Manufacturers are constantly seeking innovations to improve the efficiency of their operations. The 2012 Manufacturing Summit presented by BizTimes Media will pivot around the topic of why innovation matters in a global marketplace.
Business executives from some of southeastern Wisconsin's leading manufacturing companies will discuss the role of innovation in the culture of their companies and innovation strategies they rely upon to keep pace with competition. The summit is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 4, at Busch Precision, 8200 N. Faulkner Road, Milwaukee. For registration and event details, visit www.biztimes.com/mfg.
The panelists for the Manufacturing Summit are:
Chief executive officer of Badger Meter Inc.
With a philosophy that "every drop counts" behind Badger Meter's business in flow measurement and control solutions, Rich Meeusen says the Brown Deer-based company is constantly in search of new ways to measure flow more efficiently and effectively.
"The world's resources are becoming more and more scarce, and as they become more scarce it's more important to measure and control them," Meeusen said. "That's why every drop counts."
Meeusen describes the company's approach to innovation and the search for new methods of measurement as one centered on technology over cost.
"We do not make the cheapest products, but we do make the products with the latest technology," Meeusen said. "Our whole history has been that of constantly innovating and developing products that bring new features to our customers."
About 65 percent of the company's business is devoted to manufacturing water meters sold to utilities, and the remaining 35 percent is contributed to meters that measure other liquids such as oil, gas and chemicals. Badger Meter has plants internationally with 1,400 employees worldwide.
Badger Meter must regularly innovate in order to stay competitive, Meeusen said.
"A lot of it is knowing what new technologies are out there, and that means having a global presence and being able to deal with other companies in other countries that are developing unique technologies and finding ways to get access to those technologies," he said.
Owner and president of Tailored Label Products
Menomonee Falls-based Tailored Label Products has demonstrated an ability to innovate to create labels that can last and are durable in unique environments.
With innovation woven directly into its tagline, "Passion for innovation," Tailored Label Products credits its continued success to its dedication to innovation. As a manufacturer of labels, tags and precision die cut parts, the company looks for nonconventional processes or materials that others might be too trepid to experiment with.
Mike Erwin's engineers gravitate toward exotic manufacturing projects.
"Part of our strategic planning includes continuing to have our mix of work have a high component of new, non-reoccurring, clever and creative solutions," Erwin said.
One project required engineers to manufacture labels that could be put on a DNA test vile. The vile needed to be inserted into an extremely cold cryogenic chamber, removed for analysis and reinserted. Tailored Label's challenge centered on finding a way to keep the label securely attached to the vile throughout the entire process.
"You have to have a special mix of plastic film and special adhesives that won't break down in a weird, weird environment," Erwin said.
Tailored Label Products also takes a patent approach toward many of its innovations. The company has structured an entire patent process that includes goals of the number of patents the company takes on each year and how many new clients it acquires.
In some cases, the company will develop co-patents with clients so that while the client focuses on the delivery side of the product, Erwin's team oversees the creation.
Erwin acknowledges the risk associated with such strong reliance on innovation but reinforces the calculations his company makes to account for the risk.
"The culture here tolerates a measured level of trial and error," he said. "It's not a free for all. It's well thought through."
President of DUECO
Judie Taylor likes to take a team approach in both the way she structures her staff and the way her company, Waukesha-based DUECO Inc., innovates.
"We always encourage team members to keep their eyes and ears open for different and better ways of doing things," Taylor said. "We ask for their input. We ask for their ideas. And so in many cases a lot of the improvements and innovative changes that we've made have come from the people actually doing the work and trying to improve a better way of doing it."
As a final-stage manufacturer of utility trucks, DUECO relies on other manufacturing companies to supply it parts to assemble, and so the company also partners with primary manufacturers to drive innovation.
"Because we get a lot of our major components from other manufacturers, we expect them to keep up with innovative ways of doing things," Taylor said. "We feel our part is to help with that, and so we try and bring them ideas and innovative solutions to help keep driving better innovative ways of doing things."
In one case, DUECO teamed up with the primary manufacturer Terex to help a client who needed to create level platforms on towers of utility trucks in order to protect employees working on inclined streets.
The safety innovation was the first of its kind in the utility truck industry and aligned the utility trucks with regulations set by the American National Standards Institute, Taylor said.
President of Bradley Corp.
When it comes to innovation, Bryan Mullett likes to venture outside of his comfort zone at Menomonee Falls-based Bradley Corp.
Mullett said that while it's important to focus on innovating a core company product, exploring products outside the core is a key way to help a company grow.
"You're always looking to make continuous improvements or upgrades to your existing product offering but also looking at something you don't have but can put on your platform and put in a new market space," Mullett said.
According to Mullett, the global marketplace and the spectrum of needs it presents offers companies a way to do so.
For example, a Bradley Corp product, such as a faucet that's manufactured in chrome in the United States, may prove to be more marketable in brass overseas.
Mullett also emphasizes creating a team that is isolated to direct its attention exclusively to innovation.
"If you don't have a specific team that is dedicated to that, you're going to struggle," Mullett said.
At Bradley Corp, Mullett is constantly reviewing his team of innovators to ensure they have adequate funds and resources to think outside the box.
For him, the risk inherent in innovation requires manufacturers to be persistent and prepared.
"You have to be prepared that everything you design and develop is not going to go right the first time as much as you would like it to," he said.
Owner of Waukesha Tool & Stamping, LLC
While technology continues to rapidly evolve in most of the manufacturing sector, the core technology of the metal forming industry has not experienced as much innovation.
"The fundamental metal forming technology has not changed significantly in the last 20 to 30 years," said Jeffrey Clark, owner of Sussex-based Waukesha Tool & Stamping.
Apart from enhancements that have allowed the industry to speed its productivity, metal forming has continued to utilize the same kinds of technology it almost always has.
Still, Waukesha Tool & Stamping incorporates innovation in its design and engineering processes to give the customer the best value in the end.
"We rely heavily on our internal engineering capability to enhance the core metal forming processes or technology in the metal forming area," Clark said.
One innovation example is the company's use of formability software to complete formability analyses. The in-house software allows engineers to plug in the properties of a specific metal for a client project and predict failures such as cracks and wrinkles in the metal forming process.
The company partners with its customers to help them understand if a particular metal can be formed and, if it can't be formed as designed, what simple design changes the customer could make to ensure it fulfills its needs.
The innovative software allows customers to walk away with optimal, cost-effective products, Clark said.