Dan Haar: Pioneering Revolution No. 4, Stanley connects its universe
There are pluses and minuses to managing a factory in the home state of your company, a global corporation with more than 100 plants around the world.
For Rina Patel, plant manager at the Stanley Black & Decker engineered fasteners plant in Danbury, the distinction got a whole lot more fun this past week.
The Danbury plant, with about 150 employees, was one of the first in Stanley’s vast armada to be outfitted with the latest sensors on some of its 300 machines. Now all that milling and spinning and cutting equipment is connected to a glitzy manufacturing center of excellence in Hartford, a high-tech nerve center Stanley hopes will push the whole corporation ahead of its peers.
Patel and a handful of her key people trekked an hour up Interstate 84 to Hartford on Thursday for the grand opening of Stanley’s center — where they could see their own factory and others around the world, down to the machine, in virtual operation.
They could see it after a bunch of speeches by the CEO, the governor and others, of course. No one missed a chance to remind the crowd that Connecticut was, as Gov. Ned Lamont said, once the Silicon Valley of manufacturing — and this shiny center, dubbed “Manufactory 4.0,” aims to bring that honor back home.
“Manufacturing is changing and it’s changing quickly, and we are here today to partner with a city and a state to help Connecticut change it,” Stanley CEO Jim Loree said to a couple of hundred employees and guests. “Our highly skilled workforce has become more relevant in recent years as manufacturing has become more digital…We see this as an opportunity for Connecticut, where advanced manufacturing and Industry 4.0 skills can become a distinct advantage for this state.”
That’s a high-minded goal reflecting Loree’s strong efforts in the last year on behalf of economic development for the state, including agreeing to join Lamont’s administration as a board member of the agency charged with bringing new companies in.
He will no doubt bring them to the Hartford center — and he may or may not mention that it received no grants, loans or tax breaks from the state. That’s notable as Lamont tries to, in his words, create an ecosystem for growth, not a collection of deals.
Other companies will want a hand from the state, which has spent upwards of $200 million a year on such deals in recent years. But that’s a different story. Stanley, in New Britain for 176 years, is focused on pioneering the era of Industry 4.0.
It’s named for the fourth industrial revolution — a connected world of digital manufacturing equipment that becomes its own organism — following the era of computerized factory systems.
Hmmm, no pressure at all on Patel, who has to make it happen on the ground. The bet is that centralized analytics along with a lot of training will do the trick.
“We are looking at our site to grow to a center of excellence for advanced technology,” Patel said in Hartford, speaking of the Danbury factory. “We will be connected, we will be able tio troubleshoot, we have other sister sites, and we will be able to see what they are doing.”
She couldn’t be more psyched, an engineer by training, having joined Stanley just ten months ago. Danbury is part of the $2 billion-a-year engineered fastening business. The plant turns out gazillions of stainless steel fasteners made to strengthen screw connections in automotive, aerospace and other applications.
And the name of the game is keeping machines and people running at optimal efficiency.
From that downown Hartford center, once the location of Connecticut Bank & Trust, now a light-filled tech space with windows to the city on all sides, Stanley engineers and analysts can work magic. Using data on temperatures, vibration, run speeds, electrical draws, oil pressures and other metrics, they can fine-tune the company’s vast diaspora, bit by bit, as it spits out hammers, utility knives, tape measures, industrial tools and widgets by the millions.
And unlike Stanley factory managers in, say, Germany or China, Patel or her engineers and operations managers can be there in no time — depending on traffic in Waterbury.
In another part of the center of excellence, stations have prototype set-ups for warehouse technology, robotic machining, assembly and factory logistics. There, the idea is to create ways to run a whole factory much more efficiently.
At the Danbury plant on Friday, 14 employees worked around a set of tables, eyeing a giant screen with data, “creating a road map,” Patel said, for connecting to the Stanley Manufactory 4.0 system.
Down the hall, just next to the entrance to the vast, crowded (with machines, not people) factory floor, an electronic board, installed late last year, shows machines by grouping with data — green, with the name of the operator in charge, is on; red is off.
Hartford can see the same analytics, and everyone can compare machines around the world doing the same things. I ask Patel whether it’s too much minute-to-minute oversight.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for us to improve,” Patel said, rebuffing the idea. “Without measuring and without visibility, you can’t improve.
In the past, said operations manager Rich Ciardi, “It would all be done on paper.” And in fact, the old white board, retired in December, hangs on the wall with its black-lined boxes for handwritten updates, next to the new digital screen.
Back in Hartford, in a control room with another giant screen showing the whole world, I ask Sudhi Bangalore, the Stanley vice president in charge of Industry 4.0, whether all this analytics can really replace the feel of a guy — or a woman — on a machine, someone who really knows that piece of equipment.
He’s familiar with “Moneyball,” the Michael Lewis book, later a movie, about the Oakland Athletics baseball team adopting advanced analytics to assess player talent. In that story, it turns out there’s no way to fully replace the old-fashioned observation by grizzled scouts on the field.
“That’s what we all think,” Bangalore says patiently. But there’s a big difference with efficiency gains in machinery. “If you have thousands of machines like we do, even if you only eke out two or three percent, then it makes a huge difference.
Humans, no matter how expert, are basically training themselves to fix a machine and keep it running, he said — not necessarily at its best. With Industry 4.0 analytics, “We can see the interplay of thousands of variables.”
If it keeps the historic Danbury plant as a key cog in he Stanley universe, great. The place was originally Mite Corp., making fasteners under the HeliCoil brand name. I was later part of Emhart, the storied machine-maker based in Hartford, then Black & Decker, then Stanley, after the Black & Decker merger in 2010.
Today HeliCoil is still one of the main brands. Patel will take waves of employees to Hartford for training, unionized including factory workers.
“It’s an advantage, there’s no question in my mind because we definitely get the support,” she said, “There’s connections we can make.”