Like so many Midwestern kids of a certain age, Gabriel Glynn was raised around manufacturing. And like so many Midwestern kids of a certain age, he shifted away from the factories and their production while still relatively young. Why not explore some other corners of the working world?
After a stint in corporate America, Glynn developed a handful of different companies, every previous effort unfolding into the next. After a decade, he had shifted his focus from insurance and inventory to building digital industrial products, ever evolving with newer technology. Skills and lessons learned during previous stops were always applied to the next project.
After that first decade, he had also sold one of his businesses, which left him with a little extra time and money … which led him right back to manufacturing.
The son of a veteran machinist who now works as a safety manager, Glynn figured he would tour whatever factories would have him for a day or two. He could glean best practices, strategy, all that, and apply it to his next venture. Instead, he found himself engrossed with industrial stories and picked up some new recording equipment for his Advanced Manufacturing Podcast, an engrossing series often recorded right on the floor.
“I grew up around manufacturing, which is what inspired the podcast,” Glynn said. And one visit for the podcast, to a factory he would prefer remain nameless for obvious reasons, inspired his latest effort.
That factory was in the process of an audit tied to an employee who had lost his hearing. What if manufacturers could measure various safety metrics with wearable technology and avoid such a painful process? Compensation claims have climbed well into nine figures annually here in the United States. Just cut that off at the proverbial head, keep employees safe, keep companies safe — all with a bit of hardware about the size of a chunky wristwatch.
“Everything else I’ve done has been software,” Glynn said. “But with software, you’re not creating a physical object.” With his new wearable hardware, MākuSafe — maku is Hawaiian for “risk” — he is: Wearable tech, designed for industry, to help ID, predict and prevent risk with IIoT sensors and SaaS. All his manufacturing ties have come full circle.
Glynn is a champion for manufacturing, and especially for American manufacturing. He lives and works in Iowa, deep in the heartland, and has worked most closely with investors and venture capitals in the Hawkeye State. What follows is part of our conversation about domestic manufacturing, the tech that can improve it even more, and why he is so passionate about industrial safety.
IW: This seems like such an interesting blend of manufacturing, technology and safety. What has the reaction been so far?
GG: One of the questions I had right out of the gate was, “Does any manufacturer want to know this data? As a factory owner, do you want to know this, or do you want plausible deniability?” The answer I got time and time again was, “Absolutely, we want to know, because at the end of the day, if something is a contributing factor to an accident, we’re going to be liable for it whether we’re measuring for it or not.” They’re interested in the long-term implications of gathering this kind of data. What can we learn about employee health and safety in the long term by looking back over this data and understanding what an employee was exposed to over the course of 10 or 15 or 20 years?
IW: You have always tied your businesses closely to some sort of technology, and this time around you’re incorporating perhaps the biggest tech in manufacturing: the Industrial Internet of Things.
GG: We’re talking about an industry in its infancy that will be worth something like $14 billion in four years. There are people focusing on a variety of different things. … It will be exciting to watch it develop. I see every industry embracing some type of wearable.
When you think about how much data an employee produces, or can produce, throughout their work day, and what that data can be used for to help improve processes or workplace safety, it seems almost like a no-brainer to implement — whether or not we understand now everything the data can do. Just gathering that data will prove useful, helpful and valuable. The company that has that data, versus the company that doesn’t, will likely have a higher value.
IW: This venture is so different from your others, if only because, as you said earlier, you’re manufacturing a physical object. What are some of the challenges you’ve worked through this time that you hadn’t earlier?
GG: Any time you take on outside capital, it changes the strategy a little bit. There’s an expectation of a return in a short period of time. You look to grow smartly, but also to scale and grow as quickly as possible. A big part of that is understanding distribution and product distribution, and we’ve made some significant headway there.
I recently attended a conference with 51 of the largest safety equipment distributors in North America. Our board wanted to gain interest from maybe 10%. Instead, 49 signed up. It was just crazy. It was also validation that the industry is starving for something like this. They see this is as the future of manufacturing safety, and safety in general.
IW: Any pushback? Not everybody might want a wearable on them eight or 10 or 12 hours a day, if only to avoid personal data collection.
GG: We’ve been very careful to make our products less about the employee right now. We’re not intending to track health-related data — heart, stress, things like that, HIPAA-covered data. Our goal is to solve two problems: Understanding the organic environments around the employees and what could potentially lead to or contribute to workplace accidents, and automating and streamlining the near-miss reporting process.
IW: You expect to start pilot programs later this year and to launch the product in early 2018. What are your goals for the first couple of quarters or year?
GG: We’ve actually discovered some things just from our beta customers that we weren’t thinking about. We were hyper-focused on safety and one of our customers came to us and said, “Because you’re tracking location of people, that gives us a powerful insight into work paths and work flow, which is helpful for us as a lean manufacturer.” Seeing whether somebody travels from one end of the facility to the other five times in a shift, how do you eliminate that path so they can stay at one work station and be more productive?
We’re learning productivity efficiency from our beta customers. Another customer talked to us about the ability to have employees use the device to report work-quality issues. That was something we hadn’t thought about. You have this safety pool that is also helping to provide quality and efficiency improvements. The data we’re gathering can help safety managers understand trends.
IW: What has the move back to an industrial space been like?
GG: My previous company, the software company, did a fair amount of work for manufacturing and trade industries, taking legacy systems and upgrading them to new software, or taking something in-house and putting it on a tablet. I’ve had opportunities to touch manufacturing for years and build up all of these relationships that I’m finally getting to tap into in a totally new way.
I don’t see myself getting very far out of this industry. I believe a lot in it. It’s a huge part of our economy — it’s a huge part of the Midwest — and we have to continue to find ways to make these facilities safer and more efficient. There are other areas in manufacturing that can be touched and improved with technology.