Manufacturers need to get started on the transformation of communication if they want to experience exponential growth in the very near future.

Peggy and Don Korfhage, president, SQUEAKS and IGear, talk about digital transformation and communication transformation as it relates to burgeoning manufacturing sector. They will delve into what the future of manufacturing looks like, how we will deal with the exponential growth in data, and how it will resemble the communication platforms we use daily. More specifically, the two also give recommendations as to how manufactures can get started on the transformation of communication.

Below is an excerpt from the interview. To hear the entire interview on The Peggy Smedley Show, log onto, and select 08/27/19 from the archives.

Peggy Smedley:
Let’s have you talk a little bit about the transformation from what’s driving plant communication. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Don Korfhage:
Sure. I think what drives everything in manufacturing at the end of the day is results, money, and outcomes. And in manufacturing, we build in an environment where downtime is measured in thousands of dollars and minutes, and product quality and issues of employee safety are very consequential to the impact of the business.

At the end of the day, you just can’t communicate clearly and quickly enough when it comes to concerns of employee safety, product quality, or downtime, and they’re financially consequential. When we look at communication, we focus on results-driven communication. As far as a transformation goes, it seems like there’s two things: There’s the technology drivers that are driving this transformation and then cultural drivers.

I was listening in to your show earlier when you talked about the worker of the future. The cultural impact of the worker of the future is transformative in itself. The workforce is evolving to where the millennials and my kids’ generation, they’re very social, they’re very collaborative. They want to be connected to the business goals. They just don’t want to show up to work and have blinking lights, HMI screens, and production displays telling them what to do. They want to be more engaged. They want to be a part of the communication process.

So, when we talk about communication and transforming communication in manufacturing, there’s a cultural aspect that this next generation, this “worker of the future,” when you were talking about AI earlier, they want to be connected. They want to be engaged. They want to have an opportunity to have their voice be heard when there’s a safety problem, a quality problem, or a production problem. They want to collaborate much like they do in everyday life.

And the technology driver, just to hit on that for a quick second, technology is evolving. In everyday life, we use cellphones and watches and we have nice 4K, LED displays that brilliantly engage us in sports shows and TV shows. And these displays, watches, and phones that we use in everyday life, these are $500 items, and these technologies are very engaging, very rich, and very powerful.

Contrast that to the communication platforms that we use today in manufacturing, kind of like walkie-talkie radios and stack lights that almost talk in Morse code, are very limited as to the ability to attach photos, videos, and datasets to the conversation. We just have an opportunity to look at the communication technologies today and realistically ask how are they going to keep up with this flood of data coming about through the Internet of Things?

You have more devices that are generating more data. These binary, very limited-capacity communication platforms that we use today in manufacturing just can’t keep up with the Internet of Things and the growth of data that we’re seeing. So, when we talk about communication manufacturing, I think there are just technology drivers, and then there’s the cultural skilled worker of the future driver.

So let’s talk about that and kind of divide that up because, as you talk about the tech drivers and the cultural drivers, the way you are bringing things to market, you’re actually bringing a solution when you talk about SQUEAKS, and we’ll talk about that in a second, that’s actually helping them use what they’re used to every day. The ability to look at a stack lighter, the ability to see a trigger on the plant floor, something that’s happening that’s cuing them in an algorithm that you’ve created that allows them to react to something that could create significant cost losses on a plant floor, that they can get a trigger prior to that happening and use something that they’re culturally comfortable with and be able to make decisions based on that.

So you’ve taken the best of the worlds that they’re comfortable with in everyday life. Whether it’s on a web environment, a phone environment, a mobile environment, whatever in the plant environment, they can communicate quickly anywhere they are, and it’s a very comfortable environment for them. That’s what you’re kind of doing today, right?

That’s correct. The things that we have done well in manufacturing, over the years, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years, we’ve worked with companies like Toyota, and the Toyota production system really speaks to the importance of at-a-glance visual communication, this notion of Andon systems and production displays that turn from green to red when there’s a problem, provide a quick at-a-glance visual communication in a way that is very effective.

So we don’t want to lose that, but what we want to do is not limit that to line of sight. In other words, when there is an event that is of concern in a production environment, and today we turn on colors on an HMI screen or a production Andon display, we have to go to that device to see it. What we want to do is leverage technologies that will bring the Andon to your wrist or your pocket. So wherever you are, we can carve out three to five seconds, if not more, of the time it takes for you to get that at-a-glance feedback in regards to a concern delivered directly to you. And if we can do that, and we could carve let’s say three-to-five seconds per incident, that equates to hundreds of thousands of dollars of downtime saved or revenue opportunities that we can benefit from.

And it’s significant when you’re looking at that because you’ve now helped a lot of companies in the manufacturing environment see really good customer successes by deploying communication techniques that are leveraging works flows, escalation problems. Talk about that because I think the power of the solution right now is getting customers who are saying we can actually do things quickly, faster than ever before, and be able to solve problems that are happening right then and there.

So, with communication today, what we have seen in manufacturing is that we get the information communicated. We convey a concern, and we then ask “Then what? Now what?” And unfortunately, today in manufacturing, a lot of the communication is kind of an open loop broadcast. The information goes out, the alert goes off, the horn blast. We play chimes and music to help distinguish the noise from one team leader group to another. But at the end of the day, it’s kind of open loop. So the message goes out, the alert goes out, the light goes from green to red. And then what?

So what we saw was the “Then what?” part was a missing part of the equation in manufacturing. And we’ve decided that the communication platform of the future needs to address the “Then what?” part, and that means, when there’s an event, what are the user-defined workflows or actions, the various states that we must walk through? When we have a torque audit that’s gone south, how do we go about ensuring that step one, two, three, four are followed and help the worker walk through the series of events, corrective action that should be taken based on that event. And if it is not completed correctly or on time, we escalate that.

So our product’s called SQUEAKS, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and if it’s not 10 to 2, the squeak gets a little bit louder. So we need to have in communication systems, whether it’s SQUEAKS or others, a communication platform that makes sure that there’s accountability, ownership, and that it is transparent so that, when there’s an event and there’s an action that needs to be taken, we help the worker of the future follow those steps. But in the event that they need to reach out and call for help or certain things don’t go according to plan, we escalate that concern so we can bring in other team members that can help resolve this in a more effective manner.

How effective is that? Walk us through the actual success. I don’t want to use the word failure, but how effective are you seeing that this is escalating a problem to resolution then?

Well, as an example, in the systems today in manufacturing, there’s a tendency to ignore the blinking light. There’s a tendency to say, “I didn’t see it” or “I didn’t get that email” or “I didn’t get that message.” But if we can date and timestamp the event and the fact that that was communicated to certain people that are responsible for those concerns, whether they are quality maintenance or safety concerns, if that is communicated and that’s on your watch or on your phone or on your desktop, and we have a trail, and that’s very transparent, it’s hard to ignore that that message went out. It buzzed you on your phone in your pocket and now there’s this fact that we deliver the concern or the message directly to somebody on their person, if you will. It’s hard to ignore.

And the fact that, if it is ignored, it escalates and then no one wants to have the concern go to their boss and up the chain of the command. So, as an example, we put in a system with a metals company here, started very small, a production line that didn’t have the metrics communicated on the line and to the office, put in displays, and this system and we essentially saw a 35% improvement in response time or reduction in downtime by way of the fact that the information is communicated to the right people and accountability and response times shortened.

So it’s consequential dollars. At the end of the day, I think everybody feels good. They want to be part of contributing and making the company they work for a better place and more successful. And when you engage them, you get this win-win where the company wins, and employees win, and everybody’s on the same team, helping achieve the goals of the organization as a whole.

Don, when we talk about the Internet of Things, are we having problems with companies understanding what kind of ROI are they going to get? So are we talking about significant dollars? I know you talk about 35%. Can we put that into a number that somebody listening says, “Wow, in the bottomline, this is how much it’s going to mean to my bottomline?” Are there some real returns and ROI that you said, “Look, here’s where you got to start?”

Yeah. So just to stay with the metals example, the consumer metals company that I’m referring to, the investment to get started on this one particular line, actually there were two lines, was about $12,000. So you go out, and you buy two or three of these 4K LED displays at Best Buy. You go out and buy a couple phones, a few watches, and you put in some software, and the return, and this is hard to believe, was in the magnitude of $170,000 per month.

And so this is a payback in short order because the technology is so affordable. These communication platforms with our software can be deployed with very little investment, talking to realtime equipment and processes and conveying that on very affordable technology that has a drastic impact on behavior.

What you just described, we’re talking about that we have this mobile trend idea, the watches, the desire to have information at your fingertips, on your wrist. Talk about that whole TV angle idea, walk us through the TVs on the shop floor, in the office, both, because that’s really where you’re seeing how SQUEAKS really works and the information that’s constantly scrolling. I think that gives it to you when you want it or when you need it, however you want it.

Yeah, it’s kind of interesting to talk about the Internet of Things and the future of manufacturing and then bring in a technology as old as TV. But if you go out and buy a TV today, they’re incredible. I just bought a TV for my son who moved off to college, and we loaded it up and turned it on. There’s 50 different apps and wireless connections and an incredible screen and visibility that you can organize in a way that is very impactful. And again, it’s $500 for a 55-inch display.

There’s an automotive company we worked with that put one display behind the plant manager’s desk, and now there’s 12 out in the plant because they’re an effective way to communicate production information, safety information, company announcements, and so on and connect the office plant manager, which these 4K LED display TVs look pretty impressive in an office. And they hold up pretty well out on the shop floor in providing a visual to the front line employees.

So again, the power of the TV, much like production displays of the past, is this idea that everybody can see at a glance how we’re doing relative to go, but more importantly, when there are events, that we act on it. So the TV, although an old technology, is a very visual and powerful communication platform today, especially given the price of this technology.

Let’s go back to the communication and the device technology because this is the fascination I have for this because the software is what’s driving everything. And I think that’s the meat of what you have here. And I think we really need to understand the data is what’s making this all happen. I mean this is really the power of it.

I don’t want to lose that on our discussion on TVs because the TVs are great, and everybody likes the visualization, but it’s really the data….

Well, the data is essential, and what’s fundamental to any communication platform is the ability to connect to all of your data sources. So I don’t want to get into a sales pitch here, but fundamental to any communication platform, whether it’s SQUEAKS or any, is got to be how do you have what I call the IoT plumbing, the IoT connection to, whether it’s devices or sensors or ERP systems, maintenance systems, SPC packages, and products that do analytics like Microsoft Power BI.

All of that data has to be plumbed into this communication platform, and it has to be realtime, and it has to be part of the conversation. So, when we talk about the Internet of Things in a communication platform, the ability to connect to machines and make machines … when I say machines, I’m talking broadly to include all these systems and data sources, they have to be part of the conversation.

Are we talking about on-prem or in the cloud? How are we actually talking for someone who’s trying to understand that? Because that’s when manufacturing gets nervous about saying, “Well, where am I keeping all of my data now?”

No doubt. So the connecting to this data can be either on premise or cloud, but with edge computing and other technologies, we see more manufacturing staying focused on premise, so the server and the software that’s connecting to all of those devices. What we see typically is on premise today because of concerns associated with cloud.

Now, that said, we have a Fort Knox kind of mentality here in Kentucky, but the security for cloud is there. If you want to push that data to the cloud and have the data reside in a private hosted application or in your own private cloud, or we can do it also. But the data going to the cloud is part of what we got to get comfortable with in regards to push notifications.

So, if you want the data to stay on premise, again capturing it, we usually find that there’s the software on premise, but then pushing it to TVs that are on premise, that’s one thing. If you want to push it to your phone or your watch so that you’re mobile and out of the plant and getting push notifications, then that data goes out through Azure and a cloud-based app that pushes the information out.