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Milwaukee Tool Opens New Technology Innovation Center in Chicago to Attract Engineering Talent


By
Morrie S. Goldman 

05.16.2022

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Milwaukee Tool, a leading developer of job-site solutions for construction trades worldwide, brought together its top engineering and design managers for an event to launch a new state-of-the-art Chicago engineering center. Located at Chicago’s historic Old Post Office redevelopment, the location will focus on engineering design for disruptive innovations. With space to house over 250 employees, the facility already has 75 onboard. But the real story is the company’s vision for the future.

The kickoff address by group president Steven P. Richman outlined how Milwaukee Tool has, in the past 15 years, transformed itself into a technology-driven solution provider for major construction trades. Richman made a point of explaining that Milwaukee Tool views itself as a technology company: “We’re not a power tool company; we are a company that supplies better solutions for our users.” While most people might associate the Milwaukee name with power tools, it also manufactures technically advanced outdoor power products, accessories, and precision hand tools.

With a variety of facilities in Wisconsin and worldwide, why expand to Chicago now? Richman was direct: “It really comes down to one thing, and that’s attracting and retaining the best people in the industry. That’s the only way that we can continue to flourish.”

Milwaukee Tool’s approach to doing that has been a magnet for attracting top talent. While there is a lot of talk about the company’s technology resources and employee benefits program, Milwaukee is especially proud of the culture that has been created.

A company transformed

Richman explained that before the transformation began, the company was overshadowed by much larger competitors that tried to be all things to all people. Milwaukee couldn’t follow that model, so one of the toughest choices was deciding what users not to serve. Ultimately, the focus fell on targeting the needs of users in the professional trades: construction, electrical, and plumbing in markets requiring heavy-duty, performance-driven solutions. A decision was made to take a much more strategic approach to plan new product development. “Key points were to focus on our customers,” said Richman. “If we could understand that user from the time they got up until the time they went to bed at night, we could change the game by being responsive to their needs. We could drive their productivity and safety on the job by leveraging technology in ways that they had never seen before. In the process, we could transform a company that was not growing into one having the ability to grow 20% or more per year.” The goal was to deliver “radical solutions” that would drive productivity and safety. The strategy of pushing to create disruptive innovation set Milwaukee Tool apart from the competition. With the right people and technology, the company developed speed and agility that larger competitors couldn’t match.

Teams were established to recruit, retain, and invest in the best people and offer bright career opportunities for them in every single discipline. What Milwaukee Tool offers matches well with what a sampling of engineers answered would be “the most important factors in your career.” In a 2021 GlobalSpec research report, 74% identified “interesting work/projects” as their top attraction. That was followed by good work/life balance, learning, respect, compensation, growth potential, autonomy/ownership over projects, and working for an industry leader. In interviews with engineers and other employees, the same general points were mentioned as the benefits of working for Milwaukee Tool. There is no question that the projects are interesting, as engineers are encouraged to do whatever it takes to design and develop breakthrough solutions. With over 100 new product introductions in a typical year across the four major product categories, there are always new projects starting.

The company culture was also mentioned frequently in talks with employees. That culture includes a “one team” mentality, with personnel in different locations effectively working together to achieve success. It often included flexibility in where to work, the opportunity to be respected for any project input, being part of a team, and having the resources to get the job done. Andy Gongola, senior VP of design and engineering for the Hand Tool Division Business Unit, described how the company backs engineers: “In pursuit of creating the best possible product, Milwaukee Tool offers engineers almost unlimited resources for education and equipment. We’re not afraid to make an investment in people.”

Products that push the limits of technology

With artificial intelligence, Bluetooth connectivity, inertial-measurement–unit sensors, and advanced power management circuitry, some of Milwaukee’s power tools are among the most advanced on the planet. And some of the same tech innovations that have been developed are finding their way into job site safety (PPE) accessories and outdoor power products.

On the power tool side, cordless tools on the company’s M12™ and M18™ Systems have equaled or exceeded the capabilities of corded power tools. And the MX FUEL™ Equipment System is bringing even higher power, with a goal of replacing larger, higher-power tools and equipment.

Rick Gray, executive VP of outdoor power equipment and channel marketing, provided event attendees with insights into the company’s product lines and direction. “Technology now enables us to solve user frustrations that otherwise would have gone as unmet needs,” he said. “Whether we’re trying to solve an issue with user error or we’re trying to bring a productivity solution for an external environment, like noise pollution or emissions, every day we are pushing the boundaries of what our tools can do.”

A core technology for Milwaukee is the power pack that brings life to the tool. It’s also an area that many competitors look at as an outsourced afterthought. Gray expanded: “Batteries are the heart and soul of everything that we do at Milwaukee Tool. In fact, we have over 100 million battery packs in the market today that are forward- and backward-compatible with all our systems. Now, what does that mean? When you buy a drill today, it will work with the battery that you bought 15 years ago. And if you bought a new battery today, it would work with the drill that you bought 15 years ago. None of our competitors have a compatibility system that’s anywhere close to what we have.”

In part, because of the reputation that Milwaukee has built among its customers, the bar is set high for customer satisfaction. “Our packs have to be the toughest, most reliable packs in the market,” said Gray. “Plumbers, electricians, and contractors work in some of the most demanding environments you’ve ever seen. Our packs must work in North Dakota when it’s –20˚[F] outside. Our packs also have to work in Arizona when it’s 119 ˚[F] outside. They must be able to work with the vibration of a jackhammer, and they also have to survive a drop off of a workman’s ladder.”

Of course, motors are just as important as our batteries. Milwaukee Tool designs and manufactures all of its motors. Every tool has different size and speed requirements, so every motor is designed for a specific tool and application. And to protect the motors and tool users, AI-enabled sensors can instantly stop a tool when a potential safety problem or kickback is anticipated.

Another payoff of the company’s investment in technology is the ONE-KEY™ IoT system. One-Key™ brings together Bluetooth technology, crowdsourcing, and the cloud to create a powerful digital tool for users and their companies. End users can use One-Key™ software to customize such operating parameters as torque or maximum speed. Gray explained that One-Key™ can track the location of tools for inventory management and theft intervention. A missing tool can even be remotely disabled.

Surprising career opportunities

When exploring the available positions at Milwaukee Tool, it may look like the listings for a company involved in robotics or automotive technology. That’s partly why the company has been so effective at leapfrogging the competition’s technology. Brandon Verbrugge, VP of operations and engineering, described it this way: “If someone has experience with both mechanical systems and firmware, we’d love to talk to them. In recruiting students, we love to see involvement in such activities as robotic competitions or programs. That activity brings together skillsets that we need.”

The opportunities don’t stop there with open EE, ME, and software development positions. Learn more about career opportunities by visiting www.milwaukeetool.jobs.

About Milwaukee Tool

Firmly positioned as a leader, the company has more than 585,000 hours spent on job sites with users and more than 1,500 patents filed in the U.S. in the last decade. It has 10,000 U.S.-based employees.

First in the application of lithium-ion technology in power tools, Milwaukee couples the most capable electronic packages and advanced lithium-ion batteries (all designed and developed in-house) to its own brushless motors. It has now been a little more than a decade since the introduction of the revolutionary M12™ and M18™ platforms, and they are still the leading cordless power tool systems in the world, with more than 500 fully compatible solutions.

Milwaukee Tool is a global company, having design, manufacturing, distribution, and operation presences across North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The company has designed, engineered, and manufactured products in the United States for nearly 100 years.

In the last year, Milwaukee has invested $216 million in domestic expansion projects. Of that number, $14 million has gone into creating the Chicago facility. The 70,000-square-foot space includes a 10,000-square-foot lab. The lab includes 60 benches with test and measurement equipment for electronic circuit analysis and testing. New concepts can be prototyped and assembled. With on-site dynamometers for motor tests, capabilities for testing tools in functional applications, full ESD capabilities, and multiple thermo chambers, the lab allows detailed performance evaluations of new designs.






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