Manufacturers are short on time. They have goals, ideas, and plans in abundance, but lack the time and, perhaps, someone to lean and rely on to realize their objectives. Operational and cost constraints have resulted in reduced staff for many companies, sometimes creating gaps in knowledge. While they used to be able to internally plan initiatives for improvements, now they’re pulled in too many different directions. How can these manufacturers maximize opportunities for improvement when time isn’t on their side?
We’re seeing more and more manufacturers leverage external experience to work toward these goals by having a partner engineer help plan their projects and initiatives with a low-cost assessment and planning phase. These assessments are often short engagements that can result in big steps toward a project or initiative by helping to clarify and prioritize their goals.
The first step is a site visit. While working with a recent customer, I spent three days exploring their operation and interviewing half a dozen people—from receiving to shipping and everyone in between. In this case, the system I was evaluating was a dinosaur, and it was integral to their process. The company needed to replace this system from the 1980s. I observed what the system did and how they used it to define the requirements that needed to be maintained by any new offering. In addition, I was on the lookout for any opportunities for improvements. How could we not just replace the system, but enhance it? Experienced engineers can leverage their expertise across many industries to not only hear a manufacturer’s pain, but also figure out how best to alleviate it within a desired budget while simultaneously improving the system.
Within a couple of weeks of my on-site visit, I was able to create a detailed plan and budget that identified the functional requirements for the new system, some opportunities for improvement over the old system, a specific software offering that would meet their needs, and an approach to delivering that system that minimized the impact of the transition. This assessment provided our customer with the tools they needed to make an informed decision about how to move forward, and, when they were ready, served as a springboard right into the execution phase of the project.
Manufacturers often find themselves with less and less resources and more and more responsibilities. That’s where an external partner, who has the benefit of time, can focus on ways to provide value, and quickly transform an idea on a napkin into a fully realized plan that’s ready to go. If you are looking to get your initiatives off the ground and you lack for experience or time, tap into someone who can share some of theirs.
Nicholas Imfeld is a principal engineer at Avanceon, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Avanceon, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.