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Blog – Assessing the 'skills' of your machinery

Blog – Assessing the 'skills' of your machinery

Would your machinery pass a job interview: Part Two

In the first part of our three-part discussion on whether your machinery would pass a job interview, the team at Integra Systems – Paul Hughes, Erika Hughes and Russell Hughes – talked about the intersection between human and machine; the tradesperson versus the tool.

In this second instalment, Integra’s Continuous Improvement Designer, Krystal Davis, joins the conversation to provide even further insights into introducing new machinery, equipment and technology into the business mix. 

What role does machinery equipment and technology play at Integra Systems?

Paul Hughes (PH): “Sometimes, the machinery we buy is like a design tool as well as production tool. We need something that enables the creativity to flow. Because our designers are thinking about stuff at a higher level from a design point of view, they learn new techniques and then bring the operators up to a new level as well. So we're not just putting something in the factory and saying ‘Here you are, you guys start using it’ – it's more about the design team plus the production team working together to really get the best out of it by designing to get the benefits into it.”

Krystal Davis (KD): “When everyone came back from Europe after EuroBLECH, we were all discussing what the machinery out there can do and the new capabilities of the machines. So I was speaking with Steve (Parker – Design Integration Manager at Integra Systems) and saying, ‘Well, we could potentially incorporate this style of fold, which we don't know how to do currently but it now exists.” So then we can get a better response out of a machine. If we put a more complex fold and get the machine to do it for us in our design, we're essentially up-scaling the people downstairs because our designs have become more complex. So the guys on the benders have to then up-skill themselves to be able to follow the design.”

Russell Hughes (RH): “Which means that the customer effectively also gets a better quality product – a product that in past days wasn't possible to make – by people tinkering with these machines to get it to a new level.”

PH: “When we introduced our fibre-optic laser cutter, it really helped improve the flow of ideas because we can be charting away a large percentage of the day on the production workload for it. The thing the Europeans, and also the Japanese, have been talking about is production batch sizes of one. It's as effective to do one, as it is to do a thousand. Everything we look at in terms of machinery is that ability to prototype as easily as we can do production, because they're both equally as important in our business.”

RH: “And you can do incremental changes as you're going along. As you get it together with the industrial guys, the designers will say, ‘I can improve it if I just change this little bit.’ And, because most of it is software-driven, you can do a lot of little incremental change and, in the end, you get a far better product.”

PH: “Yeah, the production guys are pushing the boundaries with what they can do with the current machinery, constantly asking, ‘How would you do this?’ or ‘How would you do that?’ or ‘If we change this…’ It's really back and forth. You're never going to get the best out of the machine if you just buy a high-tech piece of equipment and don't give people the vision of how you foresee that being used from a design and production point of view.”

Erika Hughes (EH): “For us, the integration of the design and manufacturing side of things is where a lot of innovation plays an important role. Innovation isn't just about state-of-the-art machinery – it's not about designing, inventing something – it's about making it real and it's about driving both the people, and the equipment, to a new level.” 

“You're processing innovations so, if your processes aren't playing a vital role in the integration between the design and the equipment or the machinery, then there's no innovation. It's all part of thinking differently and progressively so that it can actually work well together.”

“We're always getting equipment that has some state-of-the-art mechanism in it that sort of leap-frogs you into a new category. For instance, our laser cutter gives us a higher production time but the flexibility of being able to prototype it at exactly the same time as production's running.”

What are you looking at when you’re ‘interviewing’ new machinery and technology for the business?

EH: “When you talk about ‘interviewing’ new technology or a new machine, often people will say, "This is the work we do and this is the machine we need to do that work’ but, what we're saying is, ‘We're buying a machine that delivers on some of the things we currently do but it needs to stretch our business even further, just like a employee. They're bringing new skills to the table and there's also room for growth. That's how we look at the machinery – current skills, new skills and growth potential ­ so that it stretches us as much as we can stretch it. We can start entering new markets or designing things a little bit differently, which gives us the opportunity to build the business in a way that we hadn't been able to build the business to date. That's the same as introducing a new person.”

PH: “We always look at something that can do the current work but also do stuff that we currently can't do – or that you can already do but do it differently. We look at machines and equipment with the view that it will satisfy our needs now and give us something that we haven't yet realised we can do but we've got the vision to be able to do it with that machine in time.”

RH: “We come from the design background and there are things driven by design – product design – and the way we operate the machines. We also look at something where we can design more, in that the machine can make a better product for us too. That's the type of machines we look for.”

Is it a matter of getting a balance between the actual physical cost, the benefit to the organisation and the quality of the final product?”

PH: “We've never actually bought on price. We've never thought, ‘Let's go and buy a Chinese machine because it's cheaper.’ Generally, everything we’ve invested in has been either European or American. And with that comes a higher price-tag. I wouldn't say we've bought the most expensive technology but it's always been state-of-the-art and sourced from a high quality manufacturing country.”

“In the past, sometimes, we’ve bought new machinery without the approval of our accountant. The accountant will say, ‘If you’ve got the work for it, buy the machine.’ We've said, ‘Well, we've got 50 percent, and we'll back ourselves on being able to design our way into the rest of it."

RH: “The difference between us and, say, the automotive industry is, in automotive, if you could meet their price, meet their deliveries and meet their quality, you got the job. You didn’t even have to send anyone out; they just send you the jobs. There was not so much design-thinking and redesign or new products. It was just a matter of being able to ‘make the drawing’. And that was the way the automotive industry worked. People built big businesses on just being able to build-to-print. Our business is different so it takes a bit longer to build but it’s a much stronger platform.”

Next up:
Would your machinery pass a job interview? Part Three: ‘Employing’ the next generation

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Published in Blog
K2_WRITTEN_ON February 22 2019
Written by Emma Westwood