Feyen Zylstra chosen to establish Innovation Center

Center will provide practical smart manufacturing training for small to mid-sized manufacturers.
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Feyen Zylstra will be home to a center that accelerates the development and adoption of smart manufacturing principles. Courtesy Feyen Zylstra

Walker-based industrial technology and electrical services firm Feyen Zylstra (FZ) has received funding to create a center that will accelerate the development and adoption of smart manufacturing principles at small to medium-sized businesses.

FZ recently was chosen by the Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Institute (CESMII) to create a Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center with $250,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

CESMII exists to “rapidly accelerate the development and adoption of smart manufacturing principles to drive sustainable manufacturing efficiencies, improve energy consumption and achieve real-time business improvements.”

Because of their shared focus on raising awareness around smart manufacturing and developing the next generation of the workforce, FZ said CESMII is an ideal partner.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, CESMII is a network dedicated to driving smart manufacturing awareness, understanding and adoption through the use of Smart Manufacturing Innovation Centers (SMICs), which are standalone, innovative, value-driven centers that further CESMII’s mission in a hands-on and learning-centric way. 

Four other SMICs currently are in existence across the nation. FZ’s is the latest, and it will be known as the Innovation Center.

Ryan Cahalane. Courtesy FZ

“Our team is thrilled about the opportunity our Innovation Center will offer to small to mid-sized manufacturers (SMMs) located in the Midwest,” said Ryan Cahalane, president of industrial technology at Feyen Zylstra. “With many SMMs being intimidated by the cost and scope of smart manufacturing and supporting technologies, it is our goal to educate (companies on) how practical solutions and approaches can drive real, achievable results.”

Slated to open in spring 2022, FZ’s Innovation Center will be based at FZ’s current headquarters, 2396 Hillside Drive NW in Walker. Some of the offerings will be conducted virtually, and some will be in person, Cahalane said.

The center will invite local manufacturers to learn, experience and interact with smart manufacturing technology through experimental labs, interactive training workshops and the showcasing of implementation success stories.

The Innovation Center will focus on making these principles accessible and understandable for all manufacturers, regardless of size, type of manufacturing and the products they produce.

John Dyck, CEO at CESMII, said FZ won the request for proposals to create the fifth SMIC in the network because it “embodies an underrepresented part of the CESMII ecosystem — the systems integrator.”

“Their experience serving multiple industries in factory automation, robotics, manufacturing information systems and digital transformation consulting services helps shape the tangible value that manufacturers can harness,” Dyck said. 

“They have the ability to guide customers through an often-confusing landscape of vendors while offering packaged solutions. Bringing smart manufacturing solutions to practice is about domain expertise and experience and value creation, but it’s also about contributing to the greater good and advancing the state of the industry. We’re proud to partner with FZ in this important endeavor, shining the spotlight on these important capabilities.”

Cahalane said FZ’s Innovation Center will be the only center in the CESMII network not located in a university setting, which he believes will help transform the learning from theory to practice.

“Academia tends to serve customers that are thinking theoretically, that are working on research projects that are driving 10 years out (into the future), and we felt that there was a gap in that many of these technologies are much more achievable than they are futuristic. Most of that attainable business transformation has been locked up in the Fortune 500 companies that can afford to have a big think tank. … Part of the evolution of this technology is it’s much more accessible. You’ve got almost a do-it-yourself capability where we can enable the skilled trades — your plant engineer, your frontline workforce — to make a fundamental difference in their operations,” Cahalane said.

“FZ’s project experience, methodologies and daily interactions with manufacturers put us in a unique position to help SMMs address the labor challenge with innovative training workshops to upskill the manufacturing workforce. Beyond driving awareness for manufacturers, FZ also is able to provide guidance and services to help SMMs accelerate their ability to quickly implement more sustainable, resilient smart manufacturing solutions.”

FZ said it will have partners and customers that will, as part of the Innovation Center, share best practices and knowledge to contribute to the transformation of industry, and the company might invite back retirees with special expertise, as well.

Although FZ has not fully built out its curriculum plan, Cahalane said much of the learning likely will be offered topically, such as sessions on press modernization or augmenting the workforce, and the session lengths could vary from two hours to all-day workshops.

He said the training will be relevant to many sectors of the manufacturing industry, such as food processing, beverage, automotive, furniture, medical device or chemicals.

FZ already has been conducting workshops on some of these topics over the past 18 months, but Cahalane said with the creation of the Innovation Center it likely will ramp up throughout the spring leading up to a grand opening in the summer.

More information is at feyenzylstra.com.

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