Martin Cloake is the CEO of Raven.ai, a company that delivers transformational improvement to global manufacturers by guiding front-line workers to take smarter steps on the plant floor with real-time insights from complete and accurate data.
He is also the co-founder and host of Industry 4.0 Club.
Cloake is an experienced executive and award-winning technology entrepreneur with a background in manufacturing, data science, IP, and operations management.
Cloake, a graduate of McGill University, holds various patents and is a mechanical engineer.
How did you get to become an expert in your key topics?
Cloake began developing his expertise at McGill University, where he studied mechanical engineering and minored in business.
He started his career during the telecom boom of the early 2000s. However, the dot-com bubble burst, and he was then recruited by Blinds To Go, a Montreal-based custom blinds manufacturer. At the time, Blinds To Go was a traditional company but had decided to adopt modern manufacturing practices. To do so, they recruited talent from MIT, Harvard, Georgia Tech, McGill, Queen’s, Waterloo, Toyota, Dell, and GM. They also brought in A+ talent from manufacturing to leverage what they had built. Marrying world-class expertise in MFG with the dedication they already had to customers was an interesting combination.
During his time with Blinds To Go, Cloake worked in many positions and developed a wide base of valuable knowledge. Significantly, as Production Supervisor of the Venetian Blinds department, Cloake’s perspective on manufacturing was greatly affected by time spent on the shop floor.
He recognized that manufacturing wasn’t just about process optimization, i.e., collecting a magnitude of data and figuring out how to utilize it as efficiently as possible, but also about people management and the ability to solve all manners of problems.
Although it was clear to him that spending time on the shop floor was most effective, he often felt frustrated that he had to choose between analyzing data and being on the floor. Cloake’s time with Blinds To Go led him to understand that manufacturing thrives when process optimization and people management balance.
In 2007, Cloake left Blinds To Go and started his own consulting firm in Ottawa. He consulted for various local start-ups where he connected with many entrepreneurs. During this time he decided he could be an entrepreneur as well.
Cloake chose to correct the disconnect between data and the shop floor he experienced during his time with Blinds To Go early in his career. He realized that developing a way to analyze a manufacturing plant’s data which then also used the data to free up supervisors and engineers, allowing them to spend more time on the shop floor and less time jumping through data, is essential to future manufacturers. At the same time, he noted that people are incredibly effective at problem-solving but that people also need to stand in front of the right problem at the right time.
What sub-topics are you most passionate about?
Continuous Improvement: Continuous improvement happens when organizations are dedicated to collaborating to identify and solve problems. Data can help, but a culture of problem-solving needs to be there first. Problems can be solved without data. Data in itself does nothing.
The most successful companies are able to use data to accelerate the speed at which their problem solvers (people) identify and resolve problems.
Servant Leadership: In a manufacturing setting, servant leadership is the notion that if you’re not standing in front of a machine producing parts, you’re doing something to help the person who is. Servant leadership highlights the idea that technology is not supposed to make it easier for managers to do their work. It’s supposed to make it easier for people on the front lines to point managers in the right direction.
Combining people and technology to perform at higher levels: The idea that applying technology with human ingenuity, creativity, and people’s ability to collaborate creates an invaluable partnership that highlights the significance and importance of both people and technology.
What does that partnership look like in use?
To Cloake, a prime example of how technology should be used is exhibited in how people interact with a vehicle’s GPS. Most of the time, technology should be out of the way while occasionally providing users with concise insights and guidance, making the user far more efficient at their task. Technology should ultimately make being excellent at something easy.
Who influences you within these topics?
Cloake’s work philosophy has been influenced by renowned thinker W. Edwards Deming, an American engineer best known for his theory of profound knowledge (a management philosophy), the Deming Model of Quality Management, and his work in Japan following WWII.
Additionally, another significant influence on Cloake’s work has been Taiichi Ohno, a Japanese industrial engineer and businessman who developed the Toyota Production System and is recognized as the father of lean manufacturing.
Cloake notes that many of the best management practices developed by the industry’s thought leaders, such as Deming and Ohno, are still highly effective. From a technological perspective, it is exciting to find new technology that allows members of the manufacturing industry to follow through on the practices developed by thought leaders.
What challenges are brands facing in this space?
Cloake notes that many people have been digitizing manufacturing for decades, collecting data from machines, and trying to turn data into something of value. Since data wasn’t available in real-time for quite a while, one of the newest challenges is examining historical data, real-time data, and the effects these kinds of data have on operating efficiency. Historical data, predominantly delivered by occasional reports, has real-time limitations because these reports are compiled by parsing large amounts of expired data. These reports allow insights into the effects and outcomes of the actions taken in certain scenarios but do not enable real-time action. An additional issue that reports present is that it can be challenging to extract long-term trends and patterns without re-analyzing previous reports as new ones are generated.
However, real-time data is continuous and often largely consists of insignificant data with sporadic pieces of critical information. The challenge with this is identifying and extracting critical bits of information without the constant distraction of irrelevant data. The presentation of constant irrelevant data can be challenging for human operators who want to be informed immediately of issues with their machines without continual distraction.
The newest challenges facing the manufacturing industry are how to combine historical and real-time data, how to turn that data into actionable steps, and how to present this information to operators in a useful, unobtrusive way. Today, many technology companies offer solutions for manufacturers to collect and consolidate data and present that data to their operators. However, despite the advancements in digital manufacturing technologies, operator productivity has remained stagnant. While these solutions may effectively gather and analyze data, they are often displayed in forms like charts and graphs that don’t provide any meaningful, actionable insights to the operator. For many manufacturers, this makes it hard to determine what improvements or detriments the solution brings to their plant, resulting in a pause in the full rollout of a solution, something referred to in the industry as Pilot Purgatory.
What do you think the future holds in this space?
Currently, there is a disconnect between the manufacturer and other corporate departments like sales or marketing in the manufacturing space. As each department has unique independent goals, optimizations made to achieve one department’s goal can often lead to issues within other departments. For instance, if sales want to sell highly customized products, then additional machinery or production time may be required. This could cause manufacturing problems by creating a need for additional machinery to produce these new products.
The future of manufacturing will allow the data generated by the manufacturer to be shared across departments, thereby utilizing this data to achieve a common goal or set of goals.
By allowing the manufacturer and other departments – such as sales – to work closer together, utilizing shared data, manufacturing efficiency can be increased by enabling manufacturers to produce only what is needed, thereby reducing the need for stockpiles and lowering operational overhead and cost. Further improvements to efficiency could be made by building regional manufacturing plants, removing the reliance on large-scale overseas manufacturing, additionally reducing operational overhead.
What brands are leading the way in this space?
In Industry 4.0, there is not one brand currently leading the way in our space. Many companies offer pieces of the solution such as machine sensors and data management software.
Currently, there are challenges facing manufacturers who want to implement an industry 4.0 solution because many vendors only offer pieces rather than the entire package. That leaves the integration of these components up to the manufacturer, which is not always a trivial task and can create a large area of potential within our industry for a complete solution vendor like Raven.ai.
If a brand wanted to work with you, which activities would you be most interested in collaborating on?
Podcasts, webinars, whitepaper, speaking opportunities, product innovation & video interviews.
What are your passions outside of work?
Both inside of work and outside, Cloake is passionate about learning new things and competition. In the past, Cloake traveled internationally, competing in frisbee. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, he has taught himself pop-piano, longboarding and has recently taken on tennis as his newest self-challenge. His passion for overcoming obstacles and learning has guided Cloake and Raven.ai to accomplishing major milestones at an astounding pace.
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