OEM collaboration aids machine control design

Contributing Editor Wayne Labs focuses on how industrial machine builders benefit from long-term commitments with customers, system integrators and suppliers in the March issue of CONTROL DESIGN.

By Wayne Labs

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March 2005 cover image Technology plays a big role in bringing OEM, end user, and supplier closer together. The issues that are central to a successful project completion all depend on interpersonal communication. No matter how high-tech your operation might be, it still takes a group of individuals to set up a project, manage it, and get it finished on time.

We sometimes hear industrial OEMs complain that they’re not brought in early enough to collaborate during the design phase. In most cases this can be attributed to all those cases in which customers are shopping for the lowest prices.

Talk to Me
In today’s world of partnering among machine builder, system integrator (SI), supplier, and customer, the climate for collaboration on a project clearly is undermined if the machine builder has to bid against three or four other OEMs. Early involvement in the customer’s design cycle usually reflects a long-standing collaborative relationship between the end user and the OEM.

Randy Wagner, systems engineer, Norske Canada, is responsible for system upgrades to large machines used in the pulp and paper mill environment. He notes that system integrator Franzen has been involved from the very beginning of his company’s design cycle. “Franzen has been very good to us, providing guys on site who’ve been like relief employees for 20 years,” says Wagner. “They’re familiar with our plant and our strategies.”

For machine builders who don’t have in-house domain experience with controls, forming a collaborative alliance with a knowledgeable SI can help the OEM land projects more quickly.

            Integrator FEC Technologies collaborated with a machine builder to design the connector solutions for the control system in order to reduce machine's electrical assembly time and field set up. The company believes that when the SI gets involved right away with planning the controls design it speeds up the entire process, reducing potential design errors, and saving money up front.

Darren LePage, president of FEC Technologies (FEC), York, Pa., says his full-service system integration company wants to build lasting relationships with industrial OEMs, a group that represents 60% of FEC’s business. “An OEM that forms a sole-source relationship with FEC saves time by not having to go out to bid for a SI,” states LePage. “Rather, the SI can get involved right away with planning the controls design for the machine, and if the OEM has to go to the bidding process, the SI will be there to bid as well, speeding up the entire process, reducing potential design errors, and saving money up front.” LePage’s mantra is “attack the quarter costs instead of the nickel profit.”  

Long-standing customers can make the difference. Kevin Uhlig, vice president/general manager at Moore Tool, Bridgeport, Conn., notes that when his company is brought in late in the design cycle with potential customers, his company often drops out of the bidding because the customer has already worked with someone else and Moore would be wasting its time. So, does he have a lot of long-standing customers to compensate? “Absolutely,” Uhlig said. “They have a very good idea of what we do, and it makes everything easier that they know us so well.”

Jim Cummings, president of Total Systems Design (TSD), West Chester, Pa., notes that many end users fail to understand what an SI can bring to a project, sometimes acting as if the OEM or SI is merely another contractor. “Clients who understand the SI’s value actually bring TSD in at the conceptual stage of the design,” says Cummings. “In many cases, TSD is asked to write the user requirement specs because users often don’t have either the time or the ability to define what they really want. They have ideas but don’t know how to put them together—and this is where the OEM can help.”

Understand Customer Needs
Roger Richardson is president of Delta Sigma Corp., Ackworth, Ga., which builds specialized machines for manufacturers and the military. He says that communication is the most important aspect of collaboration between the OEM and users. “While some customers are able to clearly articulate their needs, others have difficulty,” says Richardson. He notes that it’s easy to communicate with a customer such as Lockheed Martin, whose expert engineering staff provides detailed sets of specs. “Such customers discuss and plan their projects internally for six months and thoroughly document every detail,” adds Richardon, “eliminating situations in which the project is half finished, and the customer says, ‘Oh, by the way, can it do that, too?’”

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