One Size Fits None

Global Markets Demand Tailored Automation Systems. How Much Customization Is Enough? If left to their own devices, automation professionals at machine builder companies would use one automation system worldwide.

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By Dan Hebert, PE, senior technical editor

They would select automation components that featured the best performance, that were easy to implement, and that were simple to support.

If left to their own devices, those machine builder’s customers would demand each machine builder totally conform to their own regional and corporate standards. They would demand the same price, delivery, performance, and support for their custom regional automation system as promised for the machine builder’s standard worldwide automation system.

In the real world, machine builders and their customers must compromise. The result often is a machine automation system that, while not ideal for either, is acceptable to both.
Deciding how much customization is right for each regional market is a balancing act that has to take into account the advantages and disadvantages of standardization versus customization.

One Size Fits All?

There are obvious benefits resulting from standardizing on one global automation platform throughout an entire machine line. “The advantages of one design are cost savings through efficiency during the manufacturing process and intimate familiarity with the product by all employees within the company,” says Ron Karpinski, electrical designer with Marchant Schmidt, Fond Du Lac, Wis. Marchant Schmidt provides equipment and services for the food and dairy industries.

Megtec Systems, DePere, Wis., supplies splicers, dryers, and oxidizers for web offset printing, web coating, packaging, paper, tissue, and other industrial markets. “Machine builders face high costs to train staff and provide software for automation systems,” observes Rick Lehman, electrical engineering leader at Megtec. “There is a great savings when only one system needs support and management of upgrades and version changes. Volume discounts based on worldwide purchasing agreements also can be negotiated. Spare part stock is reduced greatly, and the staff engineers only have to be trained on a single system.”

Another machine builder seconds Lehman’s opinions. “Standardization always is more economical,” claims Rodrigo Sanchez, vice president and director of North and Central America for Masipack (www.masipack.com). Masipak manufactures machines for vertical and horizontal packing in the food and the home, health, and beauty industries. “Reduced inventories, standardized methods and documentation, and a more efficient maintenance program can be better achieved with a single automation platform.”

Volker Klocke, project manager for software and HMI systems at GL&V USA (www.glv.com) in Lenox, Mass., sees another advantage of worldwide standardization. GL&V manufactures paper machine winders. “Choosing a single standard automation system lets a machine builder realize the unique benefits of the chosen hardware,” relates Klocke. “Improvements are easy to implement—they can be tested directly on the target.”

 

Standard Worldwide

Advantages
1. Can negotiate volume discounts with automation vendors
2. More efficient design processes based around one automation platform
3. Less training required than with multiple systems
4. Fewer spare parts to stock
5. Easier to manage version changes and upgrades
Disadvantages
1. Standard vendors know you are locked in and may take advantage of the situation
2. Can limit market share because some customers will refuse your standard
3. Local support can be limited
4. Standard may be too costly for some markets
5. Standard system may not comply with local regulations
Standardizing on one automation system can give a machine builder the luxury of focusing on improvements. “A standard machine design allows employees to narrow their focus and become experts,” observes Dave Christman, principal electrical engineer at Pneumatic Scale. “Once the basic machine features are established, more time is available to add enhancements and improve machine performance.” Pneumatic Scale, located in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, makes fillers, cappers, can seamers, roll-through labelers, and centrifuges.

 

Using one automation system lets machine builders focus on development and performance, believes Graham Harris, president of Beckhoff Automation. “The perceived advantages of multiple systems based on regional demands are short-lived,” he says. “The customer gets a machine it thinks will be well-supported by the local automation supplier, but the local supplier doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of the machine. Service from the machine builder also is problematic because its service people usually are less familiar with the special regional machine.”

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