April Boyle

The following was originally published as a blog by the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development and is published with their permission.

The Velocity Center in Sterling Heights played host to about 50 entrepreneur support professionals from all over the globe on April 26 as part of the 37th International Conference on Business Incubation (ICBI) tour of greater Detroit and Windsor, Ont. Canada.

The five-day conference started out with entrepreneur center managers coursework, mentor development certification, and speaker/panel discussions before attendees could choose to take tours of either Windsor or greater Detroit innovation spaces.

The Velocity Center stop featured April Boyle, the Center’s senior advisor for entrepreneurship and innovation; Vicky Rowinski, the director of Macomb County Planning and Economic Development; Heidi Devroy, the CEO of Prosper-Tech Machine & Tool in Richmond, MI.; and John Bedz, the early stage technology program manager for Automation Alley.

The remaining stops included a visit to Build Institute in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit and LIFT, operated by the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute, also located in Detroit.

Much of the discussion focused around Industry 4.0 technology, the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology.

Interestingly, when asked, most of the audience knew nothing about the concept of I4.0. Thanks to grant money received from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Macomb County has spent the last couple of years educating its business community about the I4.0 pillars and how to implement its concepts.

“This fourth industrial revolution is looking at full digitalization, cloud computing, the Internet of Things. Not only does it impact our businesses, it impacts our day-to-day life,” Rowinski said. “The term was coined in Germany about 10 years ago. Knowing that it’s really going to change and transform what our businesses do, means that we’ve got to really step into that. But then we’ve also got confusion in the industry as to what does this mean? It’s happening over there but not over here. But it is happening here, and there are going to be companies that it helps and companies that it breaks if they don’t realize how they can transform on a day to day. It is a huge lift, not just in Macomb County, not just in the state, but worldwide.”

After raising awareness, Macomb County is now in the implementation stage and hosting a variety of workshops.

John Bedz remembers the moment when the light bulb went off for him regarding the need to implement I4.0 technology. He was visiting a manufacturer and holding a part assembly that contained nine parts, produced by three different shops. The manufacturer told Bedz it could now build all nine of those parts using additive manufacturing (3D printing). Immediately, those three shops lost a customer. It was time for them to adapt or go out of business.

Devroy recalled her first I4.0 assessment with Bedz back in 2018. Devroy, who runs a machining company with her husband, Bob, in Richmond, had no idea what I4.0 meant.

“But I was intrigued,” Devroy said. “My husband and I started this company during the recession and we’re aging with it, and we don’t want to start over, so we had to keep up, keep ahead of the curve. So I hear about this 4.0, and I’m like ‘What is it?’ And we can’t be left in the dust. So the assessment was eye-opening, but we still didn’t know what was coming.”

Devroy and Prosper-Tech received some grant money and had their second assessment, a cybersecurity assessment, through the University of Michigan. They were moving into the defense space and couldn’t obtain government contracts without developing cybersecurity standards and guidelines.

The third assessment, in 2019, was with the Michigan Manufacturing and Technology Center (MMTC).

“They did a walkthrough and told us we needed an MES (Management Execution System), and we’re like, ‘What?’” Devroy told the group. “So we went from clipboards and Excel sheets to MES and trying to keep up. But you’re talking $30,000-$40,000, and we couldn’t afford that. We’re a small company. A few years down the road, Macomb County really started putting this effort out to educate the manufacturing community on Industry 4.0.”

Prosper-Tech obtained a MEDC (Michigan Economic Development Corporation) grant that paid for a portion of implementing the MES, which they are currently in the process of getting off the ground.

“It’s the most amazing thing that we’ve ever had. Literally from clipboards to Excel sheets, to capturing all of this data,” Devroy said. “It’s helped grow our organization and streamline everything, as well as go after larger companies. “

“When you first quote a job, you get a purchase order, a part is tied to it, creating all of this history. And it produces all of this data and shows everybody who is working on it. It tells us how many hours it takes to make it and inspections and delivery and invoicing. So everything is captured. And next time, you can evaluate everything.”

Thanks to its I4.0 investments, Devroy said Prosper-Tech is growing. It now has 15 employees and expects to generate $2.5 million this year in profits. Not bad for a company that started in the Devroy’s basement. She said fear of survival motivated her and her husband to explore I4.0 opportunities.

“Fear can keep you up and motivated, or it can freeze you,” Devroy said.

To learn more about Industry 4.0 and how Macomb County can help, visit macombnext.com/2023-workshops or call Macomb County Planning and Economic Development at 586-469-5285.

Don Gardner is a communications specialist for Macomb County Planning and Economic Development who specializes in writing about Macomb County’s business environment. Please visit www.macombbusiness.com for more information.