Collaborative Communication Achieves Faster, Better Automation

  • March 31, 2017
  • Feature
Collaborative Communication Achieves Faster, Better Automation
Collaborative Communication Achieves Faster, Better Automation

By Travis Schneider, Product Manager, Automation Group, Parker Hannifin

With more and more OEMs cutting back on the number of on-staff engineers devoted to motion control in favor of focusing their time, attention, and resources on their core competencies, many are choosing to collaborate with motion control component manufacturers when developing new products and systems.To increase the chances for success in these collaborations, clear ongoing communication between the motion supplier and OEM customer is critical. The following guidelines are crucial in any engineering collaboration of this type.

Get E2E (Engineer to Engineer)

A fast-paced collaboration requires the engineers on both sides to work together directly, not through intermediaries. Attempting to communicate the details of an application exclusively through sales representatives soon turns into a game of “telephone.” Just as in the game, with each hand-off, something is bound to get lost in transmission. Although sales reps can serve a critical role as the “feet-on-the-street,” supporting a project, direct engineer-to-engineer collaboration is key during the design phase.

Complete Motion Application Disclosure

Too often, OEMs will hold back details of their applications for fear of leaking trade secrets related to a specific process. Although it’s easy to appreciate the consequences if an OEM’s competitors were to learn confidential details, motion suppliers are focusing on supplying automation products to fit their customers’ needs, not on stealing their intellectual property. When a motion supplier’s engineering team has to play “20 questions” about what customers actually need vs. what they're saying, it dramatically slows down the process of designing and refining a solution.Having an open dialog with an automation partner is crucial to gaining a complete understanding of product requirements. Likewise, OEM customers should expect their automation suppliers to be very forthright with potential risk elements that might arise. The more pictures, solid models, and detailed sketches that can be shared early on, the faster a potential solution can be developed.

A mutual non-disclosure agreement is often a good idea to protect the interests of both parties of a collaboration of this type. The motion supplier can agree not to share any information learned through the design process outside their organization or even with those within it who don’t need to know it. In turn, the OEM customer can agree to keep confidential the technical design details or influences that the motion supplier imparts to the design, to protect the motion supplier’s intellectual property.

One IP protection technique that we’ve used at Parker to protect our OEM customers is provide them with specific part numbers that are effectively proprietary to each of them. In other words, we establish a special part numbering system for each OEM customer. That way, if the OEM's customer contacts us for help for a downed piece of equipment, that part number points back to the OEM. We’ve also labeled products with the OEM’s contact information, so the OEM can be the first point of contact for customers with problems.

Process, Process, Process

Without a core standard process on how to tackle a motion control challenge, customers and suppliers alike can spend a lot of time spinning their wheels. A streamlined process helps to maintain focus, and ushers a design project through to completion faster than it could otherwise. OEMs or machine builders should expect automation suppliers to produce detailed documentation to describe what is being proposed.

The Initial Design Proposal Presentation

This outlines the rough form factor of the design in question; this presentation will also start to address key design requirements and highlight the potential challenges associated with them. Once both parties are in agreement, the process can move forward.

The Initial Design Proposal Drawing

This is simply a 3D model that can be dropped into the OEM's machine design to check for potential interferences or design issues.

The Application Proposal Package

This package should include three key deliverables: a detailed quote, a product requirements document (PRD), and a formal proposal. The quote is by far the most basic deliverable: it identifies the price and terms of sale for the solution. It should not include copious amounts of detail about the application or the solution as it is often intended for the procurement team.  The product requirements document provides all the detailed technical product information that both engineering teams have agreed upon; it should provide lots of quantitative information about product requirements, as well as go/no-go values for each requirement. These go/no-go criteria often find themselves in an acceptance test procedure (ATP) once the product reaches the manufacturing stage. The formal proposal should summarize the application and the designed solution, as well as list any special considerations around pricing or support agreements.

The Approval Drawing.

Once all design considerations are logged and agreed upon, a final detailed drawing should be submitted for approval. Once signed off on, the product is ready to be manufactured.

The Follow-up

Just because the product has been signed off on, it doesn't mean the conversation stops. Both teams should continue to communicate schedules on both ends. The automation supplier is responsible for communicating the build schedule and working to meet the OEM’s demand. Likewise, the OEM needs to communicate the demand schedule. This is often a conversation that is overlooked on both ends. If the motion supplier isn’t communicating the intended build schedule to the OEM, the OEM will either have resources sitting idle waiting for product or unprepared to receive the product when it arrives. Similarly, if the OEM doesn't communicate their intended demand to the automation supplier, they will leave the automation supplier's supply chain and manufacturing team scrambling to try to meet the OEM’s demand, and the OEM will face pressure from their own customers.

About the Author

Travis Schneider is a product manager in Parker Hannifin’s Automation Group, focusing on precision linear mechanics. Travis has an extensive background in motion and control and has worked hand-in-hand with many designers implementing electromechanical systems. Travis received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. 

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