That “Something” that Makes Automation Successful

After nearly 30 years working in and around the area of production equipment, I’ve discovered that there is something more important than technology, team resumes, ISO procedures and project management tools that makes a manufacturing equipment supplier the right choice for your custom project; something that trumps the company with latest HMI graphics, transport chassis, team structure and escalation matrix.  That “something” is what promotes the Manufacturing Engineer to Project Manager and the Project Manager to Plant Manager.  It’s the critical “something” that ensures your project exceeds expectations and is delivered on time and on budget.

I started my career as a Manufacturing Engineer in the Automotive Industry.  Initially, I was responsible for small fixtures and semi-automated stations but later was promoted to installing multi-million dollar lines with extensive time lines and huge complexity.  This led to a fascination with automation as it relates to controls, assembly and test equipment.  As I worked for a number of integrators and machine builders, I found myself chasing companies that could offer cool technology.  I worked with experts in: cam-driven synchronous assembly, 3D laser scanning / robot placement, cloud storage / cyber security, Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM) technology and production simulation.  Like allot of young engineers, I thought technology was the savior to move manufacturing forward.  During my tenure with these various companies, I transitioned into business development and learned the importance of having project management and documentation procedures that were ISO audited and supported/used throughout the organization.  I sang the chorus of team resumes, accountable matrix structures and continuous improvement programs.  The resultant sentiment was that the smart choice for automation equipment was the company providing the coolest technology and be best organizational structure.  Nevertheless, I still ended up seeing projects go south with cost overruns, hurting the company’s bottom line and severing customer relationships.

What I came to realize is that all the technologies and procedures are important, but there is “something” more important than all of this to produce custom automation equipment that makes both suppliers and customers happy in the end.  What is that “something”?  The something is relationship.  All the cool technology in the world combined with the best procedures and team resumes cannot make up for a poor relationship.  Ultimately, it is a customer Project Manager who combines with a supplier Team Leader doing “whatever it takes” to make the project successful.  Let’s face it, in this world of custom automation equipment, sh@# happens.  And when it does, someone has to be committed enough to make the system work regardless of what’s happening.  This someone is the one who is committed to the relationship.  Ultimately the Project Team who is committed to making the project work trumps the one with the best technology/procedures/resumes EVERY TIME.

I certainly don’t intend to make the point that as an evaluator of customer automation equipment vendors, you should just look for good guys and not care about technology/procedures/resumes (the right stuff).   There is a certain level of the right stuff that should be required for any project you are pursuing.  What I am saying is this: look for the company with the best “on time delivery”, “repeat business”, and “customer references”.  These are the indicators that show a company who cares and wants a long-term relationship and it is evident by their performance.  Look for and stay with the company that has that “something”, the relationship with you and is committed to making it work.

Jim Mueller

ATC Automation Business Development Manager