Cost savings and agility: Idaho Steel's digital transformation triumph

Idaho Steel, a leading provider of food processing equipment, is transforming to a more digital way of manufacturing. They're in a cycle of implementing a range of best-of-breed solutions with the power of Ansys and Autodesk software, which has driven innovation and automation in real, measurable ways across their enterprise.
About Idaho Steel

Idaho Steel is a leading provider of food processing equipment. Beginning in 1918 as a small fabrication shop in downtown Idaho Falls, it’s now an internationally recognized expert in stainless steel fabrication and machining of food processing equipment. They are a diverse team of professionals including engineers, machinists, and welders creating state-of-the-art machines, such as the largest drum dryers ever created.

Industry: Food Processing Equipment
Location: Idaho Falls, Idaho

Idaho Steel is comprised of a group of smart engineers who like to self-discover and hone their process and technology solutions. They’ve been using Autodesk for 25+ years, starting with AutoCAD.  In 2019, consistent with their DIY culture, Idaho Steel introduced computers to the fabrication shop after learning how other manufacturers benefited from this practice. Despite concerns over the longevity of computers in an atmosphere rife with fabrication dust, shock, and other irritants, the employees on the floor loved having direct access to the blueprint. No more scattered papers. Digitization looked promising. 

More than just the shop floor, COVID forced Idaho Steel to reinvent how to communicate and collaborate more effectively company wide. The pandemic served as an accelerant to Idaho Steel’s inclination towards the adoption of technology. As the company emerged from the constraints of COVID, they experienced a boon in orders and production, and they knew digital transformation could provide a real opportunity to scale.  

Self-diagnosing the risk in their “farmer mentality,” they realized their team could benefit from the outside help of KETIV – a trusted partner in helping other manufacturers navigate their digital transformation journey.

The Challenges

Korey Danklefsen explains, “We’re always trying to push out more production and get more stuff done. We’re trying to find better ways to do that. Efficiency is a must.” While Idaho Steel prides themselves on being self-sufficient, born from their “farmer mentality”, they realized that, with help, they could move faster and more strategically on their transformation.

Retaining the best people

Some employees were exploiting the training and experience gained working at Idaho Steel to serve as a springboard to land jobs in a nearby government facility. Keeping long-term talent, improving collaboration between sales, engineering, and production—these elements of success became more critical.

Seeking greater scalability and efficiency

As a rapidly growing player in the potato equipment industry, the company continually sought new methods to scale their operations while maintaining efficiency. They wanted to optimize their processes and boost profitability, replicating the success they observed in other companies that had successfully followed digital transformation methods.

“To protect against a high turnover rate, we do have to be faster, and we must get better. Our employees want to get away from tedious daily work. They want to design cool things. They want to see it get built.”

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The Solution

Under the leadership of Idaho Steel’s Vice President of Engineering and Projects, Jim Huskinson, a new vision was carved out focusing on leveraging technology to enhance their workflows and meet customer demands. They collaborated with the KETIV team to implement various automation and software solutions and integrate them into their business systems and processes.

Idaho Steel followed an iterative approach to digital transformation, allowing them to develop new solutions, assess their return on investment, and secure further investment for subsequent phases.

Quick wins with automation

Through initial automation projects with crafted with KETIV, Idaho Steel uses Autodesk software to create virtual 3D designs, which shortens the product development timeline. These digital prototypes undergo rigorous testing in simulated environments using Ansys software, which enables early detection and resolution of design flaws. As a result, Idaho Steel has saved invaluable time and resources while elevating product quality. The project enabled Idaho Steel to resolve errors that, instead of spending multiple hours checking their work, would be resolved in less than an hour—these errors are brought to their attention automatically. Automation proved exponentially beneficial for use in all equipment, making it a “huge time saver on multiple levels.”

Deeper innovation with simulation

The team recognized that they could enhance their comprehension of on-site machinery usage and refine their design iterations through the incorporation of simulation. As part of their Better Together approach of using simulation to validate their Autodesk designs, they employed Ansys Fluent. This powerful fluid simulation software provides Idaho Steel with insight into how the flow of different fluids through their equipment impacts heat distribution of cooking, blanching, or cooling potatoes. It solves a diverse set of problems like optimizing the pneumatic transport of potato flakes, down to ensuring that the pipe fittings throughout their plant are secure, alleviating safety and stability concerns.

Outcomes achieved

Idaho Steels’ digital transformation initiatives initially impacted the production and engineering teams, with a focus on collecting small wins and adopting agile principles. Their transformation has resulted in significant cost savings. By leveraging the power of digital technologies, the company has streamlined operations and minimized its reliance on physical prototypes and real-world testing. These efficiencies have translated into notable cost reductions, which have helped Idaho Steel to maintain its profitability in a highly competitive market.

Quick error checking
The automated checking process identified potential errors and reduced the validation time by 75%. This time-saving measure was applicable across multiple equipment lines, providing substantial efficiency gains.
Advanced product validation
Ansys computational fluid dynamics (CFD) products helped Idaho Steel make and build things better and more efficiently. Virtualizing prototypes and tests create a virtuous loop where engineers can improve their strategies for making better products. Ansys fluids simulation not only shows fluid trends through the equipment but ensures stability in the overall plant.
An enhanced data thread
Idaho Steel’s transition from a slow, error-prone shared drive system to the implementation of Vault Basic and Vault Workgroup provided version control, data protection, and streamlined collaboration. The adoption of Vault Pro as their next maturity phase will ensure more complete, secure, and hassle-free access to data for the production team.
Greater adoption and employee retention
Early adopters at Idaho steel emboldened the more change-resistant individuals by witnessing the positive outcomes of the adopted solutions. The technology and efficiency is giving employees the freedom to do more valuable work, so that staying with Idaho Steel will be more compelling than going elsewhere.

“We want to be the best. We want the equipment for our customer to be exactly what they need, and how they need it, so that it makes their process the best process that they have.”

What’s next?

In collaboration with KETIV, Idaho Steel continues its commitment to excellence by adopting more cutting-edge technologies from Autodesk and Ansys to transform the product development process. They plan to carry this technology and process into the future, along with some choice upgrades.

Using the Autodesk Manufacturing and Design Collection and Advance Steel, Idaho Steel is working to optimize their workflows for building decking and stairs. They anticipate reduced workflow timelines as this solution is fully implemented.

Idaho Steel’s future involves plans to upgrade to Fluent Premium, which will better help Idaho Steel understand how air and oil flows through their products, they also have plans to implement Ansys’s materials simulation product, Ansys ROCKY, which illustrates the motion of granular material, not only fluid flow but how that fluid interacts with gases and surfaces.

The Idaho Steel team is collaborating across engineering, sales, and other departments within the organization, to explore methods to enhance their sales processes. And of course, they’ll continue building and delivering the precise equipment that their customers trust.

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Cost savings and agility: Idaho Steel's digital transformation triumph

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