Automation Solutions of America (ASA) Project Manager Lucas Prasch has spent most of his career in the manufacturing industry working in a variety of roles ranging from Quality Engineer, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and Production Supervisor to Operations Manager, Manufacturing Engineering Manager and Plant Manager. As a Plant Manager, Lucas was tasked with finding ways to improve the manufacturing process, increase efficiencies and eliminate costly downtime. When he first began to address these tasks, he did so manually – utilizing internal resources. A team of individuals would walk the factory floor on a weekly basis, gather information from various machines using clipboards, manually organize the data and analyze it. While this proved fruitful, it was also extremely time consuming. The need to digitally connect machines and use AI to analyze the data quickly became clear. Lucas and his team partnered with ASA to connect their existing machines, gather the data, and present it in a way that was easy to understand; allowing the team to spend their time more productively looking at “why” a machine wasn’t performing well or “why” bottlenecks occurred at a specific location. The addition of automation opened the door to endless possibilities that the team had never dreamed of. When the project was complete, Lucas and his team had the ability to generate a report from 30 machines that detailed their operational history over a four-week period, see which operators may need more training, identify machines with chronic failures and identify areas to improve efficiency.
This vast experience as an automation customer has provided some valuable insight into how he can better assist customers in his new role with ASA. Looking back on the process of incorporating smart automation into an existing manufacturing process, Lucas realized the entire team, both the customer and integrator, could have benefited from a few simple concepts that would have eased communication, aligned goals and encouraged mutually beneficial data analysis.
When in Doubt, Draw it Out
The automation industry is filled with acronyms and technical terms like schema, switches, VFDs, OPC-UA, and MQTT and there’s a complex network of things working together on the automation side to produce the end result for the customer. As a customer, one might think it’s not important to understand how things work – as long as they work. However, by illustrating the concept both customer and integrator can quickly get on the same page and come to a general understanding of how this will work, making it easier to move the concept through the various approval chains. It may also bring to light new ideas as to how this concept could benefit the customer.
Take Time to Understand and Align Goals
As an integrator, Lucas’s goal is to help companies grow through improving existing manufacturing processes or implementing new processes into existing manufacturing lines. As a plant manager, Lucas’s goals were tied to investments, contractors and shareholders. It’s important to understand how these goals will be accomplished from the customers perspective. By answering this question, we can align our vision and begin to have more productive conversations about how to reach goals and offer solutions that might not have otherwise been apparent.
Mutually Beneficial Data Analysis
Customers and integrators need to work together to arrive at insights from the data collected. This is mutually beneficial to both parties. For the customer, data analysis leads to faster, more-informed business decisions. Identifying and correcting problems that become clear though data analysis will undoubtedly increase the return on investment for the customer and could turn into project opportunities for the integrator. Thus, helping both parties reach their goals.
Simplify to Maintain Momentum
There are many approaches to solving the same problem. Some may be elaborate and provide all the connectivity one could ever dream of and allow for the maximum future growth potential, while others are not as shiny but still get the job done. It’s important to keep the end goal in mind when determining the correct approach. Sometimes the simple approach is the best way to overcome an obstacle and keep the project on track.
In summary, switching roles from the customer side of automation to the integrator side provided Lucas with a unique perspective of the entire automation process and an understanding of the unique challenges, barriers and pitfalls affecting both parties. He’s excited to move forward in his new role with ASA as a project manager and help other customers navigate through their automation journey and reach their smart manufacturing goals.