Constructing a manufacturing facility is a complex project that requires discipline, preparedness, and forward-thinking. Companies that are building, expanding, or updating a manufacturing plant must arm themselves with data and technology that keeps the project’s multiple moving parts tightly connected.
Mike Mehrwin, a Technical Solutions Executive at Autodesk, worked on manufacturing projects for various industries, including automotive, consumer packaged goods, and more. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience in project development and management, plus he has a firm grasp of how to leverage technology to improve efficiency and outcomes.
We caught up with Mike and asked him to discuss what it takes to build manufacturing facilities and how construction companies can overcome the challenges that come with these projects. Check out what he has to say below.
I went to school to be a band director, but I decided that wasn’t going to be a sustainable career for me, so I shifted to drafting. I went to drafting school in 1999 and learned AutoCAD. Then, I started my career as a drafter for a structural department in an engineering firm.
From there, I moved up the ranks to become a project manager, and that’s when I learned about construction technology and I became the guy who could figure out how to do things that other people couldn’t.
My last role before Autodesk involved an opportunity for me to build a technology program for construction at a well-established engineering and construction firm, CRB. It was a crossroads moment decision for me. I either wanted to finish out at one of the largest firms in Kansas City and in the world, Black & Veatch, or take an opportunity to start something from scratch.
II found the latter to be really appealing and throughout that experience, I learned a great deal about technology — how we can interact with it as well as what worked and what didn’t. I made some big strides, particularly in the construction technology space, and that involved using Autodesk Construction Solutions.
And that’s where my unique perspective comes in at Autodesk; I’ve been using tools like PlanGrid, BIM 360, and BuildingConnected for years even before they were all part of one company.
Back in the day, my first experience with manufacturing was an internship for drafting. I took an internship with an engineering firm that was responsible for updating the assembly lines at the Ford Claycomo Plant in Kansas City.
My job was to work on updates to a manufacturing line for vehicles. That was a fun experience because I got to do the drafting and I worked with AutoCAD, but I also got to go onto the floor and I saw how these things looked in real life.
That was my first experience on the manufacturing side. In between that, I moved on through some different engineering and architectural activities, and in my last role, one of our core business units was manufacturing construction.
We helped construct a number of different manufacturing facilities. The team I built worked hand-in-hand with our field teams to provide coordination and technology to help them get the jobs done faster and easier. We had a lot of opportunities to leverage technology, to help get those jobs done faster.
I was also responsible for managing the technology and coordination on an award-winning Mushroom Fermentation Production Plant in Aurora, Colorado.
I did a number of things in the pet food world, and learned a lot, not just in terms of how technology helps us deliver projects faster, but I also got a better understanding of some of the magic that goes into manufacturing all these different products.
Now I’m here at Autodesk, things have come full circle. I work with various manufacturing customers — from a household goods company to some of the largest automakers in the world.
One of the biggest challenges is that a manufacturing project is never really done. There’s always going to be updates and changes. Sometimes that could mean changing or adding to the project. Maybe you’re doing a whole new product. In some cases, the manufacturing process is updated. These projects never end.
And these challenges really show up when we closeout a project. People get so close to the finish line, and then we just can’t get it all the way, and so we lose a lot of information and data in the process.
In the manufacturing world, that’s dangerous and terrible, because if you get to the end but you don’t really button everything up, you’re going to run into problems when you decide to open that file back up six months down the road. Without accurate and complete information, you might have to do a lot of cleanup and recreate data which is costly and time consuming.
I see this as one of the largest challenges in manufacturing. I know we’re worried about budget and schedules, and sometimes these constraints make it difficult to take care of data. But it’s critical for us to make time for that.
The role of technology in manufacturing is what we’re really emphasizing here at Autodesk. We’re challenging the concept that Autodesk is just a preconstruction or design company. In reality, we’re becoming more of a data company and we’re helping construction professionals better manage their data.
In manufacturing, having a common data environment — i.e., a place where you can get all the latest information — is crucial. That way, you’re not chasing hard drives or dealing with piles of paper. Instead, you have a single source of truth that you can rely on if and when you need to retrieve or use any information whatsoever.
It’s exciting to see that manufacturing facilities are increasingly thinking about how they can use technology to take care of their data.
We talk about how building information modeling (BIM) is becoming less about the “M” and more about the “I,” which is information.
It’s great to see manufacturers and owners beginning to understand that the real intellectual property that they have is their information. They’re thinking about how they can leverage and protect it.
And I’m excited to see Autodesk — which already has a strong foundation in this industry — take on this challenge.
Over the last few years, I’ve been very interested in where construction and manufacturing are going. I think we’re heading more towards digitization and optimization of how we work. I’m excited to be a part of that transformation, and that’s why I’m here.
This is such an exciting time for us because it really is one of the last few frontiers that we can explore.