A little bit of Process Knowledge goes a long way
When manufacturing companies in the processing segment are faced with having to solve their varied production problems and challenges, they may find due to resource constraints within their own organizations that hiring in some outside help is required. Manufacturers in these situations frequently have qualification steps to go through to ensure that the potential supplier can provide the level of service necessary to solve the problem at hand. This is equally true whether the company in need requires replacement of a failed part, regulatory guidance for a new chemical to be introduced, or installation of a new piece of process equipment. The varied disciplines within a process based company that may be serviced by contractors is broad and varied. Businesses that look to suppliers for assistance should be able to understand and verify the skills and capabilities of their suppliers, on a project by project basis, to ensure a successful outcome.
At Optimation, we talk about ourselves as being solution providers to the manufacturing segment, with an affinity towards those companies that specialize in processing. We maintain a staff of technical people to help with such production systems as paper, film, and foil handling, coating, and drying. We also have chemical engineers that design batch processes (including such disciplines as engineered reactions, solution addition, mixing, heat management) and delivery systems (which are principally concerned with controlled pumping, filtering, heat management). Many of Optimation’s highly skilled staffers have grown up in a variety of manufacturing roles within process based companies prior to joining our team. This hands-on experience in process systems, as it applies to the day-to-day manufacturing of products, has proven invaluable to our clients as we are invited to team up with them to engage in their troubleshooting or improvement opportunities.
When our customers reach out to us for assistance, for whatever their internal reasons are, they expect to have us as their contractor offer a new perspective, or as we say in the business, a second set of eyes, on their problem. They will want to know something about how we will approach their problem, and pursue a solution for them. This will be based largely on our own people’s prior experience, and the corporate toolset we can bring to bear. Early on we demonstrate to our clients that we first and foremost understand and utilize the applicable science to solve their specific situation. Before we talk about equipment, or controls, we will want to be sure the process conditions are understood and documented. This process “background check” will involve such disciplines as chemistry (modeling the chemical reaction at hand to account for all constituents), mechanics (stress analysis and FEA), heat transfer (a heat balance is performed, FEA can be utilized here as well), fluid dynamics (understanding flows and pressures). We employ annotation methods like Process Flow Diagrams, Process and Instrumentation Diagrams, User Requirements, and a variety of calculations, to properly record what is happening (or what the client would like to have happen) in their manufacturing process.
Our solution will then be driven by this science. We have learned that it is imperative that the laws of nature which govern our customer’s manufacturing operation are understood and defined first before any hardware or software are applied. We want to know these fundamental process parameters so that the equipment that is then being recommended is properly selected and designed into our solution. Knowing the science behind the need (the mechanical, thermal, electrical, and fluid flow requirements) allows us to be the most effective, and the least risk prone, when we then design hardware and controls systems as the answer to our client’s challenge. And, viewed from our customer’s point of view, this approach helps build trust that we are not simply pushing a preferred machine or industrial controls platform, but rather are recommending a technically sound solution. Driven by process and product science, this defined approach thus includes an integrated set of specifically selected devices and controls all aimed at a robust fix to a thoroughly documented, well understood problem.
So, how do you know if your engineering service provider is getting you good value for your consulting dollar? How can you be sure that he or she can service your process? Simply look at the science he employs to analyze your problems, define your product and process parameters and needs, and then construct his recommended solution. Effective answers to difficult problems are never really guesswork, they involve the purposeful use of knowledge.