Machine builders declare it’s no longer just about the machine
November 24, 2009 by Manufacturing AUTOMATION
A panel of international original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), who spoke this month at a global forum of industry trade editors and analysts the 18th annual Automation Fair, reported they have seen firsthand the signs of an economic recovery and increased interest from their customers.
"Our customers have become alive again. During the first of year there was talk about projects, but with no timeline, but during the third quarter customers started to become more affirmative," said C.P. Fang, vice president of Crown Machinery Co., a leading coating and converting equipment manufacturer in Taiwan. "There is good indication of a turnaround."
"The need is in front of us. It’s time for creativity," added Carlos Hernandez, automation business director at SYCSA Silos Y Camiones, whose core business is the bulk material conveying process. For Roman Kaiser, president of Grenzebach Automation, creativity came during the downturn. Kaiser’s customer segments include the gas and building materials industries.
"The economic situation gave us a chance to think about doing things in new ways. We are working on new markets and thinking about new systems," Kaiser said.
One new way of thinking, the panelists mentioned, was how they define machine builder performance and how that definition has evolved beyond performance aspects including throughput and runtime.
"You can’t forget machine performance is what brings you to the table and gives you an opportunity to play. But we look at a couple of different aspects particularly market acceptance, technical capability and reliability, service and support, sourcing and lead time, and total cost of ownership," said Andy Pringle, engineering leader of the Paper Converting Machine Co. "What I’ve learned over the years from a business perspective is you have to look at machine performance as holding market value so the customer wants to invest in it."
Fang said his customers look for productivity, machine reliability, longevity, ease of use and efficiency, while Kaiser said machine performance is not always a technical measurement. "Measuring performance is always what the customer needs and wants," he said.
Michael Sweet, manager of corporate controls for Arizona-based First Solar, agreed machine performance includes all of those factors but also, "how well the machine plays with others." Sweet said this issue is similar to "islands of automation" challenges manufacturers face.