Polytron Inc., Duluth, Ga., is System Integrator of the Year, 2019
Successfully managing large and complex integration projects is a focus for Polytron Inc., and the company is looking to continue to grow the digital manufacturing presence. Ron Rich, CEO of Polytron. discusses his company’s philosophy and its approach to innovation in an interview with CFE Media:
CFE Media: Congratulations on receiving the 2019 System Integrator of the Year award. Talk about what this kind of recognition means to you and your team.
Rich: For me personally, and for our entire team, being recognized and receiving this award is significant. It is tangible representation that our core values of character, service, excellence, passion, and creativity are being lived out in our day-to-day work and it is being recognized by our clients, suppliers, and the industry.
It is a statement of our mission, which is “Putting innovation to work and making a positive impact on the quality of life. Making a difference in the world.”
CFE Media: Talk about project management as a strategy for Polytron. Why is it important, and how does this help end users achieve their goals?
Rich: Project management has always been a part of our strategy and is a key to our successful 35-year business. Because our leadership team and project managers are PMI-certified project management professionals, we instinctively apply best-in-class project management principles to our procedures, processes, and client projects.
Our clients tell us that our project managers and methodology give them the confidence and trust that their projects will be delivered on time with quality and integrity. It is this approach that has allowed us to build long-term client relationships, some lasting more than 25 years.
Client project goals are generally set around delivering value to their organization (that is a set of desired outcomes that will positively impact their business). It is important for us as the system integrator to clearly understand broader goals of the client’s business as well as the specific goals on the projects. There are usually many stakeholders involved in a project (management, finance, operations, etc., and the project team), and Polytron’s good project management methodology helps to bring these stakeholders together, to foster collaboration, and ensure that there is alignment as to the desired outcomes of the project.
In addition, good project management practices allow the project team to address scope changes as they arise and mitigate risks to the project. These types of practices are paramount the success of the project and delivering the client’s desired outcome. Our clients often point to Polytron’s project management approach as a cornerstone of confidence and feel we are an integral part of their project team.
CFE Media: How is data changing manufacturing? How can integrators like Polytron help manufacturers understand and take advantage of these changes?
Rich: Data has always been generated by the manufacturing facility and has been previously viewed in a historical format. Today’s business drivers are demanding greater visibility into the data for real-time decision making. This creates two challenges.
The first challenge for manufacturers is to transform that data into something that is meaningful and actionable, as well as prescriptive rather than reactive. This is the real gamechanger for manufacturing, having access to information and actionable insights will have a tremendous impact on the ability to lower costs by increasing operational efficiency, respond faster to the market, improve product quality, improve the total supply chain, and view manufacturing as a holistic operation–from raw materials to the consumer.
The second challenge is the requirement for faster access and delivery of data for real-time decisions. This creates demands for infrastructure changes to provide higher bandwidth to access more data through wireless devices and sensors, increasing the need for greater security. Along with the data-driven requirements across the plant floor and supply chain, there will in turn be workforce skillset changes shifting to data-based decision making, predictive maintenance and information/video on demand.
These challenges can be overwhelming to the manufacturer. As an integrator, Polytron has developed project methodologies and tools to meet smart manufacturing and digital transformation demands. We help manufacturing clients determine where to begin and how to prioritize infrastructure projects to effectively take advantage of the data available.
Key trends for data use that will continue to emerge are: artificial intelligence, augmented reality, machine learning, predictive everything, and other forms of analytics. The manufacturers that can harness the power behind the data will be able to make higher quality products and more efficient decisions about their business, giving them a sustained advantage in the market. To help our clients take advantage of this, we challenge the clients to go beyond the status quo and look at a bigger picture to strategies outside of their companies.
CFE Media: How would you assess the strengths and the challenges of manufacturers today? How can technology in general and system integrators in particular build on those strengths and meet the challenges?
Rich: It is difficult to generalize strengths across all manufacturers because of differences in size, organizational structure, industry, offering, etc.
Some of the strengths we believe support a strong, industry-leading manufacturer would be:
- The understanding of their manufacturing process and production
- A formal continuous improvement mindset
- A strategic investment plan to remain competitive
- Quick response to consumer and economic market changes.
Polytron supports our clients by aligning our guidance and solutions with the business objectives of the manufacturer to support the short- and long-term projects to accomplish strategic initiatives.
Several difficult challenges are currently facing manufacturers. Many are operating with obsolete infrastructure and systems. This restricts their ability to transform and take advantage of new technology and gain access into their real-time production data. We have executed numerous obsolescence projects, upgrading outdated platforms and controls to current technology including new controllers, edge computers, and smart devices.
Similarly, nonexistent or outdated networking infrastructure for the manufacturing system is being replaced with new more current infrastructure consisting of a combination of both wired and wireless switches and new cable as required. As the use of wireless devices and sensors increase, so does the vulnerability to cyberattacks. Cybersecurity is also a challenge and we’ve worked on projects to harden industrial network security across the plant floor.
CFE Media: What does “smart manufacturing” mean today, and how do you prepare customers as smart manufacturing continues to evolve?
Rich: Our definition for smart manufacturing today is the use of real-time data and technology where, when, and in the form needed by people and machines. It is fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real-time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory. It is an open infrastructure that allows solutions to be implemented at the speed of business.
Polytron has developed a proven roadmap and tools such as the Smart Maturity Index to help our clients assess where they are in their journey of people, process, and technology, and where to go next. We provide educational workshops to help their teams understand the business drivers, the technology changes, and the transformation that smart manufacturing will set in motion.
We provide guidance for our customers in looking at the larger picture–seeing the plant floor as one single unit sharing data and operations management.
We help our customers understand that the smart manufacturing journey is a marathon, not just a sprint. Smart manufacturing is an acceleration of technology: Cloud/edge computing, machine learning, smart glasses, collaborative robots–technology enablement, AI, blockchain, data analysis, and predictive everything.
CFE Media: What are the issues that keep your customers up at night and how do those issues translate into business for you? How does your business have to change to meet these new requests?
Rich: We see three areas:
- Disruption and the speed of change in technology and in the market. With that comes the challenge of remaining competitive.
- How to address the changing workforce and potential shortages now or in the future. Polytron provides guidance on technologies such as collaborative robots to provide quality repetitive labor allowing the manufacturer to use their existing employees in other positions requiring more decision making.
- Understanding the constant buzz of new technologies and how to evaluate for strategic initiatives. Polytron is technology neutral and evaluates new and re-purposed technologies on a continuous basis to ensure that we are able to provide our clients with the best solutions based on their current infrastructure, needs, strategic initiatives, and business objectives. We are certified by the major industry technologies to stay abreast of the latest versions and future technologies to provide our clients with continuous improvement opportunities as their demands and goals change.