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October 27, 2023

Five Iowa manufacturers embrace advanced technologies to enhance operations

Iowa manufacturers are embracing a fourth industrial revolution that is ushering in a new era of smart technology and automation. To help the state’s smaller manufacturers adapt and remain globally competitive, Iowa put in place a Manufacturing 4.0 initiative, which includes grants to purchase collaborative robots, robotic cutters, laser welders and other cutting-edge technology that manufacturers need to remain a viable part of the supply chain. These five Iowa companies are embracing technological advances to boost their productivity and support the state’s top industry.

Bruin Manufacturing
Try to remember the last time you used a plastic fastener, cap, lid, container, buckle, etc. Though small components of a larger product, their production is no simple task. Companies like Bruin Manufacturing are striving to create such pieces as affordably and efficiently as possible using advanced technology.

Family-owned since 1949, Bruin Manufacturing continues its legacy of producing precision plastic components from their homebase in Marshalltown. They received Manufacturing 4.0 grants to purchase a collaborative robot (cobot) and conveyor to enhance their approach to plastic injection molding. Employees can spend more time focusing on customers’ needs while the cobot removes over 1,200 hours of manual labor running unattended 24 hours/day. As a result, they’ve seen a cost reduction of over $40,000.

“We strive to lead the way in innovation in the injection molding industry, and this grant was a huge help in keeping us on track to remain a leader,” a representative for Bruin said.

Sky Factory
Imagine waiting in a doctor’s office and, instead of sitting among white walls and fluorescent lights, you see expansive blue skies with drifting clouds and lush greenery. Sky Factory makes such an experience possible, specializing in creating virtual light solutions that upgrade the aesthetic of traditionally drab commercial spaces. Founded in 2002, the Fairfield-based company is recognized as the only designer of evidence-based virtual skylights, windows and aquariums. 

While Sky Factory’s mission is to help their clients maximize their space, the company also seeks to maximize their product and processes. With assistance from a Manufacturing 4.0 grant, the company purchased an upgraded pick-and-place machine and conveyor system. This equipment works together to automate the process of taking different electric components and placing them on an electrical circuit board then soldering them into place. As a process that used to be completed manually, its automation freed up the operator to work in other capacities, increased production speed and reduced waste.  

“Being able to remove a manual step in the process means it will take us less time to get to the same place with an even higher quality result,” CEO Skye Witherspoon said. “We are now able to train our employees to do more advanced manufacturing, allowing them to build new skills.”

Positech Corporation
It would be near impossible – and highly inefficient – for manufacturing companies to have their workforce manually lift and place a 75+-pound truck tire or a 150-pound steel plate during production. That’s where Positech Corporation comes in. The supplier reduces the manual labor and danger surrounding such tasks by producing the industry’s largest selection of custom and pre-engineered industrial manipulators and lift assists. These products are designed, customized and tested inside their 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Laurens and are sourced to Fortune 500 companies such as Caterpillar, Cooper Tire and more.

After receiving a Manufacturing 4.0 grant, Positech purchased a flame cutter to cut parts from sheets of steel, which helped to overcome a major constraint in the manufacturing process. This new technology dramatically increased their throughput with an increase in process speeds of up to 25%, while also reducing the overall amount of scrap and material waste.

Trinity Fabricators
When looking at Trinity Fabricators, some may wonder how the structural steel manufacturer produces upwards of 100,000 pounds of steel each day with only nine employees. The answer lies within the power of technology.

Located in New Albin, the family-owned business is known for its role in large-scale building construction projects. The company has many well-recognized customers, but most notably serves as the sole manufacturer of structural steel beams for Kum & Go convenience stores. These partnerships are the result of the company’s efficiency using technology like a CNC plasma cutter, which Trinity purchased with the help of a Manufacturing 4.0 grant. This piece of technology measures and cuts plate steel with higher precision and allows the company’s small group of employees of do alternative skilled work. Though they estimated a 12-15% increase in productivity, the company was delighted to see an actual 35-40% increase in the first two months of its implementation. 

“What we have been able to do with increased technology and great fabricators is really something special,” Mike Verdon, president of Trinity Fabricators, said.

Molded Products
When passing through Harlan, you might never suspect that the rural community is home to one of the nation’s leading precision machining component manufacturers. Inside a nondescript building, Molded Products specializes in custom injection molding services for the healthcare industry, manufacturing over 200 dialysis products. The company also uses their expertise in precision plastic and metal molding and machining create solutions for customers across industries, including electronics, agriculture, automotive and more.

To produce state-of-the-art components, they need to maintain state-of-the-art equipment and technology. With expansions in their service offerings, the company looked to automation. With the help of a Manufacturing 4.0 grant, they purchased equipment to increase processing, decrease scrap materials and control their high-quality standards. The employees also received a benefit in new training opportunities. After implementation, the company saw their production time decrease by half.

To learn more about Iowa's Manufacturing 4.0 Initiative, visit