PLCs

Who doesn’t want a single source of responsibility?

Mergers and acquisitions often limit supplier options but provide ‘one throat to choke’ when expectations aren’t met.

By Jeremy Pollard, CET

Well, have you heard? Maverick Technologies has been bought by Rockwell Automation. How much you say? While not disclosed, I can only assume it was for a pretty penny.

I have met Paul Galeski, founder of Maverick. I found him to be a very genuine individual, as well as a person who really does want to have our industries succeed. He got very involved in ISA, trying to allow them to redefine themselves. He organized the last ISA shows, as such, in an attempt to revitalize the general automation and process conferences and to bring it up to par to the user group conferences that have sprung up everywhere since Rockwell’s Automation Fair proved to be so successful.

The deal here is that my customer has, as one person puts it, one throat to choke—single-source responsibility.

Just this week, I spoke with a good friend of mine, whom I haven’t seen in almost eight years. I only saw my colleagues of innovation during these conferences, but communicated via phone and email during each year.

We lamented about the lack of automation-type conferences but agreed that, due to the dilution of innovation in our business, the stars of the show were always getting bought, and then the innovation would die and become something else.

I relate this to product more than anything. Maverick is a service provider. But, regardless of what anyone says, Maverick will now use Rockwell products and technologies in all of its domain-expertise projects and applications.

Rockwell Automation has always been a supporter of its users, integrators and Encompass partners, and it has seemingly dealt with them at arm’s length, sort of.

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Back in the good old days, when I worked for Rockwell Automation (Allen-Bradley), the graphics solutions we presented and sold were private labeled from a Canadian company called Dynapro. No one knew this, and they didn’t have to.

It was sold and supported by Rockwell Automation. That’s all the customers needed to understand. The innovation was driven by customers and Dynapro, via its partnership with Rockwell Automation. And the relationship was good.

It didn’t hurt the customers.

Fast forward a few years. I now find myself in a situation that so reflects the mindset from those 30-plus years ago.

A customer of mine is building a new distribution center with lots of square feet and the most modern and innovative technology. OK, maybe not the most modern and innovative. But it is more advanced than what is being replaced. Honest.

But here’s the thing: This company went to a single source company and said, “Give us the best innovative technology to do what we need. And here is what we need it to do.”

It’s a reasonable request, and Company A went to town. While I haven’t received the final tally yet, there are more than 20 companies involved, with five major components being represented by five different companies, and with an additional component being built by the customer itself.

The deal here is that my customer has, as one person puts it, one throat to choke—single-source responsibility. We used that line when selling into large corporations with graphics solutions, PLCs, MCCs and the like. It will all work together.

I am reminded of a notation from an ISA book called “Bungee Jumping & Cocoons: The Dual Nature of the Industrial Marketplace,”by John Kenworthy, then of Wago. He spoke of strategic partnerships. He referred to some of these partnerships as strange bedfellows. While not new, these partnerships can get exaggerated and run the danger of becoming mega-consortia, he suggests.

With my customer’s new distribution center, the holder of the throat is relying on this one group of people to provide them with the knowledge and innovation to do the best for them. Let’s face it though, they know what they know, and they don’t know what they don’t know.

Did my customer indicate to the throat that we want to use Rockwell Automation PLCs, for instance? Nope. The AGVs that were to be used were specified by my customer because they have experience with them. I have no idea if the throat has had any experience with them, but they will learn.

So in the end my customer will be given a system of someone else’s true design and will rely on the throat to solve any issues and provide the service level that the warranty contract suggests. They become the traffic fix-me cop.

But did my customer get the best solution for its business, and can the system be supported by the maintenance and project departments, or is my customer forever tied to the throat because of the proprietary nature of most of the solution?

And will Maverick now give its customer base the benefit of all it has done in the past by implementing the best solution for the task, or will it now just simply provide the solutions it is told to provide by the mother ship? As Kenworthy asked: Would you expect a GM truck to use a Ford turn signal light?

I don’t profess to know the resulting business model, but it seems that we have reverted back to what was the norm 30 years ago. I hope I am wrong.