Startup aims to use AI to help rebuild manufacturing in US machine shops

Startup aims to use AI to help rebuild manufacturing in US machine shops

If America really wants to get some of its manufacturing back overseas, it might need Adam Ellis and his new Akron company, Harmoni Solutions.

Because to achieve such ambitions, it’s going to take a lot of skilled workers, including a lot of highly productive machinists. Ours are getting old.

“You go through most stores, and the guy running the CNC machine is usually in his 50s or 60s,” Ellis said.

He’s right too, at least in some places. This has been the case in northeast Ohio for years, as manufacturers complain that there are fewer and fewer machinists, welders and other highly skilled workers.

This makes the productivity of existing machinists more important, as well as the ability to pass on knowledge to the next generation. Ellis thinks he has a device that can help with both.

If stores can track their jobs, time, waste, performance and efficiency of their machinists — and upskill workers at the same time — stores can make more money, he argues. His company and eponymous product, Harmoni, can do just that, he promises.

“It’s ‘Moneyball,’ for machine shops,” Ellis said.

If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you know how important data is to the “Moneyball” data management system – and the data needed to do that is what Ellis said Harmoni aims to provide. to its customers.

The Harmoni device looks a bit, perhaps on purpose, like an oversized Nest thermostat, a device Ellis likens it to. Nest represents the Internet of Things for consumers, he said, while Harmoni represents the Industrial Internet of Things, known in manufacturing as Industry 4.0, as acolytes say it represents the fourth industrial revolution.

The Harmoni device is mounted on a CNC machine and becomes an accessory for collecting and processing information.

Ellis said he took care to build it so it could interface with a wide range of CNC machines, from various manufacturers as well as from different eras. For example, Harmoni has ports that can receive analog data from older machines.

In addition to information from the machine, the device also obtains it from elements with RFID chips, which use radio frequencies to transmit data, in particular identification information, over short distances. These chips, which Ellis says now cost pennies each, go on the jobs the machine will process. The machinists who use the machines have them, even the work orders that come with every job have them.

Armed with data from machines and data from the people who use them, job documents and the job itself, Ellis says Harmoni can provide machine shops with data that will result in lower costs, less waste and improved efficiency.

“We try to share moments of time in many different places, to create huge revenue savings,” Ellis said, while taking a virtual tour of how the system works.

Let’s say that Bob, a machinist, is about to do some job. He gets the part he’s working on, the documents that tell him what to do, and he heads to the CNC machine he needs to use – it doesn’t matter if it’s a 4-axis mill or of a turn.

“He knows Bob just walked up, because of the (RFID) sticker,” Ellis said.

He also reads the sticker on the job, so he knows what Bob is about to put there, and he reads the documentation Bob has for the job. With all that, he knows which program(s) Bob will need to use, offers and loads them quickly, and even passes on any special instructions he might need.

Then Harmoni tracks the entire job, generating a report on how long it took Bob to complete, how long he spent on each process, what tools he used, how often machine and idle time. It does this for every machine with a Harmoni console and for every machinist who uses them.

This allows a store owner or manager to track each employee’s performance, identify who is best at what tasks, and who might need training in certain areas. It can reveal processes that are slowing down jobs or creating waste, and keep track of when a cutting tool is used or when the machine needs maintenance.

The system is agnostic of ERP software a store might also use and can interface with almost any, Ellis said.

It even gives instructions for specific tasks and processes and allows machinists to enter notes, which can help them train faster and improve performance, Ellis argues.

So far, people he’s shown it to seem okay.

“It’s a really good idea and it’s needed,” said Chandler Fiffick, director of the EVOLVE technology entrepreneurship program at Youngstown Business Incubator, who has worked with Ellis and seen the Harmoni system. Ellis also has support from Akron and Akron, and Harmoni was founded and is based in downtown Bounce Innovation Hub.

Daniel Longo, engineering project manager at the Youngstown Incubator for Advanced Manufacturing, said he was also impressed.

“It’s great IOT technology they’re developing. Especially in the CNC shop world, there’s a huge vertical market for what they’ve developed,” Longo said. “It really jumps into the process of monitoring what’s causing latency.”

Longo and Fiffick said Harmoni’s pricing model benefits many manufacturers because it lowers the start-up cost of using the system and removes much of the risk from the equation for customers.

Ellis said Harmoni does not charge customers for hardware but relies on a monthly subscription per machine. Customers can go month-to-month, he said, and if the system doesn’t save them enough money, they can simply cancel the subscription.

Fiffick said that’s important for many machine shops that often face challenges when it comes to investing in new technology.

“It’s a daily job,” Fiffick said. “Our team goes to those facilities to see what they need and how we can help them. We have grants to help those manufacturing plants adopt these new technologies because they’re expensive. But it’s nerve-wracking.”

Longo thinks Harmoni will be more accessible.

“It works with subscriptions for each device installed. If a shop only has two CNC machines, they only need one subscription for two machines…so it’s really affordable,” Longo said.

So far, Ellis said he is getting a strong market reaction. Harmoni has already placed its first batch of 50 devices with customers and has orders for more that it said it is now working to fill, including one it just received from a company in Saudi Arabia.

Soon, he says, he will likely have to expand his production facilities and hire full-time staff rather than doing most of the work himself with outside help. It’s something he said he can probably do without leaving Bounce, which is located in a former industrial building and offers large spaces for tenants.

So far, he’s funded Harmoni with only a small amount of private outside investment money and lots of equity and seed capital, Ellis said. But a fundraiser is also likely in the future, which Ellis said he was confident about, although he did not determine how much he would try to raise.

He knows, however, when to be optimistic. This is not his first startup. He previously co-founded Bezlio, a software development platform company, and IT consulting firm SaberLogic, both of which were successful and still in business.

#Startup #aims #rebuild #manufacturing #machine #shops

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