We received a request to make changes to the machine we were quoting. The customer wanted a different type of controls architecture that would have the benefit of being a more universal platform—a platform their technicians were more familiar with in their everyday production support. This entailed changing a PLC-based control system with multi-axis servos to a package of multi-axis servos with a central controller. And they wanted the change in the quote immediately to place the order.
The change meant that we had to get the information about the system very quickly, and we needed very in-depth knowledge to make sure that we were making apples-to-apples changes. The existing standard machine had been built for many years with a PLC-based system. The merits of the new system would be a reduction of the application-specific PLC programming that our other customers were accustomed to using. The new customer didn't have a PLC programming background—hence the request for the change.
By networking with our contacts in the industry, we were able to get the information quickly. The revised quote was on the customer's desk in a very short time. I don't think we would have been able to complete this revised quote without networking.
We all have the same challenges that face us every day when trying to get specific industrial information. The process can be laborious, even with today's advantage of a wealth of information at our fingertips—that is, from the Web via our computers, which we access through keyboards. We've removed the process of walking over to our technical library and manually looking up technical information in an industrial catalog. The Internet replaced this process. Unfortunately, the next step, getting specific technical information for an application, has not changed.
You still need to contact a sale representative or an applications contact, and then wait. It is slow to get the return call, to get a rep to visit you, to even find out if the product or service is even appropriate for the application. This lag time hasn't changed in years.
That is where networking can drastically shorten the time it takes to get specific technical information. It starts with the person sitting next to you. Beyond that person are contacts you have made over the years in different industrial disciplines. This could be programming, vision systems or other controls areas.
Sometimes, just getting a strong opinion about a brand of equipment or a type of process can save valuable time. It shortens the time it takes you to develop your own expertise in a new area. Plus, contacts have a tendency to give you a balanced perspective. Their commitment extends to giving you valuable advice—their interest is in giving you good advice to stay in contact for future conversations. Who knows? One day, they might be making similar calls back to you for information. We develop long and deep histories with our contacts over the years. You tend to go back to contacts who gave you good advice the last time you needed it.
It all comes down to getting the best information and the best advice in the shortest amount of time. In today's industrial environment, nobody has enough time or money. In our age of instant information, networking can be your best friend. We are losing our practical knowledge base in the manufacturing world. It cannot be replaced by electronic information. This has increased the value of personal contacts who have the knowledge that you need.
As members of the manufacturing community, we are problem solvers. We spend every day solving many problems, and the sooner we find the solutions, the sooner we can get production back up and running. We call this "efficiency." What it means is money.
Increasing your network of experts will help you through the applications cycle. Customers have been shortening the time to quote for years. It will only get shorter as the manufacturing phases of product launches become shorter and shorter. Networking can get you there faster and with better information. That lowers your technical risk.
And, by the way, we got the order.
Chris Lovendahl is sales manager at Concep Machine (www.concepmachine.com) in Northbrook, Illinois.