Get a Fresh Perspective on Troubleshooting

June 24, 2019
When you’re faced with major production issues, sometimes all you need is a new perspective to help to find the problem and find the right way to fix it.

I was recently watching a YouTube video about an artist who would speed paint during halftime at various NBA games. While music blared in the background, this painter stepped up and threw paint at the canvas, using a variety of brushes and big strokes. While watching him frantically flail at his canvas, the viewer might wonder, “What is he doing? That doesn’t look like anything.” After a minute or two, he finally stepped back from his jumbled art, put down his brushes and admired the piece he worked so hard to quickly complete. It looked terrible! That was until he spun the painting upside down to reveal an amazing, modern rendition of Albert Einstein’s portrait done perfectly in vibrant color.

What struck me was the artist’s ability to look at something from a different perspective than the viewer and create a successful outcome. I was recently reminded of this when we were called out on a support/service call.

The customer had been struggling to achieve the required productivity out of a packaging line since it had been installed. The line took bottles of product and produced cartons of different configurations based on the product and end customer. Some cartons contained six bottles in a 3×2 configuration, some contained four in a 2×2 configuration, and some contained three in a 3×1 configuration.

The customer was particularly concerned with the lack of production when running the 3×1 product. They had never been able to run the 3×1 product at the expected rates and, for months and months, this had been a serious issue. It was inhibiting the production rate dramatically and jeopardizing the confidence in the decision to go down the path of a multipack fill line investment. To make matters worse, the vendor that provided the line threw their hands up in the air and was unable to help. The customer’s engineering staff put their muscle into the problem and was able to make some improvements, but production still fell short. Finally, the customer was desperate enough to seek outside help and, as luck would have it, we had recently reached out to them. The timing was just right.

The customer hired Avanceon to do an assessment of the line to determine what changes, if any, could be made to improve performance. Avanceon observed the line in operation, made some modifications while on site and provided a list of recommendations for other improvements. Within the first hour of modification, the line was producing at a rate meeting expectations. The impact was immediate. This manifested itself in approval of the system and achieving the return on investment for the overall project.

So, at the end of the day, why was Avanceon able to add value in this situation and solve the problem? Was it that we had experience with packaging lines in general? To a small extent, yes. It helped to understand packaging regardless of the fact that we had never had experience packing this kind of product.

To us, it came down to two key issues:

  1. We came into the problem without any preconceived assumptions about why something had to be a certain way.
  2. We looked at the problem with a completely new set of eyes and yes, that means a fresh perspective.

So, like the painter’s audience, if you are not seeing the results you expect, take a step back (or flip it over) and, if that doesn’t fix it, bring someone new in to take a look. Sometimes all you need is a fresh perspective. You may just have an Einstein moment as well.

Scott Baker is the business unit director/principal engineer at Avanceon, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Avanceon, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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