E-Technologies Group, West Chester, Ohio, is System Integrator of the Year, 2019
While E-Technologies Group is based in West Chester, Ohio, its reach is global, and this system integrator has built its reputation on developing innovative solutions on a worldwide basis. E-Technologies Group co-founders Steve Veldhuis and Doug Fagaly discuss with CFE Media the challenges of being a global integrator, and also look at the differences and similarities of these small projects with big outcomes:
CFE Media: Congratulations on receiving the 2019 System Integrator of the Year award. Talk about what this kind of recognition means to you and your team.
Fagaly: To even be considered as a finalist in the large SI is an honor. All the SI’s in this category should be congratulated for their success in an extremely competitive business. It takes a talented engineering and management staff to get to this size so all SI’s in this category should be applauded.
To be selected as the top of the list of large SIs is a tribute to our employees, our customers, and our partners who share in a vision of valuing people, technology, and performance to achieve growth, efficiency, and safety goals.
Our employees will be recognized among their peers as being “the best of the best.” Although we show our employees in many ways how we value them and believe in them, it is always a welcome compliment from an outside authoritative source to be recognized for their hard work and contributions in the industry.
Our customers should be proud that they are part of the team that has been honored with this award. Having great relationships with our customers enables us to perform the services that we do for them in a way that is recognized in the industry as best practices. Our customers team up with us and challenge us to understand their business needs and then trust us to deliver robust technology to meet demands of value, flexibility, efficiency, and effectiveness that they need in their competitive markets.
Our partners should also be proud of being an integral part of our “best in class” solution culture. We realize that we can’t be the best at absolutely everything, so we partner with providers of the best for hardware, installation, and specialty services. Not only should they be proud to be part of our team, but they should use this recognition to promote their value to others in the industry.
This highly recognized and coveted award will serve as a reminder for our employees, our customers, and our partners that as a team, we achieve amazing results.
CFE Media: Manufacturing growth continues to accelerate in many markets, presenting more new projects opportunities. What kinds of projects are customers examining, and what are the goals in expansion?
Veldhuis: It’s important to evaluate why new projects are being developed by manufacturers. Understanding this “why” statement can help us to begin to understand the goals that manufacturers are trying to achieve through project execution. Although there are many reasons for creating projects, we identified five common reasons that we often see for creating some of these projects:
1. Antiquated hardware.
In our experience, there is still a tremendous amount of hardware that is running well past its supported lifecycle. This can create reliability issues and make additional improvements more difficult by running an obsolete platform.
2. Underutilizing existing data
There is a tremendous amount of industrial data that has been captured in historians, online databases, and proprietary databases. There has been advancement within the industry that can now begin to utilize this information to make data driven decisions.
3. Missing data
While we are beginning to identify potential solutions by aggregating data to collectively make improved manufacturing decisions, we are realizing that some assets are missing from the equation. This data can prove to be critical in running more effectively.
4. Industry trends
As technologies improve within a specific industry, integration is occurring to reap the benefits of the technology to increase capacity, increase throughput, and increase speed. Manufacturers are asking integrators to provide these solutions that have already been identified in their industry as useful.
5. Increased customer demand
The manufacturer’s end users often drive change based on their economic needs. As the end user’s tastes and trends change, the manufacturer needs to be flexible to provide changing SKUs, increase or decrease throughput, and provide what the customer wants quickly. Regardless of the industry, all manufacturers need to implement robust solutions that will aggregate more useful data and analyze this data to make decisions on how to increase throughput most efficiently.
CFE Media: Global expansion is another area of expertise for E-Technologies Group, and your team has experience in South America and Asia. Assess the global manufacturing landscape. What are the global drivers of manufacturing growth, and how do they compare with the U.S.?
Fagaly: The global manufacturing landscape will differ from industry to industry. Through our customer partnerships, E-Technologies Group has executed and deployed projects in many regions of the globe, primarily in the consumer package goods industry. Global growth in the industries we serve is driven by the need for a greater manufacturing presence in emerging economies, primarily consisting of “BRIC countries:” Brazil, Russia, India, China. Presence in these global emerging markets puts manufacturing closer to consumers in local and regional markets, giving greater access to a growing middle class in these markets. The net result is top and bottom line growth through access to new markets and reduced costs.
In contrast, manufacturing growth in these same industries in the U.S. market and other mature markets is primarily driven by cost savings through optimization and technology, and incremental growth through offering a wider range of products through product improvements and new lines of products.
There are many common drivers affecting both the U.S. and global markets, but consumer demands in particular is influencing some of the biggest changes. As consumer demands increase with more on-line, on-demand-next-day delivery expectations, manufacturing is now required to be nearer to the consumer either directly or through online retailers. Technology advancements in the areas of digitization, AI and machine learning, robotics, IIoT, etc. are quickly becoming necessary for manufacturers to meet the growing consumer need.
CFE Media: There is an increased emphasis on designing safety into control systems. Why is this an important trend, and where are your customers on that journey? Is cybersecurity being integrated into safety discussions and, if so, how?
Veldhuis: Many customers of E-Technologies Group manufacture consumer-focused products that require automation to achieve production volumes that meet the demands of the market. These processes have many stages, including raw material handling through product manufacturing, packaging, and distribution, where safety is important throughout the product lifecycle. Safety can be extended both up and downstream of the manufacturing environment to include information security and consumer safety. Currently, we see three distinct journeys: consumer safety, safe work environment, and cybersecurity, with consumer safety being the furthest along.
Many customers have incorporated 100% automated inspection of the critical product parameters related to consumer safety. Additionally, periodic product sampling is used where fully automated in-line inspection processes don’t work or when the results of automation require periodic verification. These inspections, coupled with product traceability solutions, help manufacturers achieve the required consistency.
Our customers are in various stages of their journeys in the use of automation to create safe work environments. Our most advanced customers have been through the process of Safety Risk Assessments and have made great strides toward mitigation in their production environments. Often, this mitigation involves control system solutions that do not allow operators to interact with equipment and/or the process unless it is in a safe state. Recent developments in safety components have allowed experienced application engineers to create robust solutions that not only ensure personnel safety, but also address concerns about manufacturing efficiency.
Alternately, we have customers that are much earlier in the process, but most have begun assessing the risks. Considering the number of assets that large companies are using in production and the capital it takes to replace them with newer, compliant machinery, safety solution retrofits will continue to be a significant portion of our business.
Cybersecurity is an area of focus for all our customers and they know the risks can cause significant damage to their business, but many are still trying to clarify the specific impacts and solutions for mitigation. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a Cybersecurity Framework for critical infrastructure as defined by the U.S. Patriot Act of 2001. This framework is also useful in determining what our customers need to do on their journey. The five core functions; Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover, along with the tiered approach to implementation, provide a very good method of creating a business profile and scope of work that result in successful risk management.
E-Technologies Group is actively working with our customers to improve their understanding of their specific risks and subsequent mitigation. Because cybersecurity threats will continue to grow as our world and businesses become more connected, we are proactively preparing to provide our customers the support they require.
CFE Media: Other areas of challenge for manufacturers are operational speed and supply chain strength. How can controls and automation help?
Fagaly: Automation has been the foundation for increasing manufacturing capacity and quality. All repetitive processes, especially those in manufacturing, can take advantage of Level 1 Control and make significant gains. More recent technologies also have impact by capturing, contextualizing, and even adapting to information. These technologies automate optimization of resources and processes, support prevention of equipment failures, and enhance operator, technician, and management decisions further impacting operational efficiency and throughput.
When trying to increase operational speeds there are many factors that could contribute to a slower than expected output, and these factors can often be extremely difficult to identify and as a result, address. One area that E-Technologies has found extremely beneficial in contributing to site master planning and increasing throughput speed is with the aid of simulation. E-Technologies Group has developed the ability utilize software that uses real physics engines to create a modeled environment. This environment can be married up with the current control system programs to allow for testing programming changes, training of operating staff, and adjusting site layouts to attempt to gain operation throughput gains. This strategy for gaining efficiencies has proven for E-Technologies Group to be a winning strategy for helping our customers grow and make the best use of existing corporate assets, as well as how to plan for future capital projects that are intended to add efficiency.
Veldhuis: A major use of automation technology has also been recently dedicated to strengthening the customer’s supply chain. Consumers have been more demanding than ever before seen in our history. With the use of social platforms and online marketing we have now been introduced into a consumer market that has lowered the barriers for switch costs for various consumer products. To win and maintain the loyalty of these customers we have seen our customers desire to be more flexible with their production capabilities, so that they can raise or decrease the production of a specific product or SKU at any given moment.
A major contributing factor in being able to make these decisions has been access to digital production data. The data must be made available and aggregated, so that intelligent decisions can be made. And when those decision have been made, we’ve seen significant mechanical advancements to allow changeover of SKUs with little to no waste. It’s a great time to be a consumer because the manufacturers are listening to their customers better than ever before, but it’s also a fascinating time to be in automation, because we are seeing more advancements at a much faster pace than we’ve seen in recent industrial history.
CFE Media: E-Technologies Group faces the same workforce development challenges as others in the manufacturing sector. Talk about your programs to meet this challenge, and also talk about the young people entering this industry. What are their expectations, and how can companies have greater success in attracting and retaining these workers?
Fagaly: Workforce development is critical to the success of any company where their greatest resource is its talent. At E-Technologies Group, we not only focus on retaining our staff, we also drive for expansion of our existing staff and the quantity of staff, to fuel our growth as an integrator challenged with providing world class automation solutions in a growing number of industry verticals.
Focusing on our quantitative growth we often leverage new younger engineers and attempt to attract top notch talent by thinking of what young engineers want when entering the workforce. They want to be productive, continue to learn, be a contributing member (a professional), develop leadership skills, make an impact—all characteristics that any employer would love to harvest from all their employees.
However, for the typical SI, accommodating this is challenging because few colleges have programs geared directly toward automation so that these engineers have the technical skills to make this ambitious impact to their organization. To solve this problem, we have focused on many internal programs to rapidly create technical talent by leveraging our existing world class engineers. This approach is not only working for young engineers, but also for cross department training for employees that have interests in the many areas of expertise for E-Technology Group.