Client Overview

Interstyle Ceramic & Glass is a Vancouver-based company that has been in business since 1977.

They manufacture glass tile and architectural glass surface in addition to creating custom backsplashes, mosaics, wall decorations, and floor tiles for kitchens, bathrooms, and entryways. As the only tile manufacturer in Canada, the products they create have to be extremely innovative, creative, and different in order to entice Canadian consumers to choose them rather than the designer tile manufacturers in Europe or the commodity tile manufacturers in Asia (among others).

Did you know? You can see some of Interstyle’s acclaimed tile work at the Vancouver International Airport.

warehouse automation factory manufacturing

The Story

The way they chose to stand out from their international competitors was to invent a new category: glass tiles. Initially, they made each tile by hand, which was ok for a while, but then they grew

With that growth came new staff, and more disorganization. Losing track of who was doing what became all too common, and quality was more and more difficult to control. Quickly, it became apparent that they needed more advanced equipment to help them produce their glass tiles efficiently and meet demand. Unfortunately, no machines existed since what they produced was so rare. It was at this time we were connected with them.

We sat down with them and listened to them about their problems, asked plenty of questions, observed their manual operation, and produced a machine for them based on their manufacturing needs at the time. The first machine was semi automated–it could take a process and automate it, but it was very specific to that process for one specific type of tile that they sold primarily at the time.

It was great for a while, but then their customers started asking for more customization in their orders. All of a sudden, 1×1 inch tiles weren’t in vogue anymore! They started receiving more and more requests for 1×2, 12×12 and more. We made a second generation machine that could accommodate more predetermined formats.

Soon, it became clear that a big part of their business was being able to deliver to their customers exact specifications, creating and fulfilling orders that were more and more custom. Adding additional formats to the machine wasn’t going to solve this problem. We needed to look at what was happening and follow that trend into the future to find a solution for that, too.

“One important element of Milroy’s design philosophy is that they always look at the way people work and adapt the process to fit what’s natural for them.”

So we evolved to suit that future state; we introduced a major software component into the next generation of automation machines for Interstyle. By implementing cameras, custom software, and many other intricate upgrades, we effectively built them a robot that fulfills all kind of rote tasks.

Manufacturing automation glass machining

The Results

Now, Interstyle has custom built automation machinery that can look at a pile of tiles, identify the correct one from a design that has been inputted in the software, determine if that tile meets quality control standards, pick it up with a robot arm, and place it in the correct position for the staff member to take over.

At first, staff members were skeptical (“We’re going to get replaced by machines!”) and ownership was concerned (“Am I going to have to hire an expensive engineer to operate this software?”), but the staff soon discovered that the new automation solution actually made their job easier, more accurate, and removed a ton of tediousness, freeing them up to spend more time on more engaging work that made a larger impact. And ownership was also relieved to discover that Milroy made the interface so intuitive that even people without computer skills were quickly able to learn how to operate the machinery!

“We now think of ourselves as more of a high-tech company than a shop. Automation dictates big changes within an organization, and it is not human nature to embrace change. Milroy is gently able to provide benefits not just to the business owner, but also to the employees who ultimately get to operate the new equipment.”

Now, Interstyle has a couple hundred people working in an organized systematic way with 5,000+ orders at any given time. With the custom solutions we designed, crafted, installed, and set up for Interstyle, they can now do any size job with any amount of design complexity (over 1.6 MILLION different options now!), and still have it delivered faster than the prefabricated designer tiles shipped from Europe.

We can’t put it better than this:

“Without these new machines, we wouldn’t have been able to grow into the market we’re in–Milroy enabled us to become who we are today. They are very good at observing a manual operation and providing methods for improving the process: increased speed, inclusive of operator’s needs, and improved quality control. Most important, they can make the business case for a reasonable return on investment. We were extremely lucky we got some of the best people in the world who gave it their best and really came through. They are absolutely amazing.”

Robotic Automation machinery designed by Milroy