Read what Bob Brzozowski, President at Techniplas North America thinks about shaping the future of transportation, using data-enabled cognitive tech for personalization and sustainable mobility, and leveraging wireless or the internet to enhance connectivity. Bob has also served as VP Operations for Nyloncraft, part of Techniplas’ group companies. Winner of the Dale Carnegie Highest Achievement Award and the President’s Award for Operational Excellence, a Variform award (PlyGem), Bob was VP Quality & Engineering for ThyssenKrupp Industrial Services North America prior to Techniplas, He has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from Michigan State University
TDE: Thank you so much for taking our questions! Tell us a little about your business and your specific role?
Bob Brzozowski: Techniplas develops and manufactures products, components, modules and parts for the automotive, electrical, and mechanical markets. We are based in Wisconsin, serving customers in the United States and internationally, with facilities in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Techniplas was founded in 1941, but more recently we are engineering products and services that are shaping the future of transportation. By continuously expanding the reach of our data-enabled cognitive technologies into everything we do, we deliver personalized, performance-enhanced and sustainable mobility.
As president of Techniplas North America, I’m responsible for the company’s core business operations in North America. The work we do in digital and the connected world is on the edge of our business, without disrupting our core business. This way we can continue working with our customer base and continue to make money while we’re in this digital transformation. Our digital group in Ventura develops technologies, systems, programs and products. Once we can commercialize it and make it feasible for our manufacturing sites and trade partners, then we can move it from the edge of our business to the core.
TDE: When did you first realize that you had an issue that needed a digital solution? What was the nature of the problem you set out to solve?
Bob Brzozowski: That awareness started to come in 2015 to 2016. We were in some workshops through Singularity University, and participated in workshops in San Francisco focused on Industry 4.0, algorithms that would predict failures in our equipment, and the acceleration of autonomous vehicles becoming reality. We recognized that there’s a race going on and others in our industry may not be aware of it at this point. EOM’s (Equipment original Manufacturer) were aware of it, but tier 1 manufacturers like ourselves weren’t, so we got a jump on it.
TDE: What were the challenges you faced at the time as you began the process of evaluating solutions?
Bob Brzozowski: Our challenge is to recognize the parts we currently make that can participate in the move to further connectivity. So we are developing solutions to take the simple products we’ve been making for many years and integrate sensors and other components to connect to vehicles and to the rest of the world, whether that’s through wireless systems or through the internet. The challenge is in identifying which parts we currently make and what components or new technologies are available to acquire or develop to integrate into our manufacturing process, what algorithms we can develop to lightweight current products, such as topology algorithms we can create to reduce the weight of parts through computer redesign and topology optimization.
TDE: What did the final solution look like and what were the broad benefits that it delivered?
Bob Brzozowski: There is no one solution…yet. To us, this is a process or journey with many paths. For example, in our core business we have lighting products. We are using those products along with developing software or algorithms, and molding these products into our existing parts and incorporating them into future parts to communicate with humans, with the vehicle and with other vehicles down the road. There are other processes, systems and products we are developing to help driver wellness by potentially measuring the CO2 levels inside the vehicle and to automatically adjust the ventilation systems in the vehicles. So those are some things we are working on.
TDE: What were some of the key elements that were responsible for the project’s success? What processes have you found useful for implementing digital technologies?
Bob Brzozowski: Again, this isn’t a project.
This is a journey, a transformation of the manufacturing of goods to deliver solutions to the connected world. Another way to describe it is an evolution or a revolution.
It’s really about research and development and taking existing or new technologies and developing methods to integrate them into products that are needed by our current and potential customers in the automotive space, and potentially other markets. We’re still in the development stage so we have had several hurdles in solving problems. We’re reaching out to current customers and potential customers and working with them through partnerships to meet their needs and to share with them the potential improvements we can make in their vehicles and the value that we can add to their systems.
The partnership we have with XponentialWorks and Avi Reichental and his team in creating Techniplas Digital has really helped us accelerate our transformation. Techniplas Digital has accelerated our digital evolution by giving us the skillset to do it on our own and help us determine which additive manufacturing tools and partners can help accelerate our transformation. We have 3D printers in all our sites around the world now.
We’re in a learning curve where we’re learning to crawl and then walk and run. Right now, most facilities are in the crawling phase. But some are walking by manufacturing parts in-house. They used to have to have items manufactured outside. We’re taking components that would cost several hundred or thousands of dollars and now we’re making them ourselves for much less. We’re saving a lot of money along the way as we learn how to use these tools to help with the development process. Techniplas Digital is also helping us with overlaying sensors into our equipment and write algorithms to predict or determine how the equipment is running. Seeing that live means that eventually algorithms will predict errors or failures before the parts or systems actually fail!
TDE: What was your biggest takeaway from this project?
Bob Brzozowski: My biggest takeaway is that this is not a project.
It’s an evolution or a transformation in the automotive space, going from simple vehicles that are just used for transportation from point A to point B, and becoming more of a computer, more than just a car.
Eventually cars will drive themselves and people will get into a vehicle that they won’t be driving. They will get from point A to point B while they do other things, whether it’s entertainment, leisure or work. And we, Techniplas, will provide solutions for auto manufacturers to succeed in that. This is an extremely exciting time to be on the Techniplas team as we’re transforming from typical manufacturing processes and techniques to an organization with new systems and technologies to keep up with the rapid changes around the world.
TDE: What’s next for you on your digital roadmap?
Bob Brzozowski: What’s next is to commercialize these solutions. And we’re close. We have products we are developing with OEM’s for their autonomous or electric vehicles that communicate with humans. Some of the lighting on the Faraday Futures FF91 vehicle that was introduced at CES 2017 and launching next year have lighting made by Techniplas. We’re working with other OEM’s developing cognitive lighting concepts for their vehicles as well.
TDE: What’s your go to resource – websites, newsletters, any other – that you use to stay in touch with the explosive changes happening in the digital space?
Bob Brzozowski: I actually use Google Alerts and have several alerts set up checking for key words daily, such as autonomous vehicles, Industry 4.0, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Ford, Tesla, etc. I get those alerts sent to me daily based on Google Alerts. Aside from that I’m always looking at Crain’s Automotive, and automation magazines. I use all kinds of sources, but mostly the Google Alerts.
TDE: Read a good book lately on digital transformation that you’d like to recommend to us?
Bob Brzozowski: I’ve read several books on that and the most recent one that I found really helpful was Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismail. It focuses on how quickly organizations need to become more nimble in a world that is rapidly changing.
For more DX insights follow Bob Brzozowski on LinkedIn.