Multidiscipline teams transcend platforms and solve problems

How software keeps engineers, designers, programmers, electricians and techs on the same page.

By Dave Perkon, technical editor

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When building machines, integrating systems or supplying equipment, there is often a multidiscipline team of mechanical engineers, control designers, programmers, electricians and machine-build technicians working on the project. Keeping information and requirements current and correct and the project moving to completion is important to the bottom line.

This view into machine builder and vendor internal processes shows how their business is run and how the design teams interact along with software, project management and document control methods. In these design and manufacturing phases of the project, there is much experience that both the OEM and vendor can bring to the table.

While some have made no profound innovations, others have created custom ERP systems and developed extensive project management procedures, but all use a mix of tried and true techniques.

On the same page

OEMs and equipment vendors employ a wide variety of techniques, tools and software to keep the flow of information moving between mechanical design, control design and manufacturing in a timely, understandable and accurate format. "It’s all about the process," notes Matt Wicks, vice president, manufacturing systems at Intelligrated in St. Louis, Missouri. Ensuring the respective groups adhere to the process is critical to the development of complex solutions and projects (Figure 1).

There are software tools such as SharePoint, MS Project, SolidWorks Vault and features within Oracle that help to facilitate and streamline the process. Depending on the size and scale of the projects, “stand-up meetings” are a simple and effective means to keep the flow of information moving.

Pulling the team together for brief communications meetings to ensure all groups are talking can yield effective results. Wicks says he’s surprised by what comes out of some of his stand-up meetings. The key is to create an environment that facilitates a good flow of information so that people are allowed to share what’s on their minds.

Compass Automation in Elgin, Illinois, uses a mix of tried-and-true techniques such as stand-up meetings and visual management. "We also use newer technology, including a custom ERP system written in-house," notes Project Managers Phil Rogoz at Compass Automation.

Matrix Packaging Machinery in Saukville, Wisconsin, uses good old-fashioned email, Excel, MS Project and weekly production meetings. "It gets the job done," notes Marc P. Willden, general manage at Matrix Packaging Machinery (Figure 2).

Size does matter

Troy Miesse, head of North America System Consulting at Rittal, mirrors much of the machine builders' comments. "The size and complexity of the machine builder’s or system integrator’s organization will dictate how information flows between different groups," he says. “Although there’s not one way to handle this process, every business has to get it right because the company’s very existence depends on it. For smaller firms, information can be communicated via a simple Excel spreadsheet, a hardcopy checklist, an e-mail or a face-to-face conversation."

Also read: How to build an automation team 

For larger firms and projects, more people and locations are typically involved, requiring the introduction of many other techniques and tools. "For example, project tracking/management software such as Microsoft Project can be helpful in determining the overall scope and schedule of a project," notes Miesse. "A product specification helps to guide the development/engineering of a product. Computer databases and product libraries are used to store and develop information and documentation."

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