A professional Xchange of ideas: priceless

CONTROL DESIGN's AutomationXchange brought machine builders, end users and solution providers together in a way that couldn't be done at the office or trade shows.

By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

THE CORNERSTONE OF our work here is to spread the word about ideas and tools that you tell us help you do your jobs better. This time, we’re the ones behind the good news. We held our AutomationXchange event last month. Control Design’s world-class Technical Editor Dan Hebert spent months contacting readers to discuss with them their needs and plans for their automation future. Once done, he selected those vendors whose products and services best match those needs and plans.

After the vendors did some required pre-event fact-finding with our OEMs—to be certain we weren’t wasting anyone’s time—we brought them together out in the desert near of Phoenix to discuss business one-on-one in private, in a manner they rarely ever had time for.

When first contacted, some of the OEMs didn’t quite know what to make of this. “I wondered what the angle was,” said Alan Metelsky, chief automation engineer for CNC gear-processing machine builder Gleason Works. After all, AutomationXchange took care of all the travel costs. “It must be a gimmick,” he mused. “What am I expected to buy?”

Once he saw there were no strings attached, he was in and glad of it. “This was an opportunity to get together at a higher level,” continued Alan. “We could discuss the future and larger issues that just don’t get addressed at local level.”

Khosrow Ansari, manager of electrical engineering for Fadal, builder of vertical and horizontal machining centers, saw the value of getting away from the office to meet with higher-level supplier representatives. “Every time a supplier walks into my office, I’m looking at my watch,” he said. There are interruptions and problems to deal with so he says it almost invariably ends with, “Can you come back another time?” In the meantime, the value of meeting is lost. “I met a group of real professionals I couldn’t meet at trade shows,” he said. “It’s not wasting time.”

Jim Wacthel, senior controls engineer for flexo printing press builder Mark Andy, agrees. “I generally reject supplier requests to come in,” he says. “Here I can discuss what reps are doing well, what they’re not doing well—a two way street to tell them how to serve us better, through people at a higher level.”

Khosrow highlighted something many of the OEMs said. He saw a current supplier and discovered they have products that he might need, but never knew the supplier had them.

That seems to say something about the approach of the local reps or distributors.

“The goals are different at distributor level,” said Jeff Klinger, chief controls engineer at Ingersoll Production Systems. While he wants to talk about entire product structure, “the distributor might want to hone you in on something else important to him.” He said this event was a huge time saver. “To have all these specifically matched-up vendors here is very productive,” he said. “This, back at the office, would be weeks of work to get done.”

Jeff said the pre-event planning that we insist the vendors do was vital. “We discussed my issues and type of products we need, and gave them the ability to tailor this presentation to my particular needs.”
“To my peers I’d say this is a great opportunity to have vendors specifically focus on your problems and issues,” added Jim.

The event helped build a sense of community, too. “We like to form long-standing relationships with our vendors, said Alan. “This format helps with that.”

Ismail Kirmaci, electrical engineering manager at Orthodyne, a wire-bonding machine builder, summed it up perfectly. “There is a potential competitor here as well, but in this setting, we can sit and share ideas. Professionals can do this.”


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