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Real-Time Mobile Messaging Keeps Factory Floors Humming

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

Manufacturing Engineering: Describe your company’s Squeaks communications software introduced at FABTECH.

Don Korfhage
CEO and Founder
IGear Online LLC
Louisville, KY

Don Korfhage: Launched in November 2016 at FABTECH, Squeaks is a mobile-first Industrial Internet of Things [IIoT] messaging app that facilitates quicker, better decision-making and closed-loop collaboration, with machines as part of the conversation. It integrates messaging across machines and personnel, and enables algorithms, rules and analysis to be applied across multiple data environments to formulate insights and prescriptive actions. This keeps front-line workers and management in the know on events driven by both simple conditional alerts, and complex event triggers, for improved responsiveness, ownership and accountability.

At FABTECH, we had stamping presses from Komatsu and robotic systems from Genesis Systems Group LLC communicating by ‘squeaking’ in real-time with human supervisors equipped with Apple Watches in the following scenarios: when raw material was running low or out; when help is needed, ie, requests for engineering and maintenance support; to relay real-time performance information such as strokes per minute, die height, tonnage, production target and pieces produced; to communicate operation modes—running, idle, faulted, and in instances of other critical alerts, such as die change, e-stops, and robot collisions.

ME: How critical is monitoring machines today in the age of the IIoT?

Korfhage: The Industrial Internet of Things has the potential to usher in a new wave of innovation and reinvention of manufacturing as we know it. But it’s also creating a data explosion, with some 20 billion connected devices expected by 2020. Manufacturers must rise above the ‘data deluge’ and make data actionable to improve decision making, collaboration and responsiveness.

Monitoring machines to harness and understand data can help manufacturers optimize performance and make critical decisions in real time. This includes using the data to formulate insights and prescriptive actions, as well as keeping front-line workers and management informed and improving responsiveness, ownership and accountability. Monitoring can also deliver improved uptime and overall equipment effectiveness [OEE], less scrap and rework and lower operating costs—not to mention enabling continuous improvement and heightened workforce engagement.

The density of robots and self-aware industrial control systems on the manufacturing floor continues to climb. According to the International Federation of Robotics, there were approximately 1.6 million operational industrial robots worldwide at the end of 2015. Getting machines and robots to be ‘team players’ and communicate effectively with their human manufacturing floor stewards is essential, as the demand for industrial robots has accelerated considerably due to the ongoing trend toward automation and the continued innovative technical improvements in industrial robots.

By making sense of business data quickly, manufacturers can understand opportunities and threats that must be addressed to support growth and profitability. Squeaks supports improved communication and a laser focus on what’s really critical on the factory floor, for improved business outcomes and competitive advantage.

ME: What are some advantages of your communications technology versus other factory monitoring deployed today?

Korfhage: There are many types of messaging in use in manufacturing today. All too often, people still rely on a big button or a pull cord to signal for maintenance or parts. And then that message goes out via a localized [limited to line of sight] flashing light or a beeping alarm—not the most precise way to communicate when the stakes of a line shutdown can be $10,000 per minute.

The IGear Squeaks mobile messaging alert system features real-time factory-floor messaging available on mobile devices.

Given today’s technology and the importance of keeping things running optimally on the factory floor, managers, workers, and even machines should be communicating with each other in real time, with a richer layer of information—with video, photos, and coded information.

Squeaks integrates all machine and human messaging to improve access and increase the velocity of information sharing. It also introduces ‘closed-loop communication.’ Rather than an alarm that goes out to whoever hears it, a specific message goes to a particular person or to a team for action. A specific individual can then respond to the notification and to take the issue on and own it. This increases accountability. There is no longer any confusion about who saw the light, or who should have seen the light, or whether the right report was made to the right person.

ME: How did the idea evolve for developing this system?

Korfhage: I developed the idea for Squeaks from watching my two millennial sons communicate with their teachers, coaches and friends—without saying a word—using mobile technologies and various messaging/collaboration apps. This communication, which started at school or a game, continued at home as they documented their work for review and uploaded it to the cloud for storage with everything date and time stamped. I found this interesting and relevant as manufacturers work to address the new realities of the millennial workforce, which will account for 75% of the global workforce by 2025.

By definition, a squeak is a ‘short, high-pitched sound or cry.’ In the manufacturing world, this translates into often overlooked sounds coming from machines warning of trouble—be it quality concerns or service needs. These noises are akin to be monsters or gremlins residing inside machines that cause mischief at the most inopportune time. They can also be troubling messages team members express when things are not going as planned.

ME: What types of costs are involved with this system?

Korfhage: Minimal requirements to get up and running are a dedicated server [$5000] and a Squeaks license of $10,000 for up to 25 users—unlimited data points/machines. Customer training is free. Bringing up a production line with 10-15 pieces of equipment and 50-100 alerts/squeaks and the monitoring of 20-30 key production metrics typically takes an engineer two to three days to configure.

ME: Manufacturers typically are looking for great productivity improvements. What’s the upside with this system?

Korfhage: Squeaks helps improve productivity by facilitating quicker and better decision-making. Also, when people and machines communicate as one and in real time, manufacturers benefit from improved uptime and overall equipment effectiveness [OEE]; Six-Sigma product quality resulting in less scrap and rework; lower operating costs [personnel, material management and flow, floor space utilization]; and continuous improvement and heightened workforce engagement.

ME: What companies have successfully deployed it [or tested it] so far, and what manufacturing industries can best leverage this type of technology?

Korfhage: Squeaks is ideal for supply chain and manufacturing operations—the automotive and logistics sectors are sweet spots for us. Squeaks is being used to detect production-line errors more quickly for greater time and cost savings for an auto parts manufacturer. Operations that fall outside of tight quality tolerances and specifications are caught immediately, reducing work-in-progress scrap. Machine performance is also monitored to squeak/trigger vital service and maintenance actions. And with an industrial machinery OEM, squeaks are sent out when a machine is down, a threshold has been crossed, or when raw material is running out. Assigned workers can claim the alert, share rich data such as photos and videos, ask questions, collaborate with equipment experts, and keep machines up and running more efficiently. The machine builder can also help prevent unplanned downtime by maintaining a real-time pulse on the equipment, remotely. Additionally, an international airport terminal is leveraging Squeaks to streamline communication around suspect bags with TSA inspectors. Downtime has been reduced through greater ownership and accountability among maintenance personnel responsible for clearing conveyor jams and mitigating potential issues.


Metrology giant Hexagon AB (Nacka Strand, Sweden) announced it will buy simulation software developer MSC Software Corp. (Newport Beach, CA) for $834 million. The acquisition is Hexagon’s largest deal since it bought Intergraph in 2010 for $2.1 billion. Acquiring MSC gives Hexagon a strong foothold in the simulation market with MSC’s portfolio of computer-aided engineering (CAE) applications.

Hexagon’s plans call for MSC to run as an independent unit within the Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (MI) division, which focuses on automotive, aerospace, machinery, consumer electronics and other discrete manufacturing markets and is increasingly focused on offering end-to-end solutions in these workflows. Process-oriented solutions are essential for manufacturers, and MSC’s solutions address key design and engineering processes.

“MSC represents a game-changer in our mission to deliver actionable manufacturing intelligence, taking us another step closer to realizing our smart connected factory vision in discrete manufacturing industries such as automotive and aerospace,” said Hexagon President and CEO Ola Rollén.


Spring Technologies (Boston) announced it has added Spirit of Innovation Corp. (Mississauga, ON, Canada) as a reseller of its NCSimul software. The company’s NCSimul is a component of Spring’s Digital Workshop offering of CAD/CAM software and services, and is engineered to simulate, verify and optimize CNC machining programs as well as manage manufacturing data. Spirit of Innovation serves customers in the aerospace, defense, high technology, manufacturing and oil and gas industries.

Software Update is edited by Senior Editor Patrick Waurzyniak.

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