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Your Cube, Your Space

There was a time when I thought a productive employee needed an office where they could shut the door and work away in distraction-free silence. However, while silence is precious and clearly needed at times, there is a lot to be said for the open cubicle office environment. Immediate collaboration is an obvious advantage. The ability to easily open a dialog with a nearby co-worker can be very attractive. However, there are rules and boundaries associated with cube space that we should understand before walking into or shouting over a coworker’s cubicle walls.
Have you ever found yourself squirming away from a ‘close talker?’ No one likes to have their personal space invaded. A cube is a private space that should be respected. Often coworkers welcome conversation, but there are times when an interruption is just that: a disruption to someone’s current train of thought. The chatter that takes place around your cube can be just as invasive. Both business and personal banter can easily distract you from your task at hand.
In these environments there needs to be places of refuge. At Avanceon we have multiple conference, huddle and one-on-one rooms where discussions can take place without interfering with others. We also use white noise generators to help mask the chatter in and outside of these rooms. Private chats or discussions can still happen in a cubicle as long as those discussions do not hinder others in nearby spaces. Don’t be offended when your neighbor asks that you take your conversation to a private place; at some point, you will be that neighbor.
How do you balance collaboration and privacy in the office? Where have you found ‘your space?’


New Year Resolutions for Control Engineers

As 2016 comes to an end and we mentally prepare ourselves for the struggle to date everything 2017, it’s time once again for that time-honored tradition: New Year’s resolutions!
We recently asked our control engineers to give us some resolutions they are making for 2017. Here’s what they came up with:
1. Get rid of all my paper notes, lists and scribbles and move to OneNote
2. Take (and pass) the Certified Automation Professional exam
3. Stop making lists
C. Be more consistent
7. Learn how to count
6. To know the difference between a PID and a P&ID and never get them crossed up.
7. To keep all my emails as short as possible while still maintaining clarity and accuracy.
8. Help clients to fully identify the functionality of the system of their dreams. Too many times clients haven’t realized just how much new MES and PLC programming can benefit them.
9. Bringing as much as I can to the table in the beginning of the project will more clearly define the scope and keep the project successful.
10. Get out from behind the desk. A desk job can be cushy but around the holidays so am I.
11. Learn more keyboard shortcuts to become less dependent on the mouse.
12. Defrag my hard drive more often.
13. Take the time to appreciate how cool my job is and how amazing the systems are that I work on.
Do you have a New Year’s resolution of your own to share?

I Am Not The Enemy! I Am Your Advocate!: Why You Shouldn’t Fear A Quality Audit

I guarantee no one is thrilled to see a calendar invite from me. Why? Chances are I’m asking them to join me in a quality audit review. These meetings aren’t usually anyone’s favorite. But don’t RSVP your excuses just yet! When the following three keys to a successful quality program are in place, the quality auditor has a great opportunity to build a bridge of confidence between the project execution ideal and the reality of everyday project pressures.
Key #1: Management Support: Simply reporting to an independent someone who has no ties to engineering or sales isn’t ideal. You need an executive sponsor with a passion for quality and confidence in the quality assurance process. It’s important for engineers to consider the auditor an advocate who can influence and impact change when the root cause is a broken process itself.
Key #2: Auditor Credibility: The most effective quality auditors have project experience. In my case, I’ve been a project manager and MES developer in the past, and have lived the challenges associated with project execution. To mentor and offer credible solutions, the quality assurance auditor must understand the pressure the project team is under to manage scope, budget and customer satisfaction. Successful auditors are also able to recognize the difference between an execution problem and a problem within the execution process itself.
Key #3: Engineering Commitment to Quality: Is the project team following the letter of the law or the spirit of the law? Everyone on the project should be equally committed to a quality product. The first thing I like to do during an audit review meeting is to remind the team that this is their process. They decided what was important and how they were going to substantiate that they did what they say they did. If it’s important (and it must be because they said it was important), the simple question from the auditor is, “Why didn’t you do it?”

If it’s a broken process, they know the auditor can help them fix it. If they have a better way to do something, then we need to document it and introduce it to the rest of the engineering team. Process can be changed, but not unilaterally. We all have to agree that an execution process change is going to result in a better outcome for our customer as well as for us.

When management, operations and quality work together, engineering sees more immediate results from a project’s quality audit and they find more value in the execution process. So the next time you see my invitation to that dreaded meeting, consider it a message from a friend instead!

Image Source: Freepik

Capsule Training – How to Learn in Small Doses

Do you remember back in ancient times when you went to a training course or bought a new piece of software you received a big fat manual to put on your shelf that you could refer to whenever you had a question or a problem? You pulled it down, flipped to the index and searched for your topic and often it had what you needed. But where are those manuals now? They don’t exist. The world moves too fast, products and topics change too quickly, and (to be quite frank) those things cost too much to produce and use too much paper. So what are we left with? Those same manuals in electronic versions.
So, in theory, you can use them much the same way. But is that how it works in practice? If you are anything like me I usually forget all about them. And when I do remember then, even though they have all the same stuff in them, the format just isn’t conducive to finding what I need. You don’t flip through the same way, you don’t read the same.
Given that, consider this: how does a technical organization such as Avanceon successfully prepare, maintain, and deliver training to its people? Conventional wisdom is to pick a topic, prepare a massive slide deck on that topic, delivery an all-encompassing training session, then turn it into a user manual. Here are the challenges to that approach:

  • The preparation is a massive effort that is often pretty intimidating
  • The training session is usually pretty dry
  • The trainees don’t retain the information
  • There is always at least one intended trainee absent
  • The user manual is, well…, see above
    So instead of doing that, Avanceon has flipped the traditional model on its head and we are going smaller, using what I’ve dubbed Capsule Training or others have called One Point Lessons. A Capsule Training is intended to be a short, tightly focused, topical training document. Here are some guidelines:
  • It should be a single topic or question (e.g. How to go online with a Contrologix PLC, How to configure a Data Acquisition Server)
  • It should be short (1-2 traditional pages)
  • It should be heavy on steps/lists and light on paragraphs
  • It should stand on its own
    So what are the advantages of this approach? I’ve got a few:
  • They are pretty easy to prepare. Instead of being intimidated by the massive manual, you can prepare one of these in a few minutes
  • Anyone can write one
  • Anyone can read and absorb a topic quickly
  • You can gain momentum in developing your training library because you can start with the simple low-hanging fruit topics and add complex ones later
  • Maintenance is easier, if a topic is out-dated, you can replace just that one
  • The content evolves as the company’s needs evolve as gaps are identified and filled in
  • If you want to train on a topic, you can do so in minutes in other contexts
    Have I convinced you? If so, one other consideration before you dive in: just as important as the topics you pick and the words you write is the platform you use to organize everything. Here you are looking to replicate the indices from those manuals. Everything needs to be in one place, presented in a list, searchable and filterable. Because, let’s face it, you can write the best Capsule Training pages in the word but if your intended trainees don’t know it’s there or can’t find their topic quickly, your training library might as well be an MS/DOS manual sitting on your bookshelf for all the good it is going to do.


    In the bustle of the holiday season, Thanksgiving means different things to different people.  For some, the remembrance of a historic harvest feast, but for others a time to sit back and ponder the things they are most thankful for.  At Avanceon, it is a time to remember the good people, both co-workers and customers alike, that make up our family.  And, to honor the dedication to engineer innovation for manufacturing solutions.
    This week, families across America will sit down at the Thanksgiving table and give thanks for the blessings of the year.  A time for joy and tradition, we reflect on the joys and traditions Avanceon felt rewarded with in 2016.  Our delight in projects we have worked thoroughly on and the blissful feelings of completion and proper execution are only scratching the surface of the array of thanks we have.
    It is so easy to use Thanksgiving as an excuse to just devote one day to thankfulness, but when looking back at the year, every day, operating with a team of devoted associates, is one full of gratitude and recognition.  We have a group who make up many different facets of knowledge in engineering.  Much like the assorted fruits and vegetables making up a traditional cornucopia centerpiece.
    This is the time we should spend thinking about our team.  We at Avanceon hope you think about the people you work with, your friends, your family, and the relationships you have made this year.  And then try, over the course of the next full year, to take time to be thankful every day.
    What are you thankful for?  Think it over and spend your Thanksgiving and every day giving thanks.
    Image Source: Freepik