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The Power of Partnership

Partnership not only benefits the customer but also the integrator.  The good news is the benefits for the integrator only feed into the customer’s needs.  Integration’s circle of life!

 

In a successful partnership, the customer gets consistent deliverables and resources along with a depth of knowledge for all their processes, including execution methods.  Did I mention trust and reliability? What’s that in the business world?

 

For the integrator, the promise of more work is an obvious benefit.  But partnerships run deeper than that. While working for Avanceon for eight years now and other integrators previously, I have worked with multiple customers.  The hardest part always seems to be kicking off the project and understanding its scope.  That “feeling you out” stage can be as awkward as a blind date.   With a partnership, you can skip that step.

 

A partnership’s true power is the culture it grows.  That culture is a reward to both partners.  Seeing the same faces on projects, already trusting each other, understanding requirements right away or working more closely together to develop them simply leads to more success on both ends.

 

Also, that strong culture helps to onboard a new engineer, one of the hardest things for any company to do.  This applies to both the customer and the integrator.  There isn’t a better atmosphere you can train someone in than the one your company has an overwhelming depth of knowledge in.  Also the new engineer is part of an already trusted team, which gives him or her confidence.  This leads to more engineers the customer knows and trusts for future projects

 

How else does partnership benefit the customer? Just recently I worked on a large project with a long-time customer whose lead engineer was new to their company and leading projects.  But because of the trust and the depth of knowledge we had regarding the way they execute projects, we basically trained their new lead engineer, simply by working together.  In the end, the project was highly successful.

 

Have you benefitted from a successful customer-integrator relationship?  Post your experiences below!

Project Management for Beginners

I am not a project manager (and I don’t play one on TV, either). But I do work closely with PMs and have picked up some of their secrets. Unfortunately these aren’t juicy, salacious secrets, but they do offer some good insight for engineers, administrative team members, and clients alike.
 
1. Communication is Key: Good project management relies on communication. PMs often play the vital role of liaisons between the customer and the team, and serve as the voice for all parties. One silent player and the whole project can go down like dominoes.
 
2. Organization, Organization, Organization: Write it on paper, type it on a computer, draw it in crayons, whatever works. Meeting notes, budget lists, contact names, deliverable schedules—they all have to exist somewhere locatable and reference-able. That’s why the Avanceon team is a little obsessed with SharePoint. A live, structured home for all project data, organized and consistent. SharePoint project sites are constantly evolving during the lifespan of a project and are regularly audited through project completion.
 
3. See the Big Picture: I think anyone who can repeatedly solve a Rubik’s Cube would make a great PM. You have to see where each row aligns, how moving one piece will affect others, and have one (often concrete) solution in mind. There’s no fixed way to complete the puzzle (though changing the colored stickers is probably the wrong way), and sometimes you have to get creative. But a good PM solves it every time.
 
4. Speak Up: PMs should be willing to stop the line (an apropos reference for the manufacturing industry!). If something crucial isn’t going as planned, good project managers stop and address issues before they snowball. This interruption benefits all sides and often prevents bigger delays.
 
PMs see projects from inception to completion, every aspect from the technical to the financial. They juggle scheduling, change orders and estimates, manage expectations and communication about all of the above. It’s not an easy feat. Keep this in mind for your next project, and maybe give your PM a hug now that you realize all that they do!

A Beer Drinking Company with a Softball Problem

Eight years ago I walked into Avanceon for my first day at work.  Like many people, I was nervous about starting a new job.  My nervousness skyrocketed when a comment I made in my interview about having played softball in junior high school somehow had morphed into me being known as “the girl that plays softball” to all my new co-workers.  I was flooded with questions about what position I wanted to play and when I could start and was shown the trophies the team had won in past seasons.  I quickly learned that softball at Avanceon is a big deal.

 

I showed up on game day, fully prepared to embarrass myself since I hadn’t picked up a bat in 20 years, and was given my jersey.  On the front in bold lettering was the saying “A Beer Drinking Company With A Softball Problem Since 1984.”  I laughed, appreciating the humor, and made my way to the office kitchen to meet up with my new teammates.  I was warmly greeted and immediately handed a cold beer, which was the perfect antidote to my nerves.  As I guzzled my beer and stretched my legs, I was given a crash course in Avanceon softball.  I learned three important lessons that day: 1) We play to win 2) Having a beer before the game is a long time Avanceon tradition and 3) Having several beers after the game is an even bigger Avanceon tradition.

 

I don’t remember what position I played that day or whether we won or lost.  What I do remember is how much fun I had bonding with my new co-workers over softball and beer—something that I have been able to do for the past eight summers.  Some faces have changed, some have gotten older, but our motto is still just as true today as it was back then: Avanceon is a beer drinking company with a softball problem, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

The Opportunity to Innovate Is “Now Here”

Why didn’t I think of that?  We’ve all been there, watching “Shark Tank” or a commercial for a new product that’s deceptively simple or ingenuously innovative, something we know we could have come up with, if only we had!  Perhaps you’ve heard about a competitor’s new system or creative solution and wanted to slap your own forehead.  Why didn’t we think of that? 

 

Low energy, labor and money costs make this a great time to improve your manufacturing operations, gain efficiency and hedge future expenses.  But if your operation is running smoothly, how can you spot existing opportunities to innovate and drive more value to your organization?  Here are some areas to consider:

 

  • Data Analytics:  Are you capturing enough data?  Are you collecting the most useful data?  Have you tied your historical data to financial return and impact? Innovative data analysis can shed light on where efficiency can be improved and where cash can be saved.
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  • The Holistic, “Circular” System: Can you recycle and reuse traditionally discarded waste products?  Are there redundant elements in your current system?  Do all your system’s elements “speak the same language” and connect optimally and show their value impact?  Thinking of your system as “circular” as opposed to “linear” and focusing holistically may inspire creative solutions.
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  • Advanced Automation: Sensor networks, remote telemetry, vision systems and artificial intelligence aren’t as costly as they may sound.  Operations of any size can scale these technologies to optimize their systems and drive value to the business.
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    If you feel a little stagnant, a fresh perspective is invaluable.  Be it interacting with other departments in your organization, talking to your industry peers, reviewing the new offerings of your technical partners or working in consultation with a professional services firm, there are endless opportunities to leverage business value from today’s latest trends.  After all, depending on your perspective from the Shark Tank, the opportunity to create value is either ‘no where’ or ‘now here.’

    Avanceon’s Culture: ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’

    Many companies claim to have a great culture, but would their employees agree? I believe that Avanceon’s culture is inspiring, and I’m going to tell you what makes us different. The term culture might be often over-used, but as Avanceon’s in-house recruiter, it’s a large part of what I do. Finding candidates that fit our culture is an important part of successful hiring.
     
    ‘Culture’ is a company’s values, beliefs, assumptions, interests, experiences and habits that come together to create the environment that surrounds you at work. This powerful element molds your work enjoyment, your work relationships, and your work processes.
     
    Avanceon’s culture is defined by our executive team, and mirrored by the people that we hire. As a ‘work hard – play hard’ company, our strength lies in our ability to find and keep employees that recognize the value of a job well done and strive to give 100%. We also value our fun. On any given day, you may find a group playing ping pong, at an after-hours craft brew sampling, or at a team-focused trivia event. Engineers, human resources, sales, finance, and the executive team come together to both serve our customers and celebrate our successes at office anniversaries, holiday parties, Phillies games, and picnics—just to name a few! We often look for opportunities to cook out and enjoy each other’s company.
     
    Our ‘work hard, play hard’ culture is one of the many things that we take pride in and drives our success both individually and as a team.
     
    How would you describe the culture at your workplace? Does it inspire you to give your all? Does your company value fun? Drop us a line and let us know!

    Is Windows 10 the most secure Windows ever?

    • Starting on July 29th, 2015 the newest version of Microsoft Windows was released to the public. With it the hopes of all Windows 7 and 8 users rode in the balance. The Home version is a free upgrade and Microsoft made it very easy to just click and install it. But wait, there are a number of things they don’t tell you. The Home upgrade is only available free until next July 2016 after that you need to pay. Companies will be using the Enterprise or Pro versions, the main difference is access to Domain networks. Windows 10 brings back the feel of 7 with a ton of newer features to play with. Major security upgrades and much lower resource use is very helpful for older machines.
     
    • Security is enhanced and is better than any other previous version ever. Microsoft is also watching and recording almost everything you are doing. Big brother is real and he is watching. Now there is little reason to fear of repercussions or the NSA knocking on your door. There are numbers of ways to prevent certain types of “spying”. Is it really spying though if you agree to it? When you do the install you can opt out and prevent the constant looking over the shoulder from Microsoft. If you were unable to figure out how to do that there is still a way to change the settings. The risk of Malware and Phishing sites is greatly reduced by the new security too so there are some great things as well.
     
    • To help less technical users who may have already upgraded you can check your security settings and make adjustments to your comfort level. As a company we will be transitioning over to Windows 10 Enterprise version slowly over the next few months. You are easily able to upgrade without fear of losing any personal data and programs. If like most home users you want the newest and the best and just jump in with both feet here are some things to consider when it’s done. Check over the security settings and take a little time to read some of the fine print. Here is a little quote from Microsoft as an example. “Finally, we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to: 1.comply with applicable law or respond to valid legal process, including from law enforcement or other government agencies.” It continues on for a while giving more examples of CYA material. Actually it’s CMA the “M” now being Microsoft.
     
    • When logging into 10 open the Start menu (Yes it is back) and open “Settings” then click on “Privacy”. There are 13 yes 13 different screens to go through and read carefully. You will need to determine which ones to disable and which ones you may leave on. This is completely up to you what information goes to Microsoft. I myself am about 60-40 Off to On. If you have nothing to fear then just leave it be, but I suggest at least taking the time and reading over each selection to give yourself at least the knowledge of what is happening on your machine. There are plenty of resources to go to and ask questions about each of these. Best to go outside of Microsoft to ask about it though. Google has links for days about all types of opinions and your local Network Admin may have a few as well.
     
    • Make sure to protect yourself and your computer and have the necessary programs as well. Antivirus is a must if you don’t want to pay for it there are free versions available. They are limited but they catch most of what’s out there. Windows Defender is built in and works OK as a malware blocker, but keep it updated. Again there are free programs you can run to protect against the bad people out there. Schedule regular scans on home and work machines. Run Windows updates and look through any optional ones to see if you really need them. Use a secure password and change it regularly.

    Support 24×7 – What Saves You?

    It’s 3:00 A.M. Your phone rings. You take the call and it turns out the system you are supporting is having issues all over the place and production is down. You pull out your laptop, turn it on and cringe at the bright light that suddenly appears. You try to get your brain moving towards actually coming up with a resolution, but don’t even know where to start. Here are a few very simple tips and tricks that can save you (and your customer) with troubleshooting support requests.
     
    Turn it Off and On Again
     
    “Turning things off and on again” is a concept that computer geeks joke about quite often. There is, however, something magical about resetting everything back to a clean starting point. It’s not always about literally cycling power to a device – it’s more about the concept. Most of the support calls that we have ever gotten have been resolved by stopping the system that includes what’s broken, making sure all of the components (data points, etc.) line up correctly and then restarting the process, whatever it may be. This is especially useful if the system falls into a funky state and cannot automatically get itself back to a good state.
     
    Debugging Tools
     
    Many development environments include tools to help you troubleshoot problematic custom code. Depending on how complex of a debugger the software includes, you may be able to pause the code’s run-time execution and view live values of tags or variables. This allows you to step through each line of code and view in real time exactly what the code does and where it’s breaking. If you have debugging tools at your disposal, your troubleshooting experience will most likely be significantly less painful. Perhaps this is something to keep in mind when choosing a development environment to utilize on your next project!
     
    Log Files
     
    If a code debugging tool is not available, log files might just be the key to restoring balance to the delicate ecosystem that is software troubleshooting. Log files allow you to potentially see a problem that has already happened in the past. Imagine supporting a system without log files. You would have to watch the system 24/7 without looking away in order to see the issue happen. I don’t know about you, but I have much more important things to do—like watch some paint dry and the grass grow. You can use your code to log important values or messages relating to an incident in order to figure out what went wrong the next time it happens. Using these values, you could trace through the code and figure out what the code would do with those values.
     
    What other tips and tricks do you have for troubleshooting software issues? What has saved you on those late-night calls?

    Ain’t No Party Like An Avanceon Party

    On Saturday, January 30th, Avanceon employees gathered at Valley Forge Casino for one of the best attended holiday parties in company history. Drinks were imbibed. Money was won and lost. The dance floor was dominated. And the Avanceon “band” made its debut appearance.
     
    The event was organized by HR pro Sara, who followed up last year’s bash aboard the Spirit of Philadelphia with another exciting venue change. The evening kicked off with an open bar, followed by a buffet dinner. After dessert, comedian Adam Olenisis took to the stage for some laughs and “all in good fun” razzing. Olenisis exposed Steve as Bob Z.’s doppelganger, apparent from their preference for blue formalwear. The comedian inflamed (or perhaps started?) a rivalry between Scott from Food and Beverage and Tracey from CPG. Olensis also noted that some associates looked so much like rock stars, they could form a band, with Tracey on lead vocals, Alaina on tambourine, and Eric on bass. Did Evan and his date leave on speaking terms after Olenisis’ ribbing? Sources report that all is well.
     
    At the Vault, the casino’s bar and club, rock band Stellar Mojo kept the dance floor jumping with a variety of crowd-pleasing covers, and the Avanceon crew threw down, pogo-ing to “Livin’ on a Prayer” and grooving to “Uptown Funk.” Brian challenged Sue to a dance-off. Who won? Everyone who witnessed their magnificent moves. In the wee hours, the casino called. Matt ended the night up over $100, one of the party’s biggest winners.
     
    The fantastic turn-out, along with how many associates were still on the dancefloor or around the Roulette wheel very early Sunday morning, is a testament to how many genuine friendships thrive among Avanceon’s team. While some office parties become an obligation, Avanceon’s is a true celebration! Looking forward to next year!
     

    Auto, Data, Help: Manufacturing’s “Puppy, Monkey, Baby?”

    At this point most people have seen the notorious “Puppy, Monkey, Baby” Mountain Dew Kickstart commercial from the Super Bowl. It promotes a new beverage called Kickstart, which combines Mountain Dew, juice, and caffeine—a hybrid of three “awesome” things that are better together. The dancing, beverage-dispensing creature, with a puppy’s head, a monkey’s tail, and a baby’s chubby legs, has polarized audiences; some claim the surreal ad is “freaking out, scaring, and terrorizing” viewers, while others praise the impact of the marketing and the connection to the brand.
     
    I’m not sure if “Puppy, Monkey, Baby” hit the mark from an advertising perspective, but it did make me think about three things that progressive manufacturing customers are focusing on in 2016. What will be our industry’s “three awesome things combined?” From our perspective, they are:
     
    1. Next Level Automation – Many manufacturers automate their processes. In 2016 progressive manufacturers are driving complete system integration and capturing the most granular historical information possible about their process for the potential to model and analyze against.
     
    2. Data Analytics – The concept of MES has existed for more than 20 years, allowing manufacturers to look back at what has happened, but not forward at what will happen. The shift in 2016 will be to use the volumes of data available to “predict the future” regarding where OEE will drop and where Quality will slip before it happens.
     
    3. Help Where Needed – The previous two trends will inundate manufacturers with systems and technologies. Manufacturers will be tasked with revising and shifting their approach to maintenance, engineering, and IT support. The strategies of prior years are not viable today and progressive manufacturers are creating internal universities, entry level development programs, online training and tutorials, tailored external support programs, and an overall commitment to individual growth.
     
    For us “Auto, Data, Help” is the 2016 “Puppy, Monkey, Baby” of our industry. They are three things that, when combined, can increase your level of manufacturing “awesomeness.”
     
    That’s what we see! What do you think the “Puppy, Monkey, Baby?” of 2016 is for your company?