Systems Integration that Puts People First

RedViking

Many organizations say they treat employees like family, but for RedViking that’s just part of doing systems integration better – from designing and building to manufacturing and test solutions, to creative solutions for all kinds of manufacturing problems.

What started out as a small integration firm almost 40 years ago has since blossomed into a larger systems integration and engineering firm today, with more than 200 employees in Michigan and Texas. Though its main niche is automated guided vehicles (AGVs) for heavy equipment manufacturers and dynamic test systems for helicopter transmissions, RedViking is committed to designing anything that goes into a manufacturing factory.

“We’ve really prided ourselves on being a diverse organization in the types of applications and things that we do,” says President and CEO Randy Brodzik. From information infrastructure and process design to final assembly and testing, RedViking designs and builds systems that increase efficiency, providing better flexibility and improving overall quality.

“Looking back, we see that as being a strength from an economic standpoint,” he says. “What’s going on around the world right now is a good example, where some industries are strong and other industries aren’t.”

RedViking not only creates plant-floor automation sites applications, with a significant AGV development group, but also specialized mixed-assembly systems, with a large dynamic test-systems group; is also involved in gearboxes and over the years has developed a software group.

“We have those three different business areas that the company’s involved in and has been over the years. At times those organizations or groups work together on a project, and other times they’re working on very separate applications and customers.”

With IMTS 2020 canceled due to COVID-19, RedViking misses the chance to unveil some of its more impressive new products, including its Argonaut platform, a software platform that is an outgrowth of about 30 years of work in the plant-floor information systems – or manufacturing execution systems – now known as MES. “We always like to say we were into MES before it was MES,” says Brodzik.

Into this, RedViking has integrated a number of applications, using Argonaut to monitor the health of its AGVs that are on the plant floor.

“We’re getting that information on your cellphone, too,” he says. “We’re continually trying to innovate and provide solutions for manufacturing that improve quality, making it better and making it faster. There are a lot of remote technologies that you can manage from an iPad or cellphone, and that’s especially important right now.”

With continuous development in the AGV line, RedViking has logged some significant accomplishments over the years, including the first AGV line at Caterpillar in North Carolina about eight years ago.

“It involved a fully assembled 60,000-pound excavator. We built the AGV, replacing the conveyor line. It was the first one that went in Caterpillar, the first of its size in the U.S., and it still runs great.”

The company’s achievements have earned it some impressive awards, many of which reflect RedViking’s company culture, says Brodzik. These include recognition as one of the Best and Brightest organizations for Wellness in Michigan for five years running and a place among Crain’s Detroit’s Coolest Places to Work in Michigan. As for individual awards, RedViking works hard to recognize its ‘engineering leaders under 40’, nominating different individuals on its staff for various accomplishments.

“Looking at an organization like ours, our biggest asset is our people,” he says. “We don’t have machines that make parts and churn things out, we don’t have a big investment in capital equipment; our investment is in our people. So we really strive to make this a place for people to want to be, because everyone has a choice to work where they want, right? I want RedViking to be a place where our team wants to be, I want them to be happy about being here.”

RedViking continually strives to provide that warm and satisfying ambience, coupled with the opportunity for giving back to the individual for a job done well, says Brodzik. “It’s important to me, but it’s important to the whole organization, and the whole leadership team.”

RedViking’s future includes continuing to grow and expand to the greatest extent possible, while productizing its offering in the AGVs. The company remains involved in a lot of custom solutions and custom engineering, but to be able to grow and compete, it needs to look at productizing and to standardize as much as possible.

“We’ve invested a lot of effort and time and money into doing that. We’re looking at our customer needs and we’re seeing a lot of requirements there, so our objective is to have at least three or four different classes of product AGVs to go to market with. So that’s one of several areas we’re looking at for continued growth.”

The Argonaut platform is also an outgrowth of a lot of work RedViking has done on plant-floor information systems. The company continues to develop additional modules centered around getting information from the plant floor, either on equipment or with OEE – operational equipment efficiency.

Getting that information to individuals who need it to improve efficiency is key, whether it’s info on how the equipment is running or on productivity rates and possible bottlenecks.

“We’re also trying to take that to industries outside of manufacturing, so we’re learning, as we go, about what important information we can gather from equipment on the floor and get into other systems,” says Brodzik. “One thing we’re looking at right now is data analytics, looking at some outside organizations that are focused very acutely on the analytic side, and we bring our strengths which is understanding the interface to the plant floor and getting data from that plant floor.”

The Argonaut platform is an area that RedViking sees as key to long-term growth for the organization, while on the dynamic test side, most of the growth over the past seven or eight years has been in helicopter MRO testing, looking at how to better address and better supply some of the MRO facilities. This involves maintenance, repair, and overhaul facilities across the United States that are in need of testing, but don’t necessarily have the deep pockets to purchase and build their own equipment.

RedViking has taken a lot of the work it has done in testing and development on the automotive side, and applied it to helicopter MRO testing at the Army depot in Corpus Christi, Texas. For instance, the company successfully condensed the operations of 20 machines that were up to 40 years old into five different machines, a major undertaking that allowed the company to almost double in size.

“We did things we didn’t know were possible and that we hadn’t done before. It firmly established us as a player in that helicopter MRO testing market,” says Brodzik. “Everything associated with that project was an obstacle, because it was a market we really hadn’t operated in the past. No one had ever done it before.”

Building up relationships with customers via complicated projects such as MRO testing is also key for RedViking, with its specialized work and services, leading to more than 90 percent repeat clients over the years.

“As much as we try to have that great relationship with our employees, we also really look to establish a strong relationship with our customers,” he says. “To the greatest extent possible we try to have a very collaborative relationship with them. And we’re very transparent about everything that’s going on. We run into problems at times, and the worst thing we can do is hide that from a customer, and we don’t. We have customers that will call us when they have an issue, and we will run to the fire.”

This commitment to relationships actually begins with the employees, says Brodzik. “I hate to sound clichéd, but we really do look at this as a family. We have had people with serious family problems, whether it’s been cancer or things of that nature, and we’ve given folks paid time off to take care of things that they need to in order to come back stronger. It’s the kind of thing we do. We look at this as family.”

The ongoing pandemic has presented its own challenges, particularly with regard to keeping everyone both safe and connected. As the company’s field of operation was deemed ‘essential’, it never shut down completely, but employees rotated in and out of the office for safety reasons. Sending daily emails and holding Zoom meetings to keep everyone in the loop and not missing out on the connectivity of the office setting was vital for Brodzik.

“Because we’ve limited the number of people that can be at the conference room, the only way they can get folks together is via a conference or video call. You need that video where you can see other people. It makes such a difference. It gives you another level of connectivity.”

While RedViking continues to keep the numbers of on-site employees down, Brodzik thinks it’s been very good to allow people to get back into the office and establish some level of normalcy during a truly challenging time.

“We refer to everyone here as Vikings, not as employees,” he says. “I refer to them as that or as team members. The passion that you feel for not only the company itself, but the people that are there, really comes through.”

RedViking’s upcoming milestones include the continued development of AGVS, and getting the Argonaut product to a state where the company brings in outside integrators to both sell it and install it. “For a product like that, our limitation in propagating it is our ability to integrate it in the field,” Brodzik says. “We only have so much manpower. If we do our job right and build the product right, we can greatly enhance the number of installations by finding other folks, and encouraging other folks to sell in and integrate it,” he shares.

“A huge milestone for me is to develop and get it to the point where I have organizations not associated with RedViking that are able to take it and integrate it.”

An Ounce of Prevention

While no one plans to get physically injured or exposed to dangerous working situations at their place of employment, getting hurt on the job is, unfortunately, a common occurrence. 2.8 million non-fatal workplace injuries were reported in 2019, as well as 888,220 nonfatal injuries and illnesses causing a private industry worker to miss at least one day of work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Preventing these types of injuries along with time missed — in fact, making a workplace as safe as possible — is imperative for all organizations. Unfortunately, the best of intentions don’t always lead to the best results.

Past Issues

May 15, 2021, 4:46 PM EDT