Automation Plus, Cincinnati, Ohio

Automation Plus is the 2018 System Integrator of the Year for the Mid-Sized System Integrator Technology. President John Glenski shares some of the company's success stories and advice.

By CFE Media December 12, 2017

John Glenski, president of Automation Plus, talks about the challenge of turning data into value in the age of Smart Manufacturing, and looks at how robots will be integrated into system integrator strategies moving forward. Watch the roundtable discussion to learn more.

CFE Media: Congratulations on being named a 2018 System Integrator of the Year. Talk for a moment about this recognition, and what it means for your team.

Glenski: This award is a fantastic validation for our team. It was an exciting day for Automation Plus and the entire Plus Group, when this recognition was received. This award speaks to both the quality of the product we deliver to our clients and the atmosphere we create for our employees. Focusing on both of these has driven our present success and will drive our future success. In an industry where there isn’t a lot of feedback, this honor justifies the pride we feel daily in providing customer focused solutions and in our commitment to each other. The past year has been amazing for our company, as we continue our growth—adding new clients and focused services.

CFE Media: What are your customers telling you about their needs in manufacturing systems? How is your organization changing to meet these needs?

Glenski: Engaging with our clients on a daily basis provides great insight into their needs. In addition to the universal needs of maintainability and future scalable systems, our customers are pushing continuous improvement, increased throughput and speed to market. How to achieve those goals, through automation solutions, is what they constantly are seeking, and we are providing. Additional feedback from our customers centers on turning data into value, while embracing open platforms, IIoT implementation and proactive automation (real time data alerts and headcount optimization), food safety compliance issues, sustainability, and fast track projects (engineering through construction).

Automation Plus continues to focus on how we can meet the evolving needs of our customers. Our strategy includes expanding our service offerings (information solutions), focusing on new delivery methods, and engaging our customers early in the conceptual and feasibility stages.

Our design build delivery method fosters collaboration within our organization, and can provide a total turnkey solution to our clients, integrating automation, engineering and full-service construction. The value of understanding the front-end design and the constructability for the entire process is existential in executing fast track projects, providing speed to market business solutions. Having access to all engineering, construction, and system integration services under one roof, results in a more streamlined and efficient project approach and execution.

Finally, focusing on the clients’ business need rather than merely the technology need continues in importance. This often comes in to play when discussing sustainability, IIoT implementation, and operations optimization specifically integration of automation and robotics to drive headcount goals. We have always strived to understand the customers’ end goal and driving force behind a project. As the industry becomes increasingly efficient and integrated through data sharing and automation, however, it is vital that there are upfront discussions to fully understand the end goal for the business as well. This allows the best solution to be tailored bringing the most value.

CFE Media: Two years ago, all anyone could talk about was the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). This year, the hot topic is integrating robotics into manufacturing. How are these two technologies related? What is the conversation with your customers about robotics?

Glenski: IIoT and robotic integration are very much related in that they both seek to utilize technology to drive efficiency within manufacturing and speed to market for manufacturers. These two technologies are both critical components within an Industrie 4.0 world. Utilizing data from IIoT to drive worker and robotic collaboration that can provide productivity gains and overall operations and business understanding is a great benefit. The technologies, once understood, implemented and utilized, spawn other plant process and operational improvements. The conversations we are having with clients involving robotics—outside of the automotive industry—are most focused on achieving an ROI and driving value within a reasonably brief time frame, with some choosing to delay until the financial benefits are more quantifiable. Our clients also express concern regarding robotics support from within traditional support partners and their maintenance teams.

CFE Media: In regard to IIoT, where are we today in terms of industry adoption? How do we get to an inflection point where a greater number of small to mid-sized manufacturers will begin to adopt IIoT?

Glenski: Within our markets we have seen higher adoption levels from the larger manufacturers, and those in higher margin industries. Those manufacturers are implementing and utilizing IIoT and the data that is generated within their businesses. We still encounter some trepidation, focused on cost and security concerns, from mid-size and smaller manufacturers.

I believe we will start to see more of those mid and smaller size manufacturers begin to adopt and embrace IIoT when there’s standardization across manufactures and alignment with corporate IT departments regarding cybersecurity of the entire plant floor is connected devices. This will likely begin to happen once code sharing becomes the norm and the statistical analysis occurs utilizing the factory floor data, and truly showing value. When the value outweighs the challenges, and the data mining showcases the ROI and benefits of IIoT, the dam will burst and unleash a wave of innovation within our industry.

CFE Media: What makes a good customer for a system integrator? What should manufacturers do to prepare for an integration project in order for it to be more successful?

Glenski: A good customer is engaged in the process and desires a genuine partnership, valuing the relationship with their integrator. Operationally, they dedicate a resource that has the authority to make project decisions, provides honest feedback through the entire project life cycle, and leads an aligned team that understands the business goals and project objectives. The customer also understands the impact decisions, or delaying decisions, can have on the entire project, including constructability.

In preparation for any integration project, the manufacturer should establish clear selection criteria for their automation partner and project objectives. Criteria such as industry/market experience, technological expertise, PM skills, post startup support and follow-up capabilities are critical components for success. Determining value beyond the technological capability and price, aligning to the SI’s value and culture brings impressive results. Schedule is another key component to a successful project, the manufacturer must be in alignment on schedule for the entire project within their internal teams, outside consultants, and construction. Visiting potential system integrators is also smart. You can meet the team and gain confidence in who you are hiring and view their expertise up close.

CFE Media: In return, what should customers expect from their integrator? What makes a good system integrator?

Glenski: A good system integrator possesses multiple traits, in addition to technological understanding. An integrator that values honest and open feedback, aligns to your core values, and works as a partner to engage and truly understand your market and processes is essential. The ability of the integrator to show true independence of the software vendor and provide the client the best solution is critically important, the integrator should always work in the client’s best interest regardless of platform and focus on their process, driving project and client’s business success. Upon completion of the project, the ease of use of the newly installed or updated system is a result that customers should expect from a good integrator.

The ability to solve your complex problems with simple solutions is also key. As the "grey wave" continues its march through manufacturing, the influx of new talent rises, and the time available to dedicate to project priorities declines. An integrator that possesses multifunctionality as a trait, and can work side by side with your team focusing on business solutions (not just code creation), is an attribute of a successful integrator, and a core attribute within Automation Plus.

Lastly, an integrator that can understand and provide input through the entire project lifecycle including engineering, integration and construction is very beneficial for larger capital projects where larger team collaboration and integration is of critical importance.

CFE Media: Finding qualified personnel remains one of manufacturing’s most difficult issues. How do you go about recruiting, training and retaining skilled engineers? How has that process changed in the last few years?

Glenski: Automation Plus has programs and in-house initiatives to recruit, train and retain our team. We constantly examine our benefits compared to industry standard and aim to be above that standard, including the addition of paternity leave to our standard offering. We have also increased our engagement with the local universities and their co-op programs which gives us great access to new and upcoming talent. We think outside the box when filling roles, focusing on diversity of thought within our team, gaining the understanding of the clients’ business needs, then creating project teams that match that need.

We encourage both external and internal technical training to keep our team educated on new equipment, processes, devices and technologies within our industry. Over 75% of our staff participated in offsite technical training last year.

Employee engagement is a top priority at Automation Plus. We encourage feedback from our team and implement many of the ideas that come from our employees, aiming to get "every brain in the game." We have recently hired a Director of Employee Development who is focused on employee welfare and professional development. Lastly, we celebrate our successes together and are truly engaged in each other’s success.

Author Bio: Since its founding in 2010, CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings, and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency. CFE delivers the right information at the right time around the world through a variety of platforms.