WMU student envisions fully autonomous machine shop

Thinking Highways
By Thinking Highways July 13, 2016 18:53

WMU student envisions fully autonomous machine shop


As manufacturers turn to automation and robotics to speed production and increase efficiencies, one soon-to-be graduate of Western Michigan University aims to bring that technology to machine shops. 

Dallas Chase formed Richland-based Artificially Intelligent Machineshop Inc. in May with the mission of designing and manufacturing custom automation equipment to improve the speed at which machine shops deliver parts to their customers. 

“Just the lag times there for manufacturing plants to get their parts hinders them to grow rapidly,” Chase said. “We are designing machines and robotic systems that are capable of creating the same high-quality parts, (but) they will just be able to do it much faster.”

Chase hopes to decrease lead times by as much as five weeks with his technology, which he says will blend customized manufacturing capabilities with high-volume production. 

Artificially Intelligent’s first design will focus on machining raw aluminum extrusions for use by manufacturers. The company’s 44-foot machine will cut the extrusion to length, drill the material and tap the ends so it can be used by the manufacturer. The key to the machine lies in its flexibility to handle different sizes and lengths of extrusions without needing to be reprogrammed each time, Chase said.

Once the programming side is developed, Chase plans to integrate the technology into machines specializing in other machining operations. 

Ultimately, Chase hopes to grow the business into a standalone shop specializing in automated machining, but he wanted to begin in a niche area as a shield from the highly competitive industry. 

“We’re starting out, rather than entering into this competitive machine shop market, to help those that already exist in this market,” he said. 

Artificially Intelligent partnered with several undisclosed firms in the automotive and manufacturing industries to develop the prototype, Chase said. He hopes that these initial partnerships will yield contracts or further investment down the road. 

“It could be a very interesting relationship and could evolve in many ways,” Chase said. 

CULTIVATING INVESTMENT 

Key to Artificially Intelligent’s development is a $20,000 investment the company won throughMichigan State University’s Conquer Business Accelerator program. Artificially Intelligent received the investment in exchange for a 5-percent equity stake in the company and will participate in a 10-week program that connects Chase with mentors.

The initial MSU investment likely will carry Artificially Intelligent through its prototype stage and help the company prospect for customers, Chase said. 

As the company moves into the commercialization phase, Chase hopes to attract additional outside investments from venture capital firms or angel investors. 

In the meantime, he’s enlisted four electrical engineering students from WMU as interns to help bring the product through the prototyping stage and into commercialization. The internship will double as the students’ senior design projects.

The market for automated industrial equipment has increased steadily as more companies invest in the technology to improve their efficiencies. Projections call for manufacturers to purchase $9 billion worth of automation equipment in 2021, according to the Freedonia Group, an Ohio-based market research firm. Sales of industrial automation equipment reached $1.6 billion in 2014, according to data from the International Federation of Robots

That’s led to a period of expansion for the industry, including firms in West Michigan. 

Locally, Holland-based JR Automation Technologies LLC announced plans in late June for a $5.6 million expansion project as a result of growing interest in automation equipment, as MiBiz first reported. The manufacturer of custom automation equipment plans to hire 250 additional workers as a result of the expansion. 

A ‘LIFELONG ENGINEER’

A self described “lifelong engineer,” Chase said his interest in robotics and engineering began at an early age when he started modifying remote-controlled cars, eventually advancing to work on older vehicles in high school. 

However, Chase’s inspiration for Artificially Intelligent came after a summer 2015 internship withTesla Motors working in the electric automaker’s powertrain manufacturing division. 

“It was really after coming out of that and at the end of that internship that I really set off on this mission to help manufacturing companies ramp up and scale and grow faster,” he said. “That’s where the idea for (my company) came from.” 

Chase will graduate this fall from WMU with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. 

In addition to working with Tesla, Chase has also interned with DENSO Corp. in Battle Creek and has developed two applications for sale in the iTunes App Store.

Beyond helping machine shops turn over projects faster, Chase also believes his technology will help new manufacturers start their operations quickly and with less overall capital investment. 

“I really think this technology we’re developing can help new manufacturing companies get off the ground much faster,” he said. “It’s really hard to start a manufacturing company, and I think our technology will ease the burden of starting new manufacturing companies, especially in the Michigan area.”  

Made in Michigan: Entrepreneur Dallas Chase formed Richland-based Artificially Intelligent Machineshop Inc. earlier this year to capitalize on the growing push by manufacturers to use automated equipment. The Western Michigan University mechanical engineering student is currently in the prototype phase for an automated aluminum extrusion machine that he says could help decrease lead times by as much as five weeks. Artificially Intelligent received a $20,000 investment from Michigan State University, and Chase hopes to attract additional investment from venture capital and angel investors following the prototyping stage. 

Thinking Highways
By Thinking Highways July 13, 2016 18:53