Mike Cromheecke has quite a story and opens up about his amazing journey through industry. He began his career at Rockwell and had the opportunity to travel the world supporting some of the most technical problems in industry. Mike had several great opportunities at Rockwell before he founded Steamchain.io As the CEO he is constantly searching for ways to create value for the clients he serves. He loves focusing on helping others achieve their desired results and creating clarity between everyone involved.
Mike does a great job of describing manufacturing and completely debunks the idea that it's a dirty industry. He lives in high-tech and advanced world of automation and can speak with authority on how bright the future truly is. To him engineering is the greatest profession and he's advocating that it gets the recognition it deserves.
Mike enjoys doing construction projects outside of work at his home. He's also a new dad and is loving every minute he gets with his son, Albert. Mike's learning guitar as well and is trying to add that skillset to his list of talents. As you hear Mike talk about his journey you'll quickly pick up on his passion. He's a phenomenal leader and is hands down an amazing hero of industry!
Guest: Mike Cromheecke, Co-Founder and CEO of SteamChain.io
Host: Chris Grainger
Executive Producer: Adam Sheets
Editor: Andi Thrower
My personal why. I like to build things, right? In all forms and functions. It's not about the fame, glory or money. Of course, those are nice. I like those too, but really it's about the sense of accomplishment when you create something where there once was nothing and to me, that is the why.
Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that keep America running. I'm your host, Chris Grainger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market, instead, we focus on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world.
So welcome EECO Asks Why today we have a hero conversation. I'm very excited to have with us. Mike Cromheecke, who is the founder and CEO at SteamChain. Welcome, Mike.
Hey, thanks Chris. Glad to be here.
Hey man. Absolutely. Now, where are you located?
We are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And what exactly for our listeners who may not know what SteamChain is?
SteamChain is the industry's first Machine-As-A-Service platform that helps OEMs and end-users collaborate on the deployment of advanced automation in a way that you're paying for the performance over the life cycle of the asset.
Okay, man. And for the listeners out there as well, there was an earlier episode on what is Machine-As-A-Service. Mike joined us with us there. So if you're hearing this hero episode and you haven't checked that one out, I encourage you to go back, check it out. He really breaks that topic down. Great for us and Mike, we love these hero conversations, man, just to get to know people. Hear their stories and we'd love to start them off with just by, by you telling us a little bit about your journey.
Oh, wow. Yeah, it's been an interesting ride, right? I've got 20 years plus now I guess, 21 years’ experience working in the industrial automation market. I like to call it the advanced manufacturing technology market.
I graduated from Michigan Tech for those here in the north woods. That's about as north, as you can get in the continental United States. Michigan's kind of an exclusive engineering university. So they've got a great legacy going back to the 1850s when they were the Michigan School of Mines back when that was the greatest copper producing region in the world. So I'm very passionate about my university. It's an interesting area of the country. If you get a chance to get there, it's beautiful up there.
I started with Rockwell Automation around about 2000 and I'm originally from Wisconsin, myself. So I grew up outside of Milwaukee. And of course, Rockwell Automation is headquartered globally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin also accompanies a long history, going back to the industrial revolution and the original invention of the carbon stack rheostat as a motor controller. So I spent 18 years working for those guys, living and working all over the country and all over the world. Traveled quite extensively early in my career, actually throughout my career. Spent time living and working in Europe. Spent a lot of time traveling throughout Asia Pacific. And of course, spend a lot of time in airplanes here in the US supporting some of the world's best machinery manufactures.
That's awesome. And so what was your role at Rockwell? What were you doing?
So I started off in a field service role where I was assigned to the serval robotic business. So I worked on behalf of the business and supported their install base globally. Mainly on, technical issues that were occurring at their customers, both end-users and machine builders.
And so often I was the guy that would fly in on the plane and when there was big problems and machines weren't working and diagnose the technical problems, but also manage the commercial situation that was an unbelievable way to learn the business because undoubtedly I was out there by myself representing Rockwell Automation. There was always a lot of friction between the end-user who's trying to operate the machinery and it's not working successfully and the OEM that built it.
And that's why they'd put me on a plane. And a lot of times those conversations were very heated. There's frustration when machines aren't doing what they're supposed to do, and there's a lot of blame. And so undoubtedly, the end-users thought it was all the OEMs problem and the OEM thought it was all the end-users problem.
And nobody wants to roll up their sleeves and get involved because they don't want to bear the cost of the solution. And so I was the bright-eyed, young kid out of college that would sit at the table with everybody and, read out the, my technical evaluation and the diagnosis for the parties and try to get them to collaborate and work together so that everybody could move the ball forward, which is to get the machine producing what it's supposed to produce. And so that was exciting. And literally, I was one of those guys who would pack a bag and go off to parts unknown. And before I got finished on that job, I'd get a phone call to go to some other place. And so it was lots of trains, planes, and automobiles.
Sounds like it man. So after that, is that, when you started SteamChain after that stint at Rockwell?
No, I did that for three years. And then I got involved in the business unit more directly. So as I learned the equipment, learn the customers. I began to take an interest in the business itself. I did a stint in product management helping to define the requirements of our technology to make it easier for customers to use. I went from that back to my technical roots, where I ran what Rockwell refers to as commercial engineering, which is the internal customer support mechanism to help design and deploy solutions for advanced machinery manufacturers.
So I led commercial engineering both in the US for a number of years. And then eventually I moved to Europe and ran their commercial engineering organization out of their European headquarters in Brussels. A team of about 50 engineers that supported all aspects of Rockwell technology from servo drives to push buttons and everything in between.
I went from that to business management. Where I was the general manager of their independent cart business, which is a function of multiple acquisitions and combination with their high-performance linear servo systems out of their red acquisition coupled with Jacob's Automation which was an acquisition where they got I-track and independent cart business, and also got involved in their acquisitions kind of MagneMotion to, expand that portfolio and build that into a sizeable business unit. So that was, kind of the culmination of my career at Rockwell.
I went from that to exploring. I began to take a strong interest in IoT and what was going on and how that technology was emerging and how that was going to roll out, which led directly to me founding SteamChain which was, we believe is a great argument for why you want connected machinery in the first place and the driver of the deployment of IoT technology in the market.
In between there, I forgot about one of my greatest passions, which is we built, myself and my co-founder at SteamChain, Tom Tichy, launched a program to build motion analyzer online. So for anybody out there that's involved in servo robotics you're probably familiar with Rockwell. Automation's a leading sizing and selection utility. There was a time that was all a downloadable executable software package that dated back to the mid-nineties. We completely rebuilt that from scratch as a cloud-based utility and that's how it's deployed now. And I think it's probably the best servo sizing and selection utility in the market.
Very cool, man. Well, thank you so much for walking us through your journey, buddy. And it sounds like you had some exciting roles where no day was the same. And even now at SteamChain, I'm sure you rolling with the punches, right?
Yeah. That's, you know, I kinda, I sign when I say it, but yeah, you know, you get what you choose and I've always liked kind of living on the edge and doing the things that are challenging and difficult and pushing the envelope. And I've taken it as far as founding my own company to really work on bleeding edge of technology and business models and innovation and new ways of doing things. So, I don't think I'd be satisfied just punching the clock anywhere. I think that's just in my personality, so it, it fits me, but yeah it can be exciting and no two days are the same.
That's it, buddy. Now you said a word back there challenging. So when you look at the industry, cause you're serving it in a big capacity at SteamChain, what are you seeing as some of the greatest challenges industry has in the future?
I think the figuring out how to more efficiently deploy automation is a critical imperative, not just for the people that are in manufacturing technology. Of course it benefits them.
I think it's a critical imperative for our entire country. To figure out how to sustainably execute manufacturing in a cost-effective way where, we can, again, build and create value for the companies that produce these products, create value for the consumers that are sustained by these products.
And to do that in a way that's, environmentally sound, well-managed, economical really requires technology and as much as I'm passionate about technology, I believe there's a lot of really interesting technology taking place in manufacturing right now. I think when you're an outsider to manufacturing, looking in you don't see manufacturing as an innovative industry. You don't look at it and say, "Hey, these guys are on the cutting edge and they're doing all this amazing new stuff."
Manufacturing looks like a follower. They look like you know, an adopter of proven technology in other industries that they then bring to manufacturing. I think that's okay. But I think we need to move faster because certainly other industries have moved substantially faster than manufacturing. When you walk through some of these old plants, especially in the US there's a lot of need for improvement in this country, in our manufacturing footprint. And it's such a major part of our economy.
So, I mean, If you want to speak to the leaders in manufacturing or give them advice of where they should be thinking about to get us to where you're, what you're describing, what advice would you offer?
You know, and I, by no means feel like I have the standing to set policy, but I do think, it needs to be policy that's driven by business leaders, in conjunction with our government, to be honest to make sure that we're really creating a plan for how we rebuild our infrastructure for manufacturing in this country.
I do think it's that important. And I do think that we need to figure out how to incentivize the investment in upgrading our technology and not just taking a hands-off approach and letting that continuously be offshored and shipped overseas. And to me that means automation.
That means automation. It means training the workforce for the jobs of the future. One of the biggest challenges. And I think everybody in the industry realizes it's the lack of skilled labor to support the technology that we need. That prevents a lot of investments in advanced automation.
It's not just, "Hey, I can buy a machine, but," I don't just need a machine. I need people that can help me get the most out of that machine to keep that machine running high availability, high throughput, et cetera, et cetera. So that I'm confident that the economics work. And that's a big part of the challenge.
That's why we at SteamChain, believe in this concept of Machine-As-A-Service. So you can begin to separate those things and deliver to traditional manufacturers, not just the machine, but the whole package of value to support that asset over its life cycle.
Yeah. Very good man. Well, when you think about, I love it. I love these conversations too. Cause they get to talk a little bit more about peoplewho've helped you grow in your career. Sounds like you've had a lot of influencers who have helped you along the way. Any mentor stand out to you that really jumped out and have helped you get to where you're at right now as the founder and CEO at SteamChain?
You know, my career has really been a history of mentors, and everybody that I've worked for and worked with, I've been able to take something away from. You know, I'd say, starting with my father. I grew up in the construction industry. My dad was a home builder and, the foreman on the crew and the crew that I worked on and so I learned a lot about working in that environment and building something. And I think to this day that's been probably the thing that pushed me down the road the right way but from there any number of great managers at Rockwell Automation that have really supported me in my goals and encourage me to think bigger. Whether that was Andy Wang or Marco Wishart or gosh I feel like I'd miss people but more recently.
A gentleman by the name of Joe Curgas who runs a startup accelerator called Generator. Brilliant individual. And he was the one that really helped me understand what it meant to start your own company. And so when you look at how I got to where I'm at.
I give a lot of credit to Joe and his entire team at Generator, who really helped coach me and give me the confidence to go out and do something, way outside the box. At least for a guy that spent 20 years in in a corporate environment, and in this industry to really look at this industry differently and think about what could be done if we took a different approach.
Very cool. So looks like you had some really good people that helped you along the way.
Very cool. So when you think about the industry in general and you touched on a little bit earlier, some people have certain perceptions of manufacturing or OEMs in general and they may not always be true. Are there any myths out there that you'd like to debunk at this point?
Yeah manufacturing, isn't a dirty industry. It's not the thing that you do when you have no other options. It can be the most high-tech, advanced, cutting-edge career choice you can make. And quite honestly, when you look at where the talent goes in the US I'm a big fan of Andrew Yang. If you read some of this books. I particularly liked Smart People Build Things, it talks about how our greatest talent really goes to industries and functions in jobs that don't do a lot of value add.
And not to pick on lawyers, but it's pretty easy target. Everybody wants to be a professional lawyer, but the people that actually move the ball forward in terms of economic growth in this country, are the people that build technology, build solutions, build machines, create more products, more economically solve the big problems.
So engineering to me is the greatest profession, but it's underappreciated. And not enough of our young people go into it. We need our best and brightest to be writing software, designing machines, mechanical, electrical, chemical engineering. And I think we, as a society need to recognize that.
In our best interests and that we need to encourage our best and brightest to go into those fields versus some of the other fields that are maybe perceived right now as more professional.
Absolutely. So Mike, thanks for really breaking some of those areas that are just wrong about their perceptions. So that was great. Now I am curious when you're at SteamChain and you're the happiest and things are going good. What are you doing in those moments?
We are creating value for our client. In both OEMs and end-users where we're helping them deliver results and creating clarity around the economic value of those results. And when everything's ticking we're looking at our dashboard and we're seeing the payments that are being made to those OEMs because those end-users are running their machine productively.
That's it. I love it, man. How about now you mentioned, I think it was part of that servo selection tool, any highlights that stand out on your career that you'd like to bring up?
I mean, I love motion analyzer. I love motion control cerebral robotic systems, right? From a technical perspective, I'm a mechanical engineer. So that, that made perfect sense to me. It's the electronic control of mechanical motion. I love everything about mechatronics, kinematics, et cetera, et cetera, dynamics and build a piece of software that was really just a thermodynamic solver for the electromechanical performance of a servo motor driving mechanical system was, you know, intellectually very interesting to me to do it in a way that supported our customers.
It made it more efficient for them to deploy advanced technology. It was just something I was and continue to be very passionate about. So I love all the guys, the different organizations that are involved and that the gearbox manufacturers, the linear motion guys, the Stovers and the Whittensteins and alpha and Shimpo and Tolomatic and XLR and, the list goes on and on. That ecosystem that you pulled together to make all this robotic machinery really perform at extraordinary speeds. And with extraordinary reliability. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to watch a great machine run.
There you go. That's awesome, man. Now we also love on these conversations, Mike, to talk a little bit outside of work. So how about hobbies, man? What do you enjoy doing for fun?
I gosh, I have, I think I have too many hobbies so, probably the biggest one for me that is kind a, love it and hate it hobby is I did grow up in a construction industry. I think I mentioned. And so, I have certain skills, I guess which lead me to think I can do everything by myself, which I attempt to do almost every weekend. To the consternation of my wonderful wife who did not grow up in that kind of environment.
So I'm constantly tinkering and building and remodeling and designing different things around the house. So I probably consume a lot of my time there. I've recently got into woodworking more, more directly so got myself a brand new planer or out in the garage and I'm building some countertops. So that kind of thing I spend a lot of time and energy on. I enjoy it quite a bit.
Now, what's your best woodworking project so far?
I remodeled our living room and I kinda gutted it, put in a brand new Walnut floor and tore down a partition. Moved a fireplace and put in a new fireplace unit and I bumped it out on the outside. So I put in a candle lever addition onto the house to move it to the sidewall and put in some new windows and put in a big, a nice wooden surround that I had my Amish craftsman build for me.
I do a lot of designing custom cabinets and I've got a great cabinet shop with some of the Amish folk here in Wisconsin that build some of the stuff I come up with, but I'm getting more into building that myself. So that kind of thing is always interesting to me.
Man. That's very cool, man. And it sounds like that's no small time projects so good stuff there.
It's a blessing and a curse, right? We have, we can do a lot of stuff and it creates a mess and noise and work, but I enjoy it.
That's right. How about your family? But we love on these episodes to just to learn about our heroes families, anything you'd like to share there?
Well, you know, I spent a lot of years on the road traveling for Rockwell Automation. I was a single guy for the vast majority of it. I actually met my wife at Rockwell Automation six, seven years ago. And we got married you know, three years ago.
This past year we had our first baby a little boy, Albert. Alby. So that's been, that's just been the greatest thing ever here this year. We've been in lockdown under this pandemic, but, we've enjoyed having a new baby at home and being able to spend a lot of time with him.
That's awesome, man. That is so great. So you said Albert, huh?
Yeah, Albert EE Cromheecke.
Okay, man. Congratulations buddy. A lot of fun times ahead. I'm sure.
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Now how about, we also just like to find out any podcasts or YouTube, books, things like that, that you enjoy? It could be personal stuff, or it could be stuff you know, from a professional standpoint that you'd like to share?
You know I've always been an avid reader. I tend towards history. I'm not a big believer in business books. My boss once assigned us all a business book to read, and it was a, it was called, Know Your Strengths. And I read the first chapter and it basically the premise was instead of trying to figure out what you're bad at and fix it figure out what you're good at and do more of it.
He said, what'd you think of the book? I said, I only read the first chapter. And I realized, I hate reading business books. So I'm no longer going to do that. And by the way, I'm never cleaning my office again. At which point he just, laughed at me like he usually does. And said yeah, whatever. All right. No more business books for Cromheecke but I do history books.
I really enjoyed Team of Rivals or the number of years back. And I thought it was an amazing story of leadership, Abraham Lincoln and how he built his cabinet. Not necessarily out of the people that supported him in his policies, but of the people that didn't. And how he used that to manage kind of a diverse set of interests and to give him flexibility as a leader and an understanding of who was good at what versus kind of having a one size fits all, everybody thinks the same way sort of leadership team.
I thought that was a great takeaway and could directly be translated to how to manage an organization. And so I generally found my inspiration for how to work within a team environment, not necessarily from business books, but from, history lessons, if you will. And so I enjoy things like that.
I think I mentioned Andrew Yang, Smart People Should Build Things. I thought that was an exceptional argument for why we need to focus in this country on investing in our young people and making sure they're getting trained for the jobs that our country needs and not just creating incentives for us to produce more lawyers of which we have way more than we'd ever need. And they're all trying to figure out how to feed their families and make lawyer salaries.
There you go.
Don't tell my lawyer, I said that.
Your secret's safe with us buddy. Now we've been doing something fun to call it lightening round. It helps our listeners learn a little bit about you as a person more. It's fun stuff, man. So if you're willing to play, we'll jump right in.
Cool, buddy. What's your favorite food?
I love all food, man. It's so hard to say. I love to cook. I'm going to say I've been perfecting my hamburger on the grill for the longest time. I'm going to go with the cheeseburger on the grill, Wisconsin style.
All right. Now how about what kind of adult beverage are you having with that burger?
You know, I like good beer. I live for a number of years in Brussels. Belgium is, the beer capital of the world. As far as I'm concerned. The Germans, they can keep what they got. I'll take Belgian beer any day of the week. And but specifically, I like Belgian sours and if I'm not drinking beer which I don't too often cause you know, look after my girlish figure. I'm a bourbon guy. I like drinking, drinking whiskey.
Okay. Very good. Now how about sports team?
Yeah okay. So I I'm from Wisconsin.
Got it. Enough said right?
Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers. I used to be more hardcore into football and later in life, I think I've gotten more interested in baseball, but when you're from Wisconsin, you root for the hometown team.
I got you. And you got the Bucks now, too, man. I mean.
We got the Bucks. I'm not a big basketball guy. I did have the pleasure of sitting on the floor. Was that year before last, which man was at an incredible experience, right on the half court line for the Bucks playing who were they playing? New Orleans, I believe that night. And this Giannis Antetokounmpo. What a spectacle to watch that guy play amazing physical gifts and he's incredible to watch.
And he's an incredible talent. No doubt. How about a favorite TV show?
Oh, you know what, I love the West Wing. That's an old TV show and I didn't watch it when it was on TV, but now with Netflix and everything, my wife and I, we turn that thing on and we watched every episode, sequentially, it seems every night we'd watch an hour of the West Wing and we watch nothing else until we were done with the whole thing.
Just loved it, thought the acting was great. Great talent in that show. A lot of exceptional actors definitely a great program, but there's so much good TV nowadays with all the new media with Netflix and Amazon and whatnot. So many good programs where it's really a golden age of TV in a lot of ways.
It is, bud. And how about tall time favorite movie?
Oh man. Cool Hand Luke.
Okay. My man. That's awesome. How about favorite music?
Favorite music I'm I've got wide musical appetite. The one I'm going to, I'm going to recognize here today because he passed away from COVID this past year is John Prine. John Prine probably speaks to me more than any other artist. But I'm also a big Bob Dylan fan. I love John Hyatt and anything kind of Americana, folk traditional American music. I'm very much into old-school country. That's really, my that's really my favorite.
And I see a few guitars behind you. So do you play as well?
So this is a new phenomenon. I bought my first guitar last winter as I was struggling with what we struggle here in Wisconsin when you're stuck at home in February and don't have anything to do. And I knew my baby boy was on the way and I thought, wouldn't it be cool if I could play him some nursery rhymes?
I bought myself a guitar on a whim one day and I've been playing it every day since because we're stuck in quarantine and that's what we do at night. I've been reading music books and learning. This is something I never appreciated. I'd never was really exposed to it.
I never had an appreciation for music but it's such a technical field. There's so much to learn and it, in a way it connects with my engineering mindset. So I've been studying music theory and also working on the mechanics and trying to figure out how to make the right noises. And, I'm no good at it, but it gives me a lot of pleasure and I get better everyday.
That's awesome, man. That's awesome to keep playing buddy. Last one. How about no I have guitars and I know enough to play some basic chords and have some fun with it, but my wife, she's the musician. She plays piano. And so if I want to actually hear good music, I just ask her to go play some music for me.
I have such a respect in regard for people that really. I actually took the time to learn music. I never realized how complex it can be. It's way more than I thought it was.
She can look at a sheet of music and just, yeah, I got it. So I handed her my Lynyrd Skynyrd book. I'm like here, can you play anything here? So, Oh yeah, here you go. I'm like, all right. I officially love you even more now, but...
How about pets man, dogs? Cats? What do you have?
I well, I have the world's best dog. That's not just my opinion. That's an objective fact. His name is Butternut. He's a golden doodle and man, that dog literally would stop traffic when he was a puppy. People would stop their cars in the middle of the road and get out to come play with the puppy in our local community here in the Northern suburbs of Milwaukee. He is just the smiliest, best friendliest, easiest going dog ever. He's so smart. I ran out of things to teach him.
That's awesome. Well, Man, you did a great job in the lightning round. Mike. That was fun, buddy.
Yeah, there's a lot of fun, man.
Now we wrap up EECO Asks Why Mike, with the why and it's all about passion buddy. So, you know, If somebody would come up to you and want to know what your personal why is, what would that be?
My personal why. I like to build things, right? In all forms and functions. It's not about the fame, glory or money. Of course, those are nice. I like those too, but really it's about the sense of accomplishment when you create something where there once was nothing and to me that is the why.
That's it. I love it. Well, Mike, you've been wonderful guest, we'll have connections in our show notes for people who want to connect with you or SteamChain and learn more, if they want to get in touch with you. But this thank you so much for taking the time to share with us today. It's been a pleasure to get to know you.
Yeah. Thank you, man. We'll look forward to maybe running into you in person one of these days.
Absolutely, man, come down to North Carolina. We'll have some fun. I'll buy some barbecue.
Oh, we got to talk about barbecue down in your part of the woods. Now you guys are into that pork?
The pork with the vinegar. But I'll make sure that we have....
It's that sweet tea you guys drink with it that drives me crazy. How do you, you know what I would do with that? I put that on my pancakes. We call it syrup.
I tell you what when we go to have barbecue, we'll have a good old-fashioned, with some good bourbon and we'll call it.
Oh, you guys drink old fashions down here?
Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
I can get along with that.
There you go, buddy. Lot of fun, man. Thank you so much, Mike.
Thank you, Chris. Appreciate it.
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