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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?
 

Dangerous Liaisons?

The fact is, in an engineered control system it is dangerous not to have liaisons. Here are the design engineers. There are the programmers. Each working efficiently in parallel. However, leave out the liaison and a project culminates in a flurry of confusion and the end game becomes a race to repair wrong assumptions, unshared modifications, and uncommunicated customer requests.
 
The key only turns in systems that are truly integrated. Design and control efforts are only really integrated with liaisons—conscious, systematic communication that builds an information bridge between two disciplines. This occurs on two levels. Often an individual engineer who is both design and control-savvy plays the part of the liaison. This pivotal person is on the alert for changes and disseminates critical information across the design and control cubicles. But beyond the individual liaison, what if young engineers were cross-trained, exceptionally skilled programmers who are just as savvyin panel or P&ID design? With these valuable players in place, you now have assembled a project team which is inherently self-aware of the prerequisites for success in both design and control.