From soup to nuts and bolts: Elements of successful system integration

Technology has changed, but the dynamic of a successful system integration (SI) project should be as easy as mixing chicken and noodles. How? Be receptive to new technologies, develop and share system integration goals, and use standards and controls to help operations, and transform data into information.

By Bob Vavra, Content Manager, CFE Media December 18, 2014

To paraphrase Judy Collins’ classic song, Thomas Braydich has looked at plants from both sides now.

As a career employee with the Campbell Soup Company, Braydich watched the manufacturing processes change even as the formula for Campbell’s iconic chicken noodle and tomato soups have stayed much the same. Now he’s a consultant for system integrator Matrix Technologies, which helped provide the system integration expertise Braydich called on during his years as Campbell.

"When I first started at Campbell, we had one PLC in a system on an automated can banding and palletizing system," he said. "It’s quite archaic compared to today."

Over a career that has seen in work in Campbell plants in Ohio and North Carolina, Braydick finished his career with 17 years at the company’s Camden, N.J., headquarters as director of electrical engineering and controls. He’s seen operational change run in parallel.

Second and third shifts were more technology attuned

"Over those years, people have changed with the technology," Braydich said. "At our plants, the second and third shifts were more technology attuned. The first shift was more resistant, because that’s where most of seniority was. Automation was moving much faster than the process of educating the people to maintain equipment. You get to the point where plants are relying more on some sort of support staff outside facility, whether system integrators or some other support staff."

As native talent to manage technology upgrades waned and technological challenges accelerated, Braydich said the move to system integrators was crucial to maintain plant productivity. "I saw the leveraging of SIs over time as technology came about," he said. "As technology was coming out, we didn’t have the wherewithal to handle it. If each of our plants had to carry that staff, it would be hard."

But as with the technology itself, finding the right fit with a system integrator wasn’t always a simple issue. "It was trial and error. You find good integrators and bad integrators," he said. "Some of struggles we had is the integrators had a cookbook formulas. They would create solutions in such a way that the only way they could be supported was through them. That was a struggle."

Sharing system integration goals

Braydich said his view of a successful system integration process is one in which the client and the integrator share the same goals. "We spent a lot of time trying to find an integrator to understand the client. We’ve had a lot of integrators who came in and didn’t take the time to understand our culture. It’s their way; that’s it."

He believes customers often can be just as stubborn. "The problem customers have is that they think they know their plant. They’re not open to getting better. They get suck in their old ways," he said. "It’s tough when an integrator comes in and lays their cards on the table. The customer says, ‘I’m paying good money for this’. If I’m the customer and if I’m paying good money for this, tell me why I’m behaving foolishly.

"Then it becomes a lose-lose situation," Braydich added. "My philosophy was that if it couldn’t be win-win, then it doesn’t work for me. I always stressed that was the way it had to be." That was true for plants within the same organization. The availability of data on plant performance has never been greater, but not every organization leveraged that knowledge, and not every plant manager wanted to leverage that knowledge.

"If you step back many, many years ago, each plant was in competition to gain more of the schedule, to get more production. Everything they did was behind a curtain," said Braydich. They wouldn’t share."

Standards and controls help operations

One area Braydich addressed in his time at Campbell, and a philosophy he thinks is essential for any manufacturer, was to develop standard operational goals and procedures. "We set up standards and controls. At Campbell, each plant had its own standard. We said no, there has to be one standard. I saw an opening of communications from plant and we were having the corporate level drive that," he said. We were not having those big swings in performance. There has to be someone driving the standards."

In developing those performance standards, the data began to point to ways individual plant performance changes from facility to facility or from day to day. "Multiple times a month we were making chicken noodle soup," Braydich said. "Some days we were in the 90s, some days in 70. What’s the difference?

Transform data into information

"All this data is out there," he said. "Campbell had islands of information, but if you can get that information, if you can get that good data, now I can set up a center line and start to see what’s happening out there," he said. "One of the things we found was that everyone knows when the big downtimes happen. It’s all those micro-events that hit you, and they all add up."

– Bob Vavra is content manager, CFE Media.