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Choose your supplier wisely
19 June 2019
Machine builders often rely on their Automation suppliers to help them realise their designs. Choosing the right partner is critical says Dave Randall
As a machine builder, you want to be sure that your chosen supplier is able to meet all of your needs. It’s important to understand some of the aspects behind the selection process to help you make the best decision on the right partner. In order to maximise production throughput, manufacturing systems must operate perfectly and be reliable with zero/minimal maintenance; machine builders might know what they need their machine to do in process terms, but do not always know how to achieve essential motion requirements at the most economical cost.
There’s a lot that depends on specific needs. Machine builders with simple, unchanging designs probably feel they receive a satisfactory service from one or more simple component suppliers. Those involved in bespoke projects are more likely to recognise the benefit of close collaboration and expert assistance.
Working alongside a solutions provider, such as Lenze, rather than one of the ‘me-too’ component suppliers, can offer the best chance of success. Asking the design team if they have strong, relevant knowledge of your process is vital; as is ascertaining whether they will take responsibility for sizing and selection advice in the early stages.
No matter how innovative a solution is, it must at some point be converted into a list of components, and this requires a supply partner to have a comprehensive product portfolio and understand what components and accessories need to be purchased.
Can components be connected seamlessly? A single supplier would have parts that work with one another. However, portfolios sometimes grow through acquisition – so two parts from the same supplier may actually have been designed in isolation.
Many suppliers have portfolios like this, but do they understand which parts are not optimally matched or, which ones are not recommended for your application? It’s prudent to ask if their portfolio is fully scalable, fully integrated, complete and modular. And can their products cover the foreseeable power range providing the control accuracy needed?
Strong supply chain
The components are in place. Now, they need to be delivered – quickly and reliably – and a strong supply chain is critical. In many industries, supply continuity is critical; a machine builder may need a guaranteed supply of parts for many years.
Savvy customers need to be sure that if they make changes – such as opening a new production facility in a different country – it will be fully supported. It’s critical that the supplier’s production and quality control processes are equally strong in all locations. Asking if your supplier can demonstrate long-term financial strength as well as if they are geared-up to supporting a range of specific delivery options – such as to global locations – are key questions to ask.
Software development is crucial to streamlining implementation and support activities and is used across all stages of the machine’s lifecycle – from project planning through to programming, diagnostics and maintenance.
Lenze’s design concept offers modular ‘FAST blocks’ that machine builders can incorporate into their products, to achieve complex motion easily. Complex operations are broken down to a finite number of motion sequences. By combining the ‘FAST blocks’, a machine builder can equip their machine with a wide range of motion that suits their needs – without having to develop bespoke software of their own.
The best automation development environments provide ready-made, tested modules that handle a comprehensive range of machine functions. But do they offer easily accessible tools for a range of applications? Can their tools cope with multiple ‘what if’ scenarios like identifying the best option for energy efficiency?
Arming yourself with the right questions can help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of a potential automation partner – and help you make the right choice.
Dave Randall is Lenze’s Business Development Manager