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Smoker Craft winning the 2024 Mira AwardINDIANAPOLIS — Conexus Indiana, in partnership with TechPoint, names Smoker Craft Inc. of New Paris, Ind. as the inaugural Manufacturing Innovation Award winner. The award was announced at the 25th annual Mira Awards program presented by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), Salesforce and a host of the state’s most innovative companies, universities and organizations.

The Conexus Indiana Manufacturing Innovation Award recognizes industrial firms that have taken an exceptional leap into the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). The six nominees collectively prioritized productivity and efficiency gains through the adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies like robotics, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), industrial internet of things, machine vision and more.

This year’s winner, Smoker Craft, exemplifies innovation within a manufacturing environment. The multi-generational, family-owned Elkhart County manufacturer is one of the oldest and largest boat builders in the world. With manufacturing roots dating back to 1903, the company specializes in pontoon, fiberglass and aluminum fishing boat manufacturing under brand names Smoker Craft, Starcraft, Sylvan, Sunchaser and Legend.

The firm adopted a 7-axis robotic tube welding system to automate every part of its pontoon assembly process, transforming the way the company produces pontoons.

Process automation enabled Smoker Craft to improve its product quality and upskill its existing workforce. “Our low-volume, high-mix products present a challenge for automation,” explained Michael Boyle, process engineer at Smoker Craft explained. “But with the advancements in robotics and through collaboration with a technology integrator, we saw an opportunity to deploy something truly transformative for our company.”

This year’s award winner and nominees were selected from Conexus’ growing database of technology adoption case studies, all of which are recipients of the IEDC’s Manufacturing Readiness Grants program administered by Conexus. The firms operate in all corners of the state and represent diverse manufacturing subsectors, such as food and beverage, transportation equipment and industrial machinery manufacturing.

  • Circle Bev: The Indianapolis-based company manufactures its own brand of products while also serving as a contract manufacturer for large and emerging beverage brands. The firm significantly expanded its contract manufacturing capacity with the implementation of advanced robotics.
  • Liberty Trailers: Headquartered in Fillmore, Liberty Trailers specializes in dump trailers, equipment haulers, car haulers, flatbeds, tilt, pipe and utility trailers. The firm implemented an innovative robotic welding system to automate the production of several trailer models.
  • Photon Automation: The Greenfield-based manufacturer specializes in laser applications and the creation of automated systems that include the integration of machine vision and advanced robotics. The firm deployed a proprietary fiber laser welding system for the assembly of high energy-density batteries used in next-generation transportation, telecommunications and consumer products.
  • POLARIS Laboratories: The Indianapolis-based fluid analytics firm serves a global manufacturing customer base with laboratory testing, data analytics and maintenance actions to reduce equipment downtime and improve reliability. The firm invested in proprietary AI and ML software to provide predictive maintenance and analytics for its global manufacturing customers.
  • Soil-Max Inc.: Based out of Terre Haute, Soil-Max specializes in the production of farm drainage equipment to solve the problems of agricultural water management. The firm implemented an innovative robotic welding system to weld thick steel parts as part of its assembly process.

The first-ever Manufacturing Innovation Award highlights the largest industrial sector that is consistently at the forefront of innovation and technology adoption.

“Manufacturing and logistics companies’ many technological and economic contributions to Indiana’s economy, for over 100 years, are well understood by peers but not always publicized,” said Fred Cartwright, president and CEO of Conexus Indiana. “This new MIRA award category, created in partnership with TechPoint, boldly celebrates statewide industrial innovation with the goal of providing inspiration, continued investment and business growth across Indiana’s vital advanced manufacturing and logistics sectors.”

About Conexus Indiana
For more than a decade, Conexus Indiana, one of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) non-profit initiatives, has been positioning the Hoosier State as the best place for advanced manufacturing and logistics industries to innovate, invest, employ and succeed. By collaborating with industry, academic and public sector partners on a shared vision for an innovative, skilled workforce and stronger business climate, Conexus Indiana has helped to create opportunities for advanced manufacturing and logistics companies, prepare Hoosiers to succeed in the state’s largest industry sectors and maintain Indiana’s competitive advantage. For more information, visit