In today’s episode of Work Done Right, we are thrilled to be joined by Brianne Stewart, the Construction Technology Manager at Milwaukee Tool. With a background in engineering and experience at renowned companies like John Deere and Procter and Gamble, Brianne brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. She holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Iowa and is at the forefront of driving innovation at Milwaukee Tool, an industry leader in delivering cutting-edge solutions to construction professionals.
Throughout the episode, we will delve into Brianne’s personal journey into engineering, the technological advancements shaping Milwaukee Tools, and the company’s user-centric approach to product development. Join us as we explore the intersection of technology and tools with Brianne Stewart.
Our guest today is Brianne Stewart. Brianne is the Construction Technology Manager at Milwaukee Tool, an industry leader in developing innovative solutions that deliver increased productivity and unmatched durability for professional construction users.
Brianne has an extensive background in the field of engineering, previously holding engineer positions at John Deere and Procter and Gamble. She received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Iowa.
Top 3 Episode Takeaways
Brianne, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Wes.
So we first met on a panel like a year and a half ago at a Builtworlds onference.
And here we are in person at a Builtworlds conference. So thank you for joining.
So we got to know each other a bit kind of over the last year and a half, but really just kind of a question of what got you into engineering in the first place and what dragged you into this career with Milwaukee now?
Absolutely. So it was kind of a mistake that I fell into engineering. The University of Iowa sent some pamphlets to my school promoting their engineering program, sent it to the math classes and our math teacher grabbed a friend of mine and she and I were both pretty good at math and he’s like, you should go on this tour.
And like, wait, we get to go to Iowa City on our own. We’re 16. And it’s excused for a day. And we get to tour around the campus. He’s like, yeah, go on a tour of the engineering college. So we went and loved it.
And at that time I was actually pre -med. I thought I wanted to be a doctor and was told biomedical engineering was a good way to get into med school and distinguish yourself. So I started in biomedical engineering as a pre –med major. And now I was much better at engineering than I was in anything related to the health field. And so I actually was at a career fair and wasn’t really finding anything I want to do with biomedical engineering.
So I just decided I’m gonna go start talking to companies that I like and see where it goes. See who they hire. So in a career fair, I come from an ag background and started talking to ag companies and they all hired mechanical engineers.
So that was like, I’m gonna switch to mechanical engineering. And then was fortunate to get quite a few internships in the manufacturing process engineering field. And I loved it. I loved being able to work out in the factory and work with these advanced machines and the operators on the floor and I took it from there.
What specialization did you want to do as far as pre -med? Like what sort of doctor did you want to be?
I was all over the place. I was going to be either a pediatric or orthopedic surgeon. I was, I was pre -med originally.
I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon.
And do you ever think back, like, what would my life be right now had I continued down the pathway? I think it’s so late at school. Thank you. A good friend of mine actually, he was right in the same track.
We want to be the exact same thing. We want to be orthopedic surgeons, specialty, and sports medicine, shoulder, elbow, and knee restoration. Worked in a forever be there, so it’s a very rewarding. And like three years ago, he just finished residency.
He’s now an anesthesiologist. I’ve had a full life at this point. Like I’ve done my full career and even exited one career. You’re just finishing school. Chris, what are you doing with yourself?
For me, engineering was also so nice because I didn’t come from a family where a lot of people went to college.
And so it was amazing to just have a degree that you did the right things. You got to pay in summer internship. I took out loans to pay for college. So it was important to me then the salary after that I could pay it back.
It’s similar. I still have friends that are paying off to med school debt.
That is… Yeah, that’s rough.
Yeah, in mechanical engineering, it’s very transferable into really, honestly, any industry. Yes.
To me, it sounds like you made the right decision. I hope so. So far, it’s been well and it has been nice because I’ve been able to work. I worked on toothbrushes to diesel engines and now I’m in power tools.
And mechanical engineering has been a good way to move around the industry and find a spot.
Yeah, it sounds like it. So that brings you now to your time with Milwaukee Tools. So how long have you been with Milwaukee?
What sort of changes have you seen in really the power tool game since you’ve joined Milwaukee?
So yeah, I joined Milwaukee Tools six years ago. I came in as a project manager for our advanced manufacturing team.
So we actually built a lot of our own prototyping, testing, production machines. And for me, it was a good transition away from the auto industry, which can be very slow, very controlled by regulations and just the pace of growth that we’ve had at Milwaukee over the six years.
I think we were about one and a half billion in revenue when I started in 2017 and we’re productive to hit 10 billion this year. So wow, we’ve seen all credit goes to you on that. Yes, definitely. Definitely the project engineer and the advanced engineering team in 2017 was that key.
No, really, it was a turnaround that started with leadership change in 2007 and really took off in 2012. And I was fortunate to join in 2017 from my perspective, the growth we’ve seen just in the power tool business unit and the complexity of tools and the productivity there has grown, but then also our auxiliary business units, the accessories, the hand tools business unit. We just opened a brand new factory in Wisconsin to the hand tool demand, as well as our safety and our software and material storage business units.
When I joined, they were maybe one department, with not just one small group of team, and now they’re their own business units.
Wow. So you’ve seen a lot of growth and change in really all aspects of really, we’ll say tool development and technology across Milwaukee since you’ve joined.
Absolutely. The technology that our teams are using, plus the technology that we’re seeing in the tools themselves and what customers are looking for now has changed its history. I think you’ve probably heard over and over again, but the regrouping throughout COVID and afterwards has really accelerated what customers are looking for solutions.
Yeah, that makes sense. There’s definitely been a lot changed across the industry manufacturing or construction since then. I’m curious for you, again, there’s been a changing landscape in the needs and the demand for different tooling and technologies.
You, with your involvement in the advanced product roadmap, what process do you go through when identifying areas of opportunity? Where do you wanna take the technology? What does that look like for you?
So for us, we always start with the user. I know that’s a little cliched, but it…
A little bit, it’s fine.
It’s a little cliched, but it really is at the heart of our product development, whether we’re talking about the next screwdriver, the next circular saw, or what do we wanna do with the advanced product roadmap?
So for my role, I am researching out in the industry, making relationships. partnerships with our end users, with technologists, and understanding what are the trends coming from the industry? What are the pain points that haven’t been solved with technology or maybe the pain points have been caused by some of the technology that’s out there?
And then we bring that back in into our advanced front -end innovation teams and really get into the ideation of how can we solve these industry problems? And then what are the technologies that we need to invest in and the competencies we need to build that will be the foundation for that future product?
So with these developments that you’re putting out there, these changes that you’re making to these different products, what sort of changes are you looking toward? Is this the, we’ll say, making tools more flexible?
Are you trying to make things more precise, capture information in different ways? What is it that you guys are gunning toward?
I think one of the big changes that you can… Look at is rather than looking at each tool as its own individual entity, we’re looking more at how do we manage the whole process from the beginning of the day to the end of the day throughout your whole task.
How do our tools work together? So advancing individual tools, whether it’s connectivity, electronics, as well as how does the entire task you have to complete throughout the day? How is it accomplished and how can we say it’s better because Milwaukee is part of it?
So for some products, for our power tool products, it’s the focus on continuing to push the portfolio with our batteries and electronics, but then on top of that, adding in things like IoT, machine learning.
We have a whole software platform built on our connected tools. So then what can you do with that when you know that have the visibility to your entire fleet of tools? And you can create, you can digitize your QAQC processes from that.
So continuing to move into what is productivity, how can we improve the productivity of our users across their entire workflow throughout the day?
Yeah, that’s an interesting idea that you were saying, how it is that all of your tools work together kind of like a network.
You’re like creating like a neural network of tools effectively by enabling, I think, where I see that could potentially go and correct me if I’m wrong with some of the idea behind it is you can start gathering information from stage one tools, moving into stage two, stage three, and start kind of after you’re collecting this information, start building up a repository of data that you can start doing predictive analytics for failing mechanisms or something else of that nature.
Is that kind of the idea? What are your thoughts on that?
I think it’s definitely a future area we’re interested in. We’re really focused on practical solutions that meet the user where they are right now.
So when we talk about data… We’re not talking about data for the sake of data. It’s how can we provide data that helps you understand your process or your quality better? For example, you know, with a power utility vertical, having the reporting on crimpers, so that if you end up having a quality problem, you can backtrack and reduce a lot of rework that you have to do has been really valuable for them.
So it’s not just how do we capture all this data and throw it in a data lake that you can deal with later. It’s how can we provide data that helps you make decisions about your business?
Yeah, I heard it said the other day, I generally was on the podcast, that made the analogy of, you know, a poorly structured data lake isn’t a data lake, it’s a data sewer.
He’s a community spot on with that credit to him. But that definitely makes sense in the sense of, you know, providing this in a way that actually you’re able to action something for you, but not just providing.
20 data points about nothing that will only ever be data, right? You don’t want to just deliver data. You want to deliver information something that people can use in a coherent way that Gets them some value out of this.
Are you seeing different levels of adoption from different Sectors of the the construction industry or from manufacturing?
What are you seeing as far as you know the people that are really moving forward with adopting new technology?
The fun part is I think that everybody is interested in Adopting new technology. I think people are just in different states of maturity.
So when you Me with an end user, I know I was doing some research and the superintendent was a little embarrassed like we haven’t We’re not really tech forward. We haven’t done much technology like my guys are still learning iPads That’s actually better to give your guys the time to learn iPads and to show the technology or process down their throat that they’re not ready for so I think the adoption of More digital tools in your day -to -day life and I mean everybody has a smartphone an iPad a TV that takes a Three remotes to So we are seeing that everybody from the service technician that can now Use our camera have the digital file of your inspection With the the invoice they send immediately on their iPad as they at the time that they’re at your house To the you know huge vertical construction projects where they want to track all their fleet and no productivity information And and digital quality reporting everybody seems to be wanting to move forward from where they’re at right now
Yeah, yeah, there’s definitely a big need in the industry.
I’m curious, because everybody’s moving forward in this direction and everybody, maybe you know one contractor to another or one owner to another, they have a different product, they have a different need, they’re there kind of playing this is a little bit different so they might need a different resource, a different tool than what somebody else will.
And in that same aspect of you know go to the front line user in order to find out where the need really is, you know maybe maybe there are people out there that have a need that are doing something every single day and think that there’s a better way.
What can a construction company that maybe doesn’t have a relationship yet with Milwaukee or with their tool provider, what can they do to reach out and say hey we have this idea, we have this need, what can you do to solve this problem?
Where’s that outreach?
So we have an amazing field team that we call job site solutions. So they call directly on our end users. They’re across all regions and they also have specific vertical focuses.
If you’re general contractor, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, power utility, you’ve res cotton, I think even landscaping now for the professional landscaper. So there are frontline and understanding the user building those relationships and that’s what I leverage for my research when I go out.
So the step one is find out who your local rep is. If you’re not familiar, then whoever distributes your tools can always help you or you can reach out directly to me and that is where we get a lot of our product ideas.
For example, we just launched a new impact wrench that is came from our, one of the big focus areas came from our conversation with solar install. So a lot of companies are getting into solar. It is very time intensive.
It’s a big process with a lot of repetitive tasks. So they came to us and we’re asking for how can we make this more productive? We are struggling to staff these huge solar sites that are in the middle of nowhere.
We want the people that we get in the field to be have the right tools and we found multiple ways where we could actually reduce the number of tools and number of processes they were using. And we just launched a new impact wrench with a feature we called torque sense that has the, it’s certified with the accuracy needed for solar panel install which is an impact wrench.
And that came directly from customers reaching out and saying, we can’t keep up with this work. How can we be more productive in this process? That’s definitely a core area we look for with customers and want to partner with us and explore these spaces.
Yeah, there’s so much need out there. Construction, everybody knows it is still very manual and while maybe robotics is the solution in some areas, I think that just using a technology tool to bring it to life.
bridge the gap between making humans more cyborg -like, effectively, if I was going to quote something from like Elon Musk with what he’s talking about with NeuroLink or something. Not that we’re putting torque sensors in people’s brains these days, but just doing something in order to bridge that gap between the conventional direct manpower, manual labor versus implementing a robotic system.
I think the natural leap is interfacing with the tools first. How can the tools augment the labor that you have increasing the skill or the productivity turning a two -person job into a one -person job or removing steps in the process has been really impactful in the job site.
Yeah, I was going to ask what some of the feedback is that you’ve gotten from contractors that have implemented some of these solutions or from owners that are now operating these facilities that that were built with Milwaukee tools, what sort of value are people seeing out of using these new and emerging technologies?
The value we really see is by focusing on productivity and doing the task right the first time, you have more confidence in install, you don’t have to pay for as much overtime because you’re not doing green work.
There’s less safety incidents because you don’t have people in the wrong spot in the job site. So making sure the job is done right, you have the right tool, the right material, the right person in the right place, completing the job the first time has been really valuable and has helped with the quality of install and the quality of experience in the building afterwards.
Yeah, that’s a mission that we can definitely get by with a show with a name like Work Done Right. And this is definitely what we’re going for. Nobody likes rework. Nobody likes having to go back and fix quality problems.
No, and I tell you, every single job has these problems. And a friend of mine is a gentleman that I worked with years ago, he was getting his PhD, he was doing his dissertation on quality problems in the industry, in the construction industry, specifically heavy industrial, that in his 40 years in the industry at that point, they were still having the exact same problem.
The problems that we were having in 2018 were the same problems that we were having in 1978, right? So one of the, at the root of that is rework and at the root of that is people just not having the right information or having the right tool, right?
Yeah, that’s right. My mom was actually an VW electrician in the 80s. I always knew that about her, but by the time I came around, she had moved on to a different career and it’s funny with me getting back in the industry.
I forgot what she was watching my kids. She got to see some of the Milwaukee Tool presentation and something came up by the trades and she was like, those mechanical guys, they never do that. care about electrical and they always route their thing around us.
We can just have wires so we can move the last people on. That’s right. They’re always stepping on the cable trays. Yeah, that’s right. I haven’t heard her talk like that. And she worked in the 80s and when I go in the field, I’m hearing the same complaints between the trades and the coordination problems.
So it is funny. But some of the persistent problems that continue with the industry.
Yeah, definitely. And I think that things like, you know, really well developed, built out, you know, been models and all that on the front end to really provide that level of clarity where everything’s going to be that can help circumvent some of these problems.
And then, you know, as we go on and some, sure, some of these robotics tools and some of these reporting tools, they can help out bridge the gap in other areas. But really, I think, you know, where the rubber meets the road and where the biggest revolution can be is on the individual craft level and helping them get work done right the first time and at the root of that is the tools.
So I think what y ‘all are doing is fantastic. I can’t wait to see what else Milwaukee comes out with.
Rapid Fire Questions
Brianne, we’re coming right up on time for me. Gonna ask a few last minute rabbit -fired questions to get to know Brianne Stewart the woman not just the professional.
So what is your idea of a perfect vacation?
I’m a little biased. I’m planning a trip to Japan.
Oh, that’s awesome.
Part of why we pick Japan is because we get the mix of the big city, the outdoor and historical.
Yeah. And we just get trains to take us everywhere. We don’t have to drive.
That’s a trip I’ve wanted to take forever. Getting my wife talked into that one. We’ll see if that one happens.
Google Maps makes it so easy.
Yeah. In Japan. It’s like step -by -step instructions.
That’s awesome. Yeah. Yeah. That’s enjoy. Have a great time. What’s your favorite movie?
My favorite movie. I don’t watch movies. I don’t watch movies and so it’s all like kids movies.
I’m watching content like 10 times.
What about your favorite book?
My favorite book. I love the author N .K. Jemisin. Okay. Kind of sci -fi fantasy escapism. She’s an amazing author. Yeah. You delve into these books.
It’s kind of get outside. Yeah. Probably the city we built or the city we were is my favorite book of course. Yeah. Up to the end of that.
What is your favorite quote?
I think my favorite quote is this is kind of a different thing but the Ferris Bueller.
Like if you don’t stop every once in a while and look around you’re gonna miss it all. Right. I think in our lives it can just be so crazy and it’s always the next thing, the next fire and so making sure to take the time and enjoying life and showing our families and the fun things.
Yeah. definitely wise works to live by Ferris Bueller. If you could give one piece of advice to somebody just starting off in their career, what would it be?
I’d be focused on learning. I think it’s we all have insecurities but turning those insecurities into curiosity is the best way to build a foundation of learning for your career.
Yeah, couldn’t agree more. And if you could have dinner with anyone, a famous person, living or dead, who would it be?
I’d say Elizabeth Warren. I love her. I love her mind. I love how nerdy she is. Yeah, she turns it into action plans.