Who's Scotty on your Starship Enterprise?

Maybe the decisions and actions of an industrial machine builder don’t have galaxy-threatening implications if things go wrong, but it can have a profound impact on the viability of a customer and its employees.

By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

THE ULTIMATE engineer died last month, and it seems we should consider that for a moment or two. James Doohan, the actor who played Commander Scott, passed on at age 85. Scotty was the chief engineer who held it all together on that uber-engineered machine, the Starship Enterprise

Reliability of operation when you and the crew are 15 light years from home is pretty important. Expecting tech support to hop a plane and fly right out to troubleshoot your dilithium crystal containment field isn’t a dependable strategy.

In addition, his overactive (or was it overacting?) captain always was looking for more. Half the engineering deck might have been blown up by a Klingon battle cruiser, but Kirk was sure to say, “Mister Scott, I need warp 9, and I need it now!” Ol’ Scotty, bloodied and wounded, would respond, “Captain, the engines can’t take it. The couplings are ruptured. It’ll take hours to repair. She’ll tear herself apart otherwise!”

But, of course, she didn’t come apart, Scotty did the impossible in three minutes flat, and the Enterprise limped away at warp 9.2, only to right the terrible wrong confronting it a few reels later.

That Scotty sure knew diagnostics, troubleshooting, and reliability, didn’t he? Or, it occurred to me, maybe he also knew how to manage customer expectations. His captain always wanted unachievable performance at the damnedest times. Maybe Scotty always knew enough to promise absolute performance maximums, but make sure his systems were capable of more, when the time came. Because that time always came.

Most of you probably have a Captain Kirk customer in your database. As competitive as the marketplace is today, customers always will raise the performance bar, and often do it on impossibly short notice. They, too, often are under attack from some evil empire raiding their own customers, and they need you to be their Mr. Scott.

This month, we offer some suggestions on how to become Scotty to your customers, and have an example of a machine builder who’s trying to do just that.

Rich Merritt’s cover story on page 30 explores the means by which some machine builders use remote, web-centric capabilities to provide troubleshooting and diagnostic services that almost seem like a holographic projection of your tech support right in the customer facility. And, of course, they can provide response as fast as hopping into an Enterprise transporter.

Meeting or exceeding heightened expectations is what Brent Short’s company, Eagle Manufacturing, does. Our story on page 41 details how the increasingly demanding needs of a very important customer--a Tier One automotive parts manufacturer--caused Eagle to boldly go where no machine builder had gone before and build an integrated fabrication system that required 22 synchronized servos to meet the performance and throughput requirements. This was well beyond the servo coordination experience they could draw on from prior designs, but as Brent told me, “I put it all on the line with this new concept. We knew the design was solid, and it let me tell the customer--with confidence--that I’ll run with it. We’ll take all the responsibility.”

He did, and the machine has been quite a success.

That’s a level of expertise and capability that every customer can value. 

Maybe the decisions and actions of an industrial machine builder don’t have galaxy-threatening implications if things go wrong, but it can have a profound impact on the viability of a customer and its employees, let alone its own well-being. That’s not a trivial matter. Help them succeed and they’ll come to depend on you and trust you. You just have to be like Scotty.

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