make a good impression and really build up your reputation and network. When it becomes time to contract, you’ll know the right people to call, the right marketplace to join, and you can go out there with a reputable background.

On the financial side, before you try to start your business, make sure that you have a stable background. You don’t want to be worried about quitting your job becoming a contractor and worry about your first month’s payments. You need to make sure that that’s covered. What I recommend to everybody is to have two or three months of bills in the bank before you get started. A big way to do that, at least in America, is through credit with the bank. If you start a company here, most banks will give you a line of credit for $5,000 to start off. Then every month you go back to the bank, ask for more and keep building it up. This is one of the keys to our success – traditional bank financing.

What exciting things are you working on in this coming year?

I’m really excited about improving our social media and, and finding a way to really make that work. In the past, our social media was just imaging, an image with some information. Now we’re converting to video and trying to make that work. It’s a journey. It’s something that should always improve and I’m sure it’s going to get much better every day. So we’re looking forward to that.

What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?

Go directly to automateamerica.com and register for free. If you’re a customer, you can post your contract there right away. We also market your products and services as a customer. You can register as a service partner and if you have a contractor, build a profile for them and get them working right away. If you’re an independent contractor, you can build your own profile and apply it to any projects you want. Everything’s upfront, So what you see is what you get. If you see a $100-hour bill rate, that’s what you get paid, and payment terms, expenses and travel are in the initial contract.



A Sparkling Future For Automotive Sensor Manufacturing

A Sparkling Future For Automotive Sensor Manufacturing

Technology has made incredible progress in the past few years. It makes our lives faster, simpler, and easier than ever. Even the way we park and drive our cars has become effortless thanks to sensitive motion detectors and sensors.

Unfortunately, there never seems to be the perfect solution. Even these innovative sensors can become dirty or clogged, which renders them ineffective or, worse, useless!

That is where Actasys comes in to save the day. This innovative automotive marketing start-up is working towards creating high-pressure directional jets that will help keep those sensors working sensationally.

I spoke to Miles Flamenbaum, the CEO of Actasys, about their work, their manufacturing processes, and even how they’re planning to licence their brand-new solution to OEMs. If you’d like to join the conversation and learn more about how entrepreneurial creativity is the invaluable skill of the day, then follow along!

How did you get involved with Actasys?

Actasys was founded at the end of 2013. Its original focus was both generally in the field of aerodynamics, but more specifically doing things that were supported by government and state grants. I joined as an adviser in 2017 and then became CEO at the beginning of 2018. And it was around that time that we pivoted towards sensor cleaning. So that’s Actasys 2.0. I’m, if you will, the founder of the second act of Actasys. Our primary focus since that point has been on sensor cleaning with some other applications all rooted in some relationship to aerodynamics.

Why does sensor cleaning on cars need to change?

There have been two significant trends that have developed over the past couple of years within the automotive sector. One is electrification, the movement to electric platforms for power, and secondly, what I call sensorfication, which according to the dictionary is not a word, but I’m determined to make it one, So please share it!

With sensorfication now, there has become more reliance and interdependence by the car manufacturers, on the success and deployment of optical sensors. So previously, if the backup camera on your car was dirty, it was inconvenient, but it wasn’t mission-critical. The driver could put the car in park, go out and wipe the camera. You’re now getting to points where the vehicle itself is starting to participate, or even take over driving decisions. So the availability and the uptime of those sensors become more and more critical. Now you have this advent of sensor cleaning. It’s a very new field, and there aren’t yet a confirmed set of standards or an agreed methodology amongst the different car manufacturers.

How does your solution work?

We’ve taken it upon ourselves to really understand the nature of the problem, down to the physics level. For example, we look at a wide range of weather conditions and different types of mud. From this, we’ve come to understand is that the ideal sensor cleaning system has to combine three core elements. Firstly, a jet of air, for drying or removing raindrops or dust. Secondly, liquid cleaning, for something with more density, like bird poop or mud, where you use that liquid in combination with air to move heavier contaminants. Thirdly, heat for wintry conditions like snow and ice. There are significant constraints within the context of a moving vehicle in order to bring those three things to bear. For example, how much power you can consume and how much space is available to install and integrate these systems.

Within existing systems for cleaning, the air part is typically provided by a compressor. However, a compressor can’t meet the constraints. Our technology is three millimetres thin and only 96 millimetres in diameter. It only uses between half a Watt to ten Watts of power, and it’s electronically controlled. It generates air without a compressor, pump or fan. So it provides a lot of flexibility in the system. We’ve also taken it a step further. We use the jet of air to provide the liquid spray in a fashion that reduces the amount of liquid being consumed to generate that spray. We also make heated air, so we’re able to melt snow and ice. So, we’re able to provide automotive manufacturers with a sensor cleaning system that reduces the system complexity and improves efficiency, meeting all their constraints and requirements.

Will you manufacture the devices yourselves or licence to OEMs directly?

Originally we were looking at getting very involved in design and development and optimization. But in terms of integration and production, we would do those functions under licence. We’re changing that. We’ve gotten deeper into the electronics, the communication protocols and a lot of the controls.

We realised at the outset that we need to be able to provide actuator cartridges. These are a series of laminate layers that are fused together, like making a sandwich. We recognised that we needed to produce them at low volume, no greater than 10,000 units a year. This is for two purposes. One is sampling for the automotive sector. Automotive product development requires a lot of samples and they have to be done under the right quality conditions. But we also have non-automotive customers for sensor cleaning. So, for example, security camera systems or traffic monitoring systems, where a low volume manufacturing capacity can actually satisfy some of those customers.

We looked at it initially as a great capability for flexibility and also to learn how to scale to high volume. So, it begs the question how do we look at setting up manufacturing partnerships? How do we do that in our licence so that they can make the sandwich for us? Or is there a greater role we can play in terms of production, giving ourselves some more flexibility? The other complication that we look at is that it’s a global industry and a lot of our current customers are in Europe. Where do you make, in the context of where your customers are located? So as a small startup, these are sort of existential questions that we’re really starting to work our way through, which has been a very positive challenge for us.

How will you work with companies who have much longer time scales?

It’s very frustrating because we do want things to move fast. That all being said, this is the first time that our team is going through this process. There’s a lot to learn there. We’re getting into a vehicle programme right now that goes into production at the end of 2024. That seems interminable, but between here and there, there is an enormous amount to do.

Getting qualified to provide a component to a vehicle manufacturer is a strenuous process. So my best suggestion is to look at those processes and look at what those requirements are. Do they move slowly only because they move slowly, or does it seem that they are moving slowly because there’s a lot of work and effort to get things really right? That’s what we’re dealing with. And I think the best suggestion is patience. It’s not what your start-up mindset is, but on the other hand, if you’re delivering to your customer in a long process, what they want when they want it, and you’re learning through that, that’s a recipe for success. You need tight coordination with your customers.

Do you have any tools or techniques you rely on to help you day to day?

I think there are two key things. One is just a good CRM so that you’re really tracking the conversations and the information with your customers. And then internally, I just have a really good to-do list. I write thoughts down and keep track of them and then figure out a good way to share them.

My view of management, my view of growing a startup, is to only put in processes or start to layer in bureaucracy when it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t want to slow people down or burden them unnecessarily. In addition, when you get to a point of wanting some control or process, enrol the people who need to be part of it. If you let them build it, it will be more successful than something that’s dictated. I try not to be overbearing. For me it’s all about asking questions, getting a feel for information, progress and flow and talking to people at the right times to make sure that things are on track.

What are your plans for 2022?

For the company, we’re entering into a critical phase, which is we’re getting much deeper into commercialisation. So establishing partnership and commercial agreements with major players in the automotive sector and getting to be part of vehicle programmes. These are things that will all happen in the next several months.

We’re very excited about how that sets us up for going down the path towards the future. The same with some of the non-automotive things. Those opportunities, while they are smaller, they have fewer constraints so they can move a little faster. So we’re hoping to close on a programme that will go into production, hopefully within about twelve months. We’re also raising our next round of capital to really allow us to grow and expand. We have a lot of interest in the product. We’re putting all those support or foundational pieces into place, including manufacturing, as we’ve discussed, to really build this ship and ultimately we’d like to light it and take off. So it’s going to be very exciting.

What’s the best way for people to find out more about yourself or Actasys?

For Actasys it’s actasysinc.com or info@actasys.com is a great email, and I’m on LinkedIn as Miles Flamenbaum. I’m certainly happy to provide any assistance or help or guidance or suggestions. I’m a big believer in entrepreneurial Karma so I try and give as good as I get.