Demand Communication: Inoculation Against Late Changes to Your Industrial Machine Design Proposal

Demand Communication

Poor communication should never cost you money. Communication is an aspect of your business acumen you have complete control over. In a world where there are plenty of outside uncontrollable challenges that manufacturers must adapt to overcome, poor communication is an ‘own goal.’ Poor communication complicates your costs, credibility, and purpose.  

Poor communication is the top reason automated machine design plans experience changes late in the project. Changing the design after both you and your integration project manager have signed the mutually agreed upon contract bloats cost, extends timetables, and injects ambiguity in planning that survives on thoughtful, precision direction. At DEVELOP LLC, we understand that business comes with risks and adaptation to emergencies, unforeseen circumstances, mistakes, changes in the market, and other outside forces hardbakes itself into the cost of doing business. But communication should be the inoculation against risk, it should never be one of the risk factors. 

In most automation integrations, every detail from the Statement of Work gets executed according to plan. Graduated stages of completion meet their timelines, costs remain in the budget, prototypes match the initial design documents, operational processing targets meet or exceed goals, and the finished project aligns with the growth objectives for your business. Project Gantts and stage gate meetings outline engineering variables ahead of time coupled with monthly meetings. Whether you are integrating your first automated industrial machine or a veteran automated manufacturer, creating an automation integration communication strategy mimics the behavior of the most effective, profitable, and successful manufacturers in the market today. You have a fiduciary responsibility to demand the best strategy for your business. 


Demand Collaboration-Based Communication 


Demand collaboration with your automation integrator. The best integrations begin with a mindset to communicate as collaborators. Working together as collaborators sets expectations that communication should be welcome, mutually focused, and invested in the same purpose. Collaborations put stakes on both sides for overcoming challenges. A collaboration-based integration mitigates the friction, frustration, and anxiety associated with purely transactional planning.  

A purely transactional relationship might make sense for simple purchases, but the average industrial automation integration takes months or years. An industrial automator that cannot collaborate with your business during an automation integration project does not have your best interests. You have business growth, competitor challenges, and employees to protect, you cannot afford to be frustrated for years. You founded your business to realize your purpose, make your own decisions, and demonstrate your authority in your market, you should not settle for a strategy that frustrates you for years. Mutual investment in collaboration is the best policy. 


Demand Consistent Communicators 


Demand that when you must discuss, critique, or review the project, the same person or persons meet for the duration of the project. On your side, this is a designated project lead (this person does not have to be the president or the CEO, but they do need to have the authority and expertise to make unilateral decisions for the business). On the side of the integrator, this is the project manager/consultant. If a discussion requires input from an expert, such as the software programmer, that expert remains at the same point of contact throughout the entire process. Prioritizing designated contacts for the project is a requirement for maintaining months or years’ worth of institutional memory. 

Demand respect for consistent backup communicators. On your side, your project lead establishes a backup lead appraised of all updates for the project. In the event the project lead is absent or unable to continue the project, an informed back up lead steps in with recognized authority. On the side of the integrator, demand to know the backups for the project lead and the various experts participating in the design. Constantly shifting contacts in an automation integrator is a major red flag and you deserve to know early the priority level of your project. 


Demand Workforce Engagement in the Integration 


Do not allow an integrator to keep the input your project lead gathers from your workforce from improving the design. An irresponsible automation integrator will try to only sell the value of the machine to the CEO. Demand that the input the project lead gathered from the workforce inform the development of the machine. An operator is going to have a distinct perspective than a CEO and a warehouse manager. These suggestions will improve the value of your integration and decrease the chances that a practical improvement is overlooked. 

Demand an engagement plan. Provide videos during the first stage of the scoping process and demand boots on the ground. Work with your integrator to inform your workforce of the opportunities that will be created by the new machine, the value to the business, the improvements made to the work environment, how to apply for training for the new machine, and if production will face any percentage decreases during the installation. Have your automator help you identify and inform workers early if the functions of the machine will displace any jobs and sunset reassignment of those workers into the process. An informed and engaged workforce has a lot of energy to direct towards the successful integration of your machine. If that workforce is not engaged or left out of the process, they will redirect that energy toward resistance to the machine and ultimately your business plan. 


Demand Your Integrator Take Charge of the Project Design 


Demand that the integrator perform an automation assessment. An automation assessment is an in-depth examination of your production resources that translates your targets into the specifics of the machine design. You know your business, you know the current status of your production, how many shifts you use, and how quickly you manufacture your parts. A project indifferent to the opportunities around the rest of your manufacturing line frivolously limits your ROI (return on investment). The assessment will take those details, go over every aspect of your business with a combination of on sight process observations and interviews, and then translate those needs into a machine that can improve quality, consistency, efficiency, safety, revenue, employee satisfaction, safety, and retention. Automation integration can reach seven figures, demand that the integrator take the responsibility for design, components, placement, software, and integration details. Focus your energy on communicating what makes sense for your business. If you are micromanaging, picking out individual parts, or having to pick out a non-custom machine, you are not getting value out of your integrator. 

Demand an integrator that does not have exclusivity for parts or software. Some automation integrators sign contracts with exclusive part or software dealers. This saves them money but restricts their ability to diversify their options when sourcing parts for your machine. If they are bound by a contract, they cannot seek out low-cost alternatives, and they will have limited, costlier options for maintenance on your machine. When you might be paying six figures to integrate a machine, you should not be absorbing additional costs. 


Demand Scheduled Stages of Design 


Demand notification and discussion at every stage of the development of the design. Educating your project lead is part of the automation assessment. Establish targets, measurable levels of success, and definitions of failure. Commit to timetables and establish regular meetings to discuss changes, challenges, or preferences. Discuss ahead of time what constitutes an emergency, what can wait until the next meeting, and what types of contact best inform both parties. Make a mutual commitment to stay invested in the process from beginning to end. Agree on finalizing the design after a full demonstration of the 3D model and a last opportunity to make changes. 

Demand any specific design requirements unique to your business early. Maybe a machine would be more efficient if the extrusion feeder were on the right, but your business will not work unless it faces the left. Maybe your business has a contract that forbids the use of competitor supplier parts. The earlier you can stake these design requirements, the faster a machine designer can reach their goal.  


Demand the Definition of a Revision 


Demand to know the specific point a change request adds costs. Agree in the language of the project contract at which stages changes are no longer in scope of the contract, exact pricing for the changes, and what constitutes a change. Changes to a machine design can often be about a breakdown in communication but can also involve factors completely out of anyone’s control. The least effective reactions to design change involve getting bogged down in accusation or emotional outburst. Agree to remain professional, sign the revision terms in the contract as an agreement that the consequences are understood. Once both parties agree on the nuances of design change consequences, direct all energy towards changing the design. 

Demand swift response to design revision concerns. Waiting to discuss necessary changes in process will only result in a more expensive change order. The instant you are concerned about a process change on your end, inform your integrator. 

Demand commitment to the design. An irresponsible automation integrator will allow scope creep, frivolous design changes at the post planning stage. Do not allow an integrator to make changes without confirming the changes are necessary. 

At DEVELOP LLC, we always say it takes courage, foresight, and savvy to make the capital investment to automate your production. Investing in robotics, automated machines, and engineering solutions answers every major production challenge facing industrial manufacturing today. We understand communication maintains the integrity of a project. Embracing the risks of capital investment by collaborating with an automation integrator is the surest path to responsibly automating your production while guaranteeing return on investment. Tell us more about your projectschedule a virtual meeting, or call (262)-622-6104 to learn what else you should demand from responsible automated integration. 

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