Can and should vendors fill the engineering gap?

Suffering a technical brain drain? Here are five specific ways customers can get effective help from vendors and distributors.

02/20/2014


Beckhoff Automation has numerous product specialists to assist with the selection and use of their products from motor sizing to proper controller selection. Seal Tech, one such customer, offers an integrated scale that helps the machine operator ensure tThere are many reasons why end users and equipment builders require the help of outside engineering services. One is a long-term engineering shortage. I know this firsthand when filling open technical positions in my own engineering group. Of course, finding well-qualified candidates for any field of work can be a challenge, but engineering job vacancies require particularly intense recruitment efforts.

Another reason why outside engineering services are needed is often due to inconsistent work flow.

Staffing decisions are often made to cover an “average” level of work, and contracting when needed helps maintain a core group of talent and reduces the need to let people go when workflow levels dip. The rise of contracting firms has also made this process easier.

Finally, because technology continues to change rapidly, it can be difficult to stay up to date and knowledgeable on technology changes and trends. By using the expertise of outside resources that specialize in particular technologies, a firm can feel reassured it’s staying well-informed of technological advances.

Specialists, programming

Beckhoff’s North American System Engineering Group offers engineering and programming services, including customer assistance with system design, programming for PLC, motion control and HMI, electrical installation, and troubleshooting. Beckhoff customersHere are five ways vendors can provide to customers.

1. Vendors have always offered engineering services to support their product lines and can serve an important role in providing relief in this area. Vendors often have numerous product specialists to assist with the selection and use of products, such as motor sizing and proper controller selection.

2. Many automation vendors also offer engineering and programming services beyond sales support.

3. Customer assistance with system design, programming for PLC, motion control and HMI, electrical installation, troubleshooting, and other services may be offered.

4. Customers can use vendors for assistance during periods of peak workloads as well as for expertise in certain industries or vertical markets.

Planning documents

5. Seek help by making a plan: Users of outside engineering services must know when to ask for help and work closely with the vendor to identify all relevant needs so a plan can be drawn up to solve them.

A. To start, select a vendor based on technical expertise and experience in the field. A good relationship with a vendor is essential, but don’t let the convenience of a long-term relationship automatically make your decision.

B. Next, check to make sure the service provider is capable of providing the specific services you are seeking. 

C. Also, when the customer fully defines the scope of work, the vendor understands a clear set of deliverables for which it is responsible. Sometimes it isn’t even clear to the user what the engineering work will actually involve, so take time to think it through and write it down in a planning document.

D. Last, manage the service provider by tracking its progress to ensure accountability. 

Vendors can and do play an important role in helping users of industrial equipment solve tough engineering challenges. Especially when the end user or machine builder has a specific, fixed timetable project that goes above and beyond “business as usual,” this can be a cost-effective alternative to hiring extra staff.

- Gary Kirckof is system engineering group manager, Beckhoff Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

ONLINE

www.beckhoffautomation.com

Automation and control vendors also may have relationships with system integrators and can facilitate hand-off of a project that requires extra help or expertise. www.controleng.com/integrators

Key concepts

  • Long-term shortages of engineering skills have customers looking to automation vendors for help.
  • Engineering services, programming, and system design are ways vendors can help.
  • Make a plan when seeking services from controls vendors. 

Consider this

Should you be getting more than just products from your automation and controls suppliers?



Anonymous , 02/25/14 10:38 PM:

Using a vendor to "fill-in" for a lack of planning will no doubt result in fewer vendors willing to do business with the requester. This is because vendors make a profit on sales and if the only time you call is when you need help, you'll get put on the back burner on request number two.
However, remain loyal through labor challenges and your vendor(s) will shower you with tangible benefits.
Anonymous , 02/26/14 02:36 PM:

Using a vendor to "fill-in" for a lack of planning will no doubt result in fewer vendors willing to do business with the requester. This is because vendors make a profit on sales and if the only time you call is when you need help, you'll get put on the back burner on request number two.
However, remain loyal through labor challenges and your vendor(s) will shower you with tangible benefits.
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
2015 Top Plant: Phoenix Contact, Middletown, Pa.; 2015 Best Practices: Automation, Electrical Safety, Electrical Systems, Pneumatics, Material Handling, Mechanical Systems
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Migrating industrial networks; Tracking HMI advances; Making the right automation changes
Understanding transfer switch operation; Coordinating protective devices; Analyzing NEC 2014 changes; Cooling data centers
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.