Running the Race of Innovation

Executive Viewpoint
karen norheim

It can be so tempting to chase after shiny objects.

But at American Crane & Equipment Corporation, we know that before we can run, we have to walk. And before we can walk, we need to crawl.

Back in 2019, we made the first movement toward integrating the technology of the future with what we’re doing today. We felt if we were going to be a cutting-edge business in the overhead lifting market, we also needed to make sure we were on the cutting edge of the technology that was happening and know how it could relate to our equipment and our customers. My background is in business and technology, so this was exciting. It became a priority. We created an Innovation Lab to explore the possibilities.

We brought in cross-functional teams. We assembled people from our manufacturing floor, our service department and our engineering group, and put an individual in place as the leader. I kicked them off by giving them a budget and a few different ideas for initiatives. I also gave them tools such as virtual reality and augmented reality headsets. And I said, “Go forth into this white space and see what you can create!” Their involvement became part of their workflow rather than an add-on. We allowed them to get together and create without some of the usual workday constraints like regular meetings. Basically, we let awesome people be awesome.

It’s been fantastic. The Innovation Lab has grown several internal innovations that directly apply to how we do things. This year, we’re running at full speed. We have introduced the ACECO Smart Crane System and MachineHealth IoT offerings, straight from the lab.

This all began because I knew we had great brain power in our company. So, I started to ask, “How do we tap into this knowledge that people have in different areas and pull it all together?”

The first thing we really leaned into was the Internet of Things. In simplest terms, this is when equipment or other objects have sensors and software that allow them to connect with other objects so they can exchange important information. This emerging technology carries a lot of potential, and we wanted to figure out how we might integrate it into our overhead lifting capabilities. The team at the Innovation Lab got to work. They embarked on a new adventure.

We knew that we wanted to offer something that reliably worked. We wanted it to be very easy to use, and we wanted it to provide very quick functionality. We ended up with something that helps with remote monitoring, predictive maintenance and diagnostics. It provides real-time notifications for users, and it connects with other industrial equipment, too. Ultimately, it helps reduce downtime. And it does so through a one-way data flow, so we minimize the cybersecurity risk. There are even event-based communications, so if something happens, alerts can be sent through email or text. That means the right people get the right information at the right time.

In some ways, our IoT solutions and open infrastructure were a natural progression. As a manufacturer, we’re used to creating customized solutions. Most of what we build is customized, and we work hard to deliver products that are right for the individual applications of our customers. We can do the same with this system. We can customize it and scale it crane-to-crane, where we manufactured the equipment or someone else did. That allows for scalability.

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