The best part about the CIRAS innovation process, Mike Myers believes, is that it makes it easier for his company to quickly find the ideas that help customers most.
Myers is marketing development manager at Ag Leader Technology, an Ames company created 28 years ago to help farmers better monitor their fields. Today, precision agriculture is a wide-ranging industry with competition fueled by venture capitalists and start-ups looking to profit from helping farmers manage data.
Now, more than ever, Ag Leader needs to be focused on the right ideas.
For Candace Drahn, part of staying ahead means discovering what you don’t know.
“As a small business, it’s hard to get out and educate yourself about industry trends,” said Drahn, vice president of M’s Machine and Manufacturing in Monona. “CIRAS kind of condenses everything into the small business mindset that I need. . . . It gives me a good overview of what I need to be doing on a particular topic.”
A Holstein, Iowa, maker of doors and countertops saved time and money last summer after CIRAS experts helped the company quickly identify problems with two potential products.
Aron Fleischmann, an engineer with VT Industries, said his company will avoid tens of thousands of dollars in potential warranty work because CIRAS helped pinpoint the cause of cracking discovered during inspections of shipments from a supplier.
A Le Mars manufacturer of side-dumping truck trailers believes his business is on the road to steady growth after CIRAS helped improve the company’s management structure and confirm that its marketing is on the correct path.
SmithCo Manufacturing Inc. was founded in 1994 to make side-dump trailers for the construction industry. Change loomed, however, as the company entered its third decade. SmithCo, long popular in construction, agriculture, and municipal waste hauling, had discovered a lucrative new market in the mining industry. But could the business handle it? Operations manager Scott Lovell saw the potential for enormous growth over the horizon, and he wanted to make sure his company was ready.
A Sumner, Iowa, manufacturer of emergency vehicles believes it’s on the cusp of a major innovation after Iowa State University engineering students helped the company develop a new design for a side-entry ambulance door.
Life Line Emergency Vehicles, a maker of custom ambulance bodies since 1985, was scheduled to go to a national trade show this fall with a working prototype of its first ambulance with a motorized sliding side door—a new feature that’s expected to make it safer and more convenient for emergency medical crews to operate in tight spaces or along the side of a highway.
Dozens of Iowa manufacturers got their first glimpse of a path to new technologies on September 26, as CIRAS formally opened its new Digital Manufacturing Lab powered by Alliant Energy.
Representatives from CIRAS, Alliant Energy, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) were joined by Iowa State University and Ames leaders for opening remarks and a tour.
A Washington, Iowa, maker of manure-injection equipment was able to double capacity and drastically reduce lead time after CIRAS arranged coaching for its key managers.
Bazooka Farmstar is a rapidly growing 110-person agricultural manufacturer that’s seen sales grow 140 percent since 2016. But as the company took off, its production processes and management seemed to lag. Lead times increased, labor costs rose, and it seemed more and more difficult to maintain an adequate supply of parts.
“The manufacturing team was doing a great job of meeting their production requirements but was spending considerable excess time and effort in doing so,” said Jim Poe, a retired CIRAS project manager. “They have great people. They had the education and the knowledge. They just needed some help with organization and focus.”
Multiple times each day, the skilled workers at Miracle Tools America in Davenport must stop what they’re doing and clean. Making drill bits can be a dirty business, and the tiny water channels that keep tools from overheating have a tendency to clog.
Hence, the company decided to begin experimenting with a new type of employee—one that wouldn’t mind the monotony.
Charles Romans sees tremendous possibility in the relationship he’s building with his counterparts on the other side of Iowa.
Romans is the 3D design prototype director for ProtoStudios, a University of Iowa rapid prototyping facility that’s part of the MERGE innovation lab in downtown Iowa City. Despite his black-and-gold employer, Romans and his staff have been working closely with CIRAS project manager Mark Williamson and Chris Hill, director of the CIRAS Technology Assistance Program (TAP), for more than a year as part of a joint effort to learn from each other and give taxpayers the maximum benefit from the equipment each agency controls.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!” Hill said with a chuckle. “It is possible for Hawkeyes and Cyclones to work together.”
A rapidly growing Des Moines commercial door and electronic security company has become more efficient, more professional, and safer thanks to a long-standing CIRAS relationship that continues to grow.
Walsh Door & Security began as a builders’ hardware company, but the business evolved over the years to become one of very few U.S. firms that offer customers both physical barriers (doors, frames, and hardware) and electronic security (such as access control and video surveillance systems). Marty Walsh IV, co-president of the family-owned company, said the firm has grown steadily on both sides of its door and security business, even as the electronic offering expands.
The Orbis Corporation’s plastic container manufacturing plant in Monticello has a significantly quieter corner of the factory now, after a capstone project by Iowa State University engineering students reduced the noise from a nearby granulator.
Legacy Manufacturing in Marion has added seven new employees (with at least three more coming soon) after a CIRAS-assisted automation program helped the company reshore production of one of its most popular products.
Nathan Meyer was no stranger to CIRAS, but he wasn’t fully aware of all the technical expertise available at Iowa State University until he took a CIRAS-led tour of campus research labs in the fall of 2017.
In September, leaders and subject matter experts from around the MEP National NetworkTM gathered in Kansas City for our biennial best practices conference. Why is this a big deal? The 300 or so manufacturing experts in attendance brought back lessons learned from working with more than 26,000 U.S. manufacturers in the last year alone. In addition to sharing operational practices that make us successful, this was an opportunity to get a pulse on American manufacturing.
A small Maquoketa company that sells dog training equipment around the world is boosting production and expanding its product offerings—all after CIRAS helped the company arrange important testing and other steps to get it off the ground.
A Davenport manufacturer of alternators and other electrical equipment for specialty vehicles expects to more than double the amount it sells overseas within the next three years.
Officials at American Power Systems Inc. predict the company will at least double its current six-figure export sales once it fully implements everything leaders learned during a CIRAS-driven class presented via the Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub.
It happens every day. The news fills with words like botnets, malware, ransomware, heartbleed, phishing, and sniffing. We are told we must make passwords “long and strong,” avoid “unsafe” websites, and keep computers “up to date.” We wonder what hackers could ever want with us.
Mostly, we just wonder what is safe and what we should do to protect ourselves.
Here are a few ways businesses can start to address cybersecurity:
Iowa manufacturers have been slow to take proven steps toward improving their businesses—and now face a widening technology gap and workforce challenges that are placing increasing pressure on smaller companies, according to a recent CIRAS review of the state of Iowa manufacturing.
CIRAS’ 2017–2018 Iowa Manufacturing Needs Assessment Report, a document based on comments derived from six public forums and a survey of leaders at 228 manufacturers across Iowa, shows Iowa companies continuing to sort themselves onto one side or another of a widening profitability gap.
Dennis Fogle believes the dawn is coming for his industry in Iowa.
“We’re right on the edge,” said Fogle, general manager of Agile Additive Manufacturing Ltd. in Pella. “It’s just over the hill. . . . I think we just need a little bit more education here.”
Agile, a recently formed offshoot of Canada’s largest 3D printing service bureau, opened in Iowa last year in preparation for an expected wave in the use of 3D printing in Iowa manufacturing. Several other Iowa companies likewise have been formed over the last two years with a business plan that involves designing and/or 3D printing products for others. All report more fervent interest in the technology.
About 18 months ago, CIRAS announced its new “Future of Manufacturing” series to help manufacturers become ready for what is “next” in manufacturing. While this was a significant leap, it was based on a simple premise: changes in technology, workforce, and business models were moving so fast that we needed to help get Iowa manufacturers out in front.
Industry experts from around the state are developing a detailed plan for growing Iowa manufacturing—with CIRAS slated to play a leading role both in the plan’s design and its implementation.
The ongoing effort stems from 2017’s governor’s Year of Manufacturing initiative, which charged the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the Iowa Innovation Council (IIC) with finding ways to increase a $29 billion manufacturing gross domestic product to $32 billion by 2022.
It surprises me when I meet business leaders who still believe environmental responsibility beyond meeting regulation, or social responsibility outside their four walls, is a cost versus an investment with good returns. CSR and sustainability work around the world, and in Iowa, has proven that leading companies have found ways to do both while profiting along the way.
Members of Iowa State University’s PrISUm solar car team see a silver lining in the clouds that dampened their recent trip to Australia for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.
Despite rainy weather and a missed checkpoint that knocked them out of the finish, the Iowa State engineering students are taking pride in the fact that they managed to build a practical and highly functional solar-powered SUV—one that, once tweaked, appears destined for future competitions.
More than 30 leaders from eastern Iowa manufacturing companies gathered in a Pella conference room last month for CIRAS’ first mobile effort at showing firms exactly what can happen in the labs at Iowa State University.
One of the promises CIRAS makes to our clients is that working with us brings you more than just our 500+ years of combined industry experience. Clients also get connected with CIRAS’ vast network of experts. Usually, this means one of our great partners or the service providers we work with in Iowa. But frequently, it means tapping into the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) National Network.
Every day we see something “new” in manufacturing. 3D Printed food, connected everything, cobots, and the list goes on. In fact, we’ve heard of these possibilities for decades. But something about these things seems a bit more real now than in the past. Like something important is happening
A Northwood, Iowa-based manufacturer of pig and calf flooring and commercial outdoor furniture should see a major boost to its production capacity because of a CIRAS-assisted expansion of its production plant.
Thomas Stensrud, president of ADA Enterprises, said his company’s recently remodeled and expanded footprint should provide 20 years of growth for the maker of park furniture and plastic-coated pork industry flooring. “We plan on at least doubling or even tripling our capacity,” he said.
Two Iowa companies over the past year have separately discovered a new way to safeguard vibrating truck fenders and a new, more attractive way to lock patio doors—both as a result of work done by graduating students at Iowa State University.
Capstone students in Iowa State’s College of Engineering worked on the truck fender project for Link Manufacturing, a Sioux Center company that manufactures heavy-duty truck suspensions. The company asked students to extend the life of after-market fender brackets that sometimes were breaking because of vibration.