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Automation Alley's Tom Kelly prepares Michigan for the next industrial revolution

Tom Kelly is preparing for the revolution. And he wants Michigan to be prepared, too.

Technology is rapidly changing the way things are manufactured, and Kelly wants to make sure that Michigan's manufacturing companies are at the forefront of what some are calling the world's fourth industrial revolution—or Industry 4.0, as it's been coined.

As executive director of Automation Alley, Kelly has made it his job to convince the manufacturing industry to invest in Industry 4.0. The phrase was originally coined in Germany, where leaders of an economy similar to Michigan's had seen the writing on the wall and decided that they were going to have to embrace the disruptive technological changes poised to affect manufacturing. Big data, cloud technology, cyber security, 3D printing, autonomous robots, sensors and the Internet.  Each of these is coming, all at the same time.

"The only way we'll be successful is if we understand and move very quickly to protect what we do very well," he says. 
Kelly says Michigan needs to let the world know that it's not just a center of automotive and manufacturing technology, but of technology itself. And to do that, he says, the state needs to continue drawing the best minds in technology from all over the world.
A native of Syracuse, New York, Kelly was recruited to work at a Metro Detroit startup after college. After an MBA from the University of Michigan and a successful run up the corporate ladder, Kelly switched tracks and began to work for the state's Small Biz Tech Development Center of Michigan. Over the course of seven years, Kelly would advise roughly 300 startups, putting his combination of engineering and business acumen to use.

Kelly was then recruited to join Automation Alley. The advocacy agency was first thought up and launched in 1999 by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who wanted an organization to shine a light on how important technology was to the economy and how far advanced our region was in it. The organization has since gathered over 1,000 members and, though their focus has shifted to stay ahead of the times, it continues to advocate for Michigan technology and industry.

"We think that Industry 4.0 will be more impactful to job creation in Southeast Michigan than even autonomous vehicles," says Kelly. "Now we must win that, too, but factory automation is actually what is going to help us regain our footing in the world."

Kelly has spearheaded Automation Alley's focus on Industry 4.0 since he was named the executive director of the organization earlier this year. There's a significant shift in manufacturing, he says, and not just in automobiles, but also in everything from the defense industry to the produce industry. 
Production is moving closer to the consumer, says Kelly, and that means there are jobs to be had. But even though manufacturing may get much more localized, it won't be in the manner of yesteryear. Those days are over and not worth grousing over, says Kelly. 
In pointing to Industry 4.0, Kelly points to the future. And with Automation Alley, Kelly hopes to convince the area's manufacturers that it's a future worth investing in.

"We are positioned well to win the next battle. Stop fighting the battle from yesterday. That's over. But now, with the digitization of everything, we can win. So let's run like crazy down that path," says Kelly. "We're in great shape to do that."

Name and title: Tom Kelly, Executive Director

What is one interesting job you had before running Automation Alley:  I worked for the Michigan Small Business Development Center as a Technology Business Consultant helping tech startups from conception through rapid growth. I advised over 300 companies in seven years, but what I learned from each of them in the process was priceless. 

What's the most exciting thing about the technology industry today:  I believe manufacturing will change more in the next five years than the last 50. Industry 4.0 will change everything, and future winners and losers are being determined today.  

What's your favorite car of all time:  '78 Pontiac Grand Prix with a Landau Top. It was the first car I ever had, and I remember that car and those days fondly.

A closer look at U-M's new driverless vehicle startup tenants

Peter Brink has thought a lot about cars that drive you places instead of the other way around.

"The day of the truly automated vehicle where you get in and say, 'Take me to this location,' ... might be 10 years off, but it's probably not as far as off we think it is," says Brink, director of engineering at the driverless vehicle startup PolySync.

University of Michigan students will begin working with Brink and other developers and engineers in the driverless vehicle field on research that could help make that forecast a reality.

The joint incubator program by U-M's Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) and Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) is bringing three West Coast startups in to work with 11 engineering students for the fall semester. Portland, Oregon-based PolySync and San Francisco-based Zendrive and CivilMaps will move resources into the TechLab incubator at U-M's Mcity autonomous vehicle test facility. The initiative aims to help develop both students' careers and the startups' own new technologies.

Jay Ellis, director of the CFE's Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization program, and MTC deputy director Carrie Morton led the yearlong search for partner companies, narrowing over 30 candidates down to three. Candidates had to do work that either transfers drivership from humans to machines, or makes vehicles and infrastructure more connected. More importantly, they needed a program that put student development first.

"All three of these companies got that right away," Ellis says.

In the case of CivilMaps, students will help map and then localize the Mcity environment for a car's robot "driver" to read. The 3-D mapping company's focus is on making self-driving cars enjoyable and trustworthy for passengers, says Sravan Puttagunta, CEO and co-founder. Maps generated by sensor data and CivilMaps' technology are meant to replicate the human experience of navigating the physical world autonomously.

"Mcity is a great test bench for our technology stack," Puttagunta says. "A controlled environment lets us create very specific scenarios to stress-test our technology stack while having a captive audience that comes from the automotive industry."

Zendrive returns to Mcity this fall after a successful pilot run with the TechLab program back in February that led to summer internships for two students. The mobile technology company was founded by Google and Facebook veterans, and specializes in data and analytics for improving road safety.

Ellis says students will help identify and validate vehicle maneuvers using smartphone data and use that to quantify drivers' risk. They will also compare vehicle and phone data to confirm that they correlate—for instance, noting how a phone registers a hard right turn when a vehicle makes one on the road.

A driverless tech company for other driverless tech companies, PolySync's middleware platform collects and presents data from a variety of vehicle sensors. The software is meant to help developers easily obtain data useful for writing code for new autonomous vehicle applications.

Brink and the team at PolySync will work with students to produce an autonomous vehicle that can get to a predetermined destination. Part of the process will involve watching their calculations fail, which is harder to do in the real world.

"When you're driving out on the streets of Portland or Chicago or Ann Arbor, you don't want to drive the wrong direction on a one-way street, or constantly be crossing lane lines," Brink says. "Mcity provides us a captured enviroment where we can collect a lot of this 'driving badly' data, because that allows us to test the automatic drive algorithms."

Brink's initial interest in the program was to get involved with what students were doing while also exposing them to the work going on at PolySync. The research potential became apparent as something of a bonus.

"I realized after the fact what a great opportunity it was to do all this other stuff," he says. "I hesitate to use the term, but it really is synergy."


Big data in automotive industry fuels growth at NITS Solutions

NITS Solutions is experiencing a growth spurt thanks to a bump in big data usage by automotive firms.

The Novi-based firm provides data analytics marketing solutions that help customers better capture and understand data related to key performance indicators. It then helps the clients leverage that data to improve their marketing.

The 7-year-old firm has made its biggest inroads in the automotive industry in recent years. NITS Solutions grew its revenue by 200 percent last year, thanks primarily to growth in the automotive sector. When it started, it had one OEM as a client. Today it has three.

"There is a huge demand in automotive," says Neetu Seth, founder of NITS Solutions.

That’s enabling NITS Solutions to go on a hiring spree. The firm has hired 10 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 30 employees. It’s looking to hire another 15 right now in a variety of technical positions, such as business analyst, program manager, and project manager.

"We hope to be at 50 people by December," Seth says.

To make room for all of those new people, NITS Solutions is doubling its office space to 10,000 square feet.

"We are building out a new space for our marketing and product development teams," Seth says.

And Seth expects to keep growing. While there is still some headroom for growth in automotive NITS Solutions sees opportunities for more growth in other industries.

"We want to tap into retail and education," Seth says. "We want to bring them big data solutions they can use."

Automation Alley sinks seed capital into six local startups

Automation Alley is continuing its investment in local startups, sinking seed capital into another six companies in the first quarter of this year.

The most recent startups to receive investments include RazorThreat, Len & Jerry's Modular Components, MEISelectric, The Automation of Things, MagWerks LED and Quipzor. All of these companies have participated in Automation Alley's 7Cs program, which is focused on helping local companies integrate advanced manufacturing methods into their business models.

RazorThreat is a Pontiac-based software firm that specializes in online security. Len & Jerry's Modular Components is a manufacturing company that works in custom tooling in Clinton Township. MEISelectric is based Clawson and works in conceiving and creating prototypes.

The Automation of Things creates software for industrial applications and is based in Sterling Heights. Oxford-based MagWerks LED works in LED light products. Quipzor calls Bloomfield Hills home and helps enable pre-surgical collaboration between hospitals, physicians and surgical device company representatives.

The investment comes from Automation Alley's Pre-Seed Fund. The $9 million fund invest tens of thousands of dollars into each startup, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. It has invested in 54 locally startups since 2004.

Civionics to expand sensor pilot with local manufacturer

It's not uncommon for tech startups to pivot in their focus. Not all survive the decision. Ann Arbor-based Civionics seems to be thriving after such a choice. The company has gone from using its wireless sensor technology to measure the strength of large-scale infrastructure (think bridges) to monitoring the strength of the machines in factories.

"We couldn't find a market pain that was screaming out for our technology," says Gerry Roston, CEO of Civionics, explaining the pivot.

Civionics technology uses a prescriptive diagnostic method to monitor factory machines. The idea is to minimize downtime and wear and tear. It is currently deployed in a factory of a major local manufacturer (Roston declined to say which one) as part of a pilot project. Civionics three person team (it recently hired a new person) has grand ambitions for that pilot project.

"It's the first step in a long roll-out in the factory," Roston says. "The customer is sticking its toe in the water."

Civionics has also been participating in a number of local programs and competitions to grow its profile. Those include Automation Alley's 7Cs program, which helps local firms with manufacturing. Civionics also recently advanced to finals of Global Automotive & Mobility Innovation Challenge.

"Those warm introductions are extremely important," Roston says.

Source: Gerry Roston, CEO of Civionics
Writer: Jon Zemke

HARMAN cuts ribbon on expanded Novi HQ to accommodate growth

HARMAN International Industries opened its new headquarters in Novi this week, and it is already starting to feel full.

The connected technologies firm started designing the headquarters three years ago when it had about 750 people working there. Today its staff at the headquarters has reached 1,000 people and is still growing.

"It's pretty close to capacity at the moment," says Darrin Shewchuk, senior director of corporate communications for HARMAN. "We're growing really rapidly."

HARMAN specializes in making connected technologies for automotive, consumer and enterprise markets. It engineers and develops the advanced technology solutions for the connected car, automotive audio, and cloud services. HARMAN has revenues of $6.5 billion and employs 25,000 around the world, including 1,000 at its Novi headquarters.

HARMAN's recently opened North American headquarters measures out to 188,000 square feet and anchors the 400-acre Haggerty Corridor Corporate Park. The new building includes engineering labs for advanced connected car technologies, infotainment design studios, a state-of-the-art audio listening room, a full cinema quality 5.1 surround sound theater, and a full-scale pilot factory. It also features several employee amenities, like a fitness center, locker rooms, cafeteria, collaboration spaces, and an outdoor deck and patio space.

"We want to make the work environment as amenable to employees as possible," Shewchuk says. "Everybody is trying to perfect their work-life balance. Our desire is to help them achieve that."

Source: Darrin Shewchuk, senior director of corporate communications for HARMAN
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor Coherix teams with Chinese firm, lands $12M in investment

The world just gets smaller and smaller and smaller. Ann Arbor's Coherix has taken on a Chinese investor to the une of $12M to help market their current technology and develop more products for their target industries.


"Xintai Electric is a new investor to Coherix. Based in Liaoning, the company specializes in the research, development, manufacture and sales of power equipment in China. Initially, the joint venture will focus on marketing the existing Coherix Robust 3D machine vision products to the automotive industry in China and throughout Asia. The product line will include Predator3D™, Robust3D™, Saber3D™ and ShaPix3D® systems. Coherix and Xintai Electric intend to expand operations into the semiconductor, precision manufacturing and aerospace markets as well as other industries. In addition, the companies jointly plan to refine the 3D machine vision products to better suit the needs of local markets."

Read the rest here.

Onset Marketing diversifies clientele to spur growth

Client diversification has been a key part of Onset Marketing's story since it got its start a dozen years ago. Back then it helped clients diversify to grow. Today client diversification is powering Onset Marketing's own growth.

The Wixom-based company's roots are in the automotive industry, and it used that base of support to grow into a solid boutique B2B marketing firm. It slowly began to adding other firms from different industries to its clientele in recent years.

"We are diversifying a bit," says Jim Graziano, president of Onset Marketing.

That's a bit of an understatement. Onset Marketing's automotive industry work made up two thirds of its bottom line. Today it's barely 50 percent. Its customers in other industries include firms in healthcare, finance, and education.

"We have always had this desire to go into different industries," Graziano says.

Onset Marketing got its start providing similar services for automotive firms. It helped provide the marketing materials for automotive suppliers so they could add clients in other industries. It proved to be a nice, little niche to carve out in metro Detroit.

"We helped a lot of automotive suppliers that were only working with the Big Three," Graziano says. "We helped them become non-automotive suppliers. We helped them sell to heavy trucking industry, tractor industry, and defense industry."

That allowed Onset Marketing to grow to a staff of 10 employees and the occasional intern. It has hired three people in marketing over the last year.

Source: Jim Graziano, president of Onset Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

RedViking leverages workforce fitness to recruit talent

RedViking has been battling for engineering talent ever since the economy started to recover post-recession. 

"It was tough a couple of years ago and its tough today," says Randall "Randy" Brodzik, president of RedViking. "It's a very competitive market for talent."

The 32-year-old company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Superior Controls, builds testing systems for manufacturers in the automotive, defense, and aerospace industries. The testing systems, which often focus on power train systems, are precise and require extensive engineering. RedViking currently employs 200 people (mostly engineers) after hiring 30 over the last year.

The firm has achieved those numbers by doing everything from winning workplace awards to visiting local college career fairs to hosting open houses. Last year it hosted an open house where half of the attendees ended up getting an interview, and a handful of those were hired. RedViking hosted a similar open house earlier this week and is expecting even better results.

Such events not only allow RedViking to show off how it develops the careers of its employees, but also how it encourages them to improve their personal health. The company has its own wellness program run by an onsite wellness coordinator, as well as offers a variety of onsite fitness classes. The company sponsors a number of local rec league teams and has its own fitness center with its own rec fields.

The idea is to not only recruit top talent who want to make themselves better in a variety of ways, but retain them for the long term.

"The heart and soul of this organization is its employees," Brodzik says.

Source: Randall "Randy" Brodzik, president of RedViking
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Trading Co. opens large downtown Detroit office

A high-profile Oakland County tech company is expanding south of 8 Mile Road, opening up a new office in downtown Detroit.

Detroit Trading Co. has leased an over 10,000-square-foot space at 601 W. Fort St. that it is using as a call center. So far that space has been filled with 20 new employees, and the company still has plans to grow next year.

"We're renovating another 30,000 square feet," says Matt Clayson, vice president and general counsel for Detroit Trading Co. "It's available for future growth and leasing to compatible companies."

The Southfield-based company got its start creating technology platforms that gathered, analyzed, and organized Internet sales leads for car dealers a decade ago. It sold them on an exchange to automotive dealerships. It has since grown to a staff of 47 employees, including the 20 new hires in Detroit.

"A majority of the firm’s growth is happening in the city limits," Clayson says.

One of its most recent projects is creating what Clayson describes as experiential centers, which is being branded as a car show. That basically means Detroit Trading Co is building out an automotive showroom that features a combination of brands of vehicles.

Today auto buyers can only see different cars within the specific brands offered by an auto dealership. Detroit Trading Co. leverages its connections in the auto dealership world to bring all of those brands under one roof. Detroit Trading Co. recently debuted its first iteration of the concept as a pop-up in Eastern Market last weekend.

Source: Matt Clayson, vice president & general counsel for Detroit Trading Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Trading Co. turns car buying into one-stop shopping

Detroit Trading Co. has made its way by simplifying the process of buying a car with technology. Now the Southfield-based business is looking to do so in a more traditional way by creating one-stop shopping.

"We're looking for ways to turn the car-shopping process on its head and make it fun at the same time," says Matt Clayson, vice president and general counsel for the Detroit Trading Co.

The 10-year-old company got its start creating technology platforms that gathered, analyzed, and organized Internet sales leads for car dealers. It sold them on an exchange to automotive dealerships. Now it's looking to bring auto buyers a more real-life experience.

Detroit Trading Co. is building out what it calls an experiential center. Essentially that means a showroom that features a variety of vehicle brands. Today auto buyers have to travel to different dealerships to see different brands of cars. Detroit Trading Co leverages its connections in the auto dealership world to bring all of those brands under one roof.

"You can see Chevy, Ford, Honda, and Mazda in the same area," Clayson says. "You can see what works best for you."

So customers can try out a variety of SUVs from different brands without going to multiple dealerships. If they find one they want to buy they are referred to a participating automotive dealership.

"The dealership is still the final destination," Clayson says.

Detroit Trading Co. employs 47 people between its Southfield headquarters and its new office in downtown Detroit. It has hired 20 people over the last year, mainly to staff its call center. It is also looking to hire seven more people in data analytics and digital strategies.

Source: Matt Clayson, vice president & general counsel for the Detroit Trading Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Bikes offering limited-edition fixed-wheel bike exclusively through crowd funding campaign

Detroit Bikes is preparing to release a new model of bicycle, the C-Type, next year with the help of a crowdfunding campaign.

The Detroit-based bicycle manufacturer's newest product is a fixed-wheel bike with a diamond frame and drop handlebars. The frame is made of 100 percent U.S.-made lightweight chromoly that comes with a lifetime warranty. The C-Type also comes with knobby tires for use in all weather conditions. It will retail for $599.

"We want to keep it really simple and affordable," says Zak Pashak, president of Detroit Bikes. "It's a really good city bike."

It’s also Detroit Bikes' first fixie. Its earlier models, the A-Type and B-Type, came with a similar simplistic design but three gears. Those retail for $699. All three models are made in Detroit Bikes' factory on the city's west side.

The C-Type is available exclusively through Detroit Bikes' crowdfunding campaign. There funders will have a choice of choosing the color (hunter green, fluorescent yellow, flat black, royal blue and mint green) by donating the retail price of the bike. Detroit Bikes will manufacture 200 bikes of each color, which will be delivered in May of next year. Funders can also purchase just a frame for $300. People who give $1,000 will have an opportunity to buy a chrome edition, only 30 of which will be produced.

This project is part of Detroit Bikes' new strategy to boost sales, which are on track to exceed 1,000 bikes this year. To help reach its sales goals, the company opened a storefront in downtown Detroit and hired a national sales director. The company now employs 30 people after hiring 20 this year. Pashak expects Detroit Bikes' combined efforts to lift sales significantly next year.

"We expect to get up to 5,000 or 10,000 sales next year," Pashak says.

Source: Zak Pashak, president of Detroit Bikes
Writer: Jon Zemke

First electric scooters roll off GenZe's Ann Arbor assembly line

Michigan is famous for putting the world on four wheels in the 20th Century. Now Ann Arbor is making its mark in the world of two wheel vehicles. The first electric scooters are rolling off Ann Arbor-based GenZe production lines this month. Although the first order is just a few scooters, the company expects to hit its production goal of 3,000 scooters by next year.

"We're going to ramp up pretty quickly," says Yesim Erez, head of marketing for GenZe.

GenZe makes an electric scooter and an electric bike. The GenZe 2.0 electric scooter aims to make urban commuting more convenient by combining smart design with new technology. For instance, the scooter can recharge by plugging into a normal outlet but is equipped with a touch pad control center in the handlebars and mobile app so users can monitor power levels and travel plans through GPS. It has enough cargo to carry small loads, like groceries, but is small enough to fit in an elevator.

Check out a video on it here.

"They have the built-in capacity for urban commuting," Erez says. "It can satisfy the urban commuters needs throughout the day."

GenZe plans to start retailing its electric scooters for $2,999. It's targeting markets in Portland, San Francisco and Michigan to start, but plans to expand in urban areas across North America over the next couple of years.

GenZe, formerly Mahindra GenZe, opened a tech center in Ann Arbor in 2014. It has since expanded that presence to include a manufacturing facility. It currently employs 36 people, including 10 new hires. The number of staff is expected to increase with sales over the next year.

"We have been hiring as we ramp up production," Erez says. "We plan to continue to build out our staff."

Source: Yesim Erez, head of marketing for GenZe
Writer: Jon Zemke

Coherix scores $12M to grow manufacturing software in China

Coherix recently landed $12 million to help rapidly grow sales of its manufacturing software around the world. But the Ann Arbor-based startup nearly perished before getting to this point.

The company launched in 2004, making software that help streamline the advanced manufacturing process. Business grew quickly and the startup’s leadership had visions of going public. Then the Great Recession hit. The company's investors, never losing faith in Coherix's potential spent $9.6 million between 2008 and 2010 to keep the company afloat through hard times.

"We have a tremendous group of investors," says Dwight Carlson, CEO of Coherix.

When the economy turned around and Coherix extinguished its cash burn, Carlson had high hopes to raising a lot more money to fuel its growth.

"I thought they would be throwing money at me because we survived (the Great Recession)," Carlson says.

It didn't turn out that way. Investors saw that Coherix specialized in manufacturing, strike one. It is based in Michigan, strike two. Carlson cut his loses and went back to growing Coherix organically and further developing its technology.

Today its principal technology provides high-speed, high-definition 3D measurement and inspection services for manufacturers that streamlines their production capability. It creates efficiencies through high-tech, optical-based measurement and inspection of the assembly processes.

Coherix has found most of its success deploying this technology in China where 40 percent of that country’s gross domestic product is created through manufacturing. It employs 50 people globally, including 35 in Ann Arbor. It has hired two marketing people in Ann Arbor over the last year now that it has landed its latest investment round.

Carlson expects to hire a lot more people as he starts to put the $12 million in new seed capital to work. One third of that money will go toward building out Coherix's operations in China. The rest of it will be spent building the business in Ann Arbor. Taking Coherix public in the next few years is a dream again.

"Now we're pedal to the metal," Carlson says. "We are going from survival mode to rapid growth mode. We will be hiring an awful lot of people."

Source: Dwight Carlson, CEO of Coherix
Writer: Jon Zemke

Passion for tech, manufacturing drives DELRAY Systems' success

Joe Rocca's career in automotive manufacturing started in the early 1980s, and it didn't take him long to combine his passion for technology with his work.

Most recently, Rocca was doing so at Fisher/Unitech. Today, however, he's launched his own firm, DELRAY Systems. The Rochester-based firm focuses on incorporating the latest in technology with manufacturing processes to create efficiencies.

"I want to make an impact on the industry and then turn it over to some folks who have the same passion," Rocca says.

The 1-year-old firm works to integrate process improvement solutions for automating manufacturing, utilizing techniques like reverse engineering and product development processes. This includes 3D printing, 3D scanning, and 3D modeling solutions.
"We want to provide the technology that will help automate manufacturing," Rocca says.

DELRAY Systems recently opened a training and technology center at Oakland University. The firm recently struck a partnership with ANSYS, a company traded on the NASDAQ. DELRAY Systems will sell its software, ANSYS SpaceClaim, to 3D printer users in the Midwest.

Source: Joe Rocca, president of DELRAY Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke
116 Automotive/Manufacturing Articles | Page: | Show All
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