EBOM & MBOM are hot topics that many companies are investing in to have a tighter digital thread between Engineering and Manufacturing. Solar Turbines has been benefiting from this tight integration for years and Eric Horn shares why and how they did it in this episode of the “PLM Quick 30.”
Contact us if you’re ready to discuss a dynamic PLM strategy.
The transcript is close to a literal transcript of the spoken word. Please excuse any grammatical errors, spelling errors or break in the flow. The podcast is a non-scripted conversation with natural flow aimed to deliver value.
Hello, welcome everybody. This is Patrick Sullivan from ArcherGrey, and welcome to another episode of ArcherGrey’s PLM Quick 30 where we talk all things PLM. And we have a very special guest today, Eric Horn from Solar Turbines. Eric, welcome.
Oh, thank you for having me.
I appreciate you taking the time. Eric is an expert in PLM, and in fact he’s been one of the key folks at Solar Turbines leading the charge in terms of what they’ve been doing. And the topic that we’re going to be covering today is going to be focused around PLM and the relationship with MPMLink and all the processes and technology in between there. So, we’re going to be exploring that today, and looking forward to all of the valuable insight that Eric’s going to share with us today. Is that enough pressure for you, Eric?
Sure, yeah. Bring it on.
Okay. You know what? If you wouldn’t mind taking a moment to introduce yourself and your role and your background, so everybody gets a little more familiar with who you are and what you do.
Okay, sure, not a problem. I’m actually a mechanical engineer that has been in both worlds of engineering and I would say CAD. It started out in the early days as CAD and product data management using … I mean, we go back to Pro/PDM and Intralink and I’ve slowly jumped from company to the company during the days. Done anything from commercial product design to aerospace and defense and now oil and gas turbo machinery.
I would say it’s been one of those roles where it’s always been a hybrid, one foot in engineering and one foot in IT. Now at Solar Turbines, I’m a hundred percent dedicated to the IT world and I’m essentially the PLM solution architect, and I just guide the day-to-day operations of PLM work along with working with the business as far as doing anything from upgrading the system, implementing new software, portions of PLM that we’re not using yet but the business wants to use, and tweaking existing processes just to help cut out the waste in the people process.
And usually what we try to do is we try to use this system to its potential and try to cut out all the silly things that we tend to do in our people process that just make our lives more difficult. That’s the high-level view of where I’ve been and where I am today.
Thanks for the background. It’s interesting. It sounds like Solar Turbines is progressive from the standpoint of investing in PLM, and you mentioned testing new technology and finding ways to create more efficiency and streamlining activity in the way that you work and function as an organization through PLM. Some people struggle with being able to get to that point where they’ve got … it’s a major platform where executives recognize that it’s an opportunity to create efficiency and streamline communication to work better and create a better product. How did you get to that point?
I think what the key driver for that was is that, first of all, we have a really old and really bad ERP system. And I would say maybe decades ago they were looking at technology to help engineering improve their usage of not using ERP, because engineers hate to use ERP.
So, we were like, “Well, what can we do to help them out?” So, they actually brought on technology early on to try to help streamline the process, and I think that’s what paved the way to where we are today where we’re open to technology and investigation of its use in our process, and trying to use things for what they meant to be used for instead of just doing core … I mean, I’ve seen a lot of people that just … “I have tremendous suite of tools available to me and I’m using it for 5% of its potential.”
And we tend to say, “Well, tell me more about this.” “Well, how can I have this to lean up my process.” And especially when you’re trying to do a lot of work with maybe not a whole lot of people, you’re trying to improve your company margins, those are always ways that we can try to lean things out. And I would say the adoption of the Six Sigma methodology is also what helped. So, we do analyze what we do as a business regularly.
When they first adopted Six Sigma they put in big incentives for people to try to improve and that just helped foster that community. And even they stopped offering incentives for big process improvements, we still have that ingrained mentality within the business that we’re always trying to strive towards leaning out and improving process. I think that’s where a lot of it’s come from. And some of it’s just come from, “Hey, we’re trying to do a lot of work with not so many people and we can’t hire more people, but what can we do to have the technology take over some of the work that our people are doing?” So, that’s all different ways that we strive to use technology to our advantage.
Yeah. It’s interesting you bring up that comment around when you first were implementing the Six Sigma methodology, that there were incentives behind it to improve and then it became part of the culture. It’s not uncommon for us to see companies invest in implementing a technology, it gets deployed, and depending on how the initiatives were sold internally and how they decide to invest in OCM, an interesting that we don’t frequently see is that the incentives are part of the program ultimately.
One on the success of the program, but more importantly incentives to directors and managers of helping encourage a new way of working. And so we’re going to be talking about engineering and manufacturing relationship during today’s call. Some organizations are incented from an engineering perspective of how quickly do you get the designs out the door, versus what’s the quality of the design and the data within that design so it can be consumed downstream.
Yeah. Those are very key considerations, that’s for sure. Trust me, we’ve struggled with all of those.
Yeah, yeah. Good.
Let’s transition a little bit. Digital transformation is a buzzword that’s been going on for the last few years, and I’m curious. When we talk about it I get different definitions from different people. So, from your perspective and through the eyes of PLM, what does digital transformation mean to you?
To me, that just means that we’re doing things on a computer that we would have otherwise not have done. Anywhere from everybody loves to say, “I’m going paperless,” going paperless is definitely … you have to make things digital. We have been computer-aided design for a long time and I think the days of the board are long gone, but there’s so much more that we do.
And sometimes it’s even the simple things like trying to get out of my Excel spreadsheet. Excel spreadsheets are very disconnected pieces of data that have no intelligence behind it, and I think to us it’s more like, well, let me use the databases and their key capacities for doing what they do best, and I want to have the most relevant data presented to my users at any given time and I need to have, anybody needs to have access to it.
So, it’s not just being digital, but it’s also being in a system that’s readily-available, there’s not a separate copy. If I have to go turn to somebody and say, “Hey, what was that data again? Because it’s only stored on your computer,” no, no, that’s not a good use of going digital. You have to have the key systems in place and they usually say the single source of truth for that data. There’s maybe not always one single source of truth for the data.
The more you strive for that kind of mentality, the better you’ll be in the long run because trying to have multiple systems all do the same thing is very endemic because then you’ll lead to confusion, people don’t necessarily know where the actual root of the data is supposed to be authored or reside in or what behaviors drive the data. So, it’s really trying to understand that humongous cauldron of your digital data and how do I best maintain that. So, people are very used to using those systems in very many different ways, but it’s trying to come together in one cohesive way and that’s the real key point.
Yeah. I mean, that lends itself into the topic of digital thread, right? And being able to, as you said, single source of truth or at least in a digital fashion having the data available in an accessible way where it’s related to whoever’s consuming that information. My perspective of Solar Turbines related to PLM and how you guys have worked with PTC Windchill is that you’re way ahead of this present trend of IoT and digital thread. I’d be interested to hear a little bit about your guys’ journey thus far on how you work with respect to thinking about information in a digital fashion and your IoT strategy around that.
Yeah, that can get into a long conversation in itself, so I’ll try to make it brief so we don’t use any listeners. But we actually looked back at old presentations, because we actually have a group at Solar that looks at global enabling systems.
And way back in 2005, somebody started a presentation that said, “How can I take what I’m doing today and evolve that into the future to where I have something like a digital twin of every product that leaves the facility?” But it took literally 10 years by the time somebody came up with an idea to where we actually had the technology to do it. And not only that, we actually had the strides within the business to enforce the change within the OCM part of it, to actually get the people to use the new systems in the way that they were supposed to.
So, it really took a high-level vision and then a slow march towards that path. It takes people like VPs, directors, and good champions within engineering and/or manufacturing just to be like, “Hey, this is not only where we want to go, but these are good for everybody. It’s good for the business. It’s just the right thing to do.” Sometimes that’s really hard to march down the path because everybody’s so focused on ROI, that some of these ROIs are so hard to compute you sometimes just have to have the approval from directors or VPs or whoever it may be just saying, “You know what? I like the vision. This is the way we should be going. Let’s start going down that path and we’ll worry about ROI as we go.”
Sometimes you’ll find out that you’ll find the ROI after the fact, which is the case that we did, is that we started off with an initial which was based on headcount reduction and the true ROI didn’t come till years later when we actually found out that the true ROI was in our quality. We find out that we’re doing less ECRs against our engineering, and just the impact there was huge and nobody even saw that upfront. So, sometimes you’re like, “Do I really need a solid use case to start going this path initially?” No. Sometimes you just need to know what’s the right thing to do and just start going down that path.
When you say that high-level, because I think that’s pretty insightful, because I think about what transpires over a 10-year time period, and there’s org structures, there’s change in leadership, and if, to your point, it’s the right vision, it’s something that an organization is trying to achieve across the board. So, what was that vision starting back in 2005?
I think that vision was just how can I do better? They had a lot of pain back then because you’re talking in 2005, they didn’t have the systems that they have in today. So, for them to get done back then was really painful. We do engineering to order which means that every customer order is custom. And just if we ever output a drawing of the end product to the customer, which was required, took a lot of time and effort. We spent so much time for customer order on this, how can I reduce the time I spend on that? Because that’s a humongous fixed cost price to me, for an engineering team to spend hundreds of hours just to output a customer deliverable so that he can receive his order.
So, they’re like, “Well, we’ve got to do something about this.” So they start formulating plans and ideas. And even though over the years there’s org changes and structures, fundamentally what we do today is not much different to what we did back then. It’s just that we’re trying to reduce time to market. Our process is not necessarily time to market, but it’s just time from when the customer orders it to the time they receive it, we try to reduce that time. So, there’s those key drivers that maybe we’re trying to reduce cost which increases margin, or sometimes it’s not even necessarily increasing margin but it’s maybe there’s competitive pricing in the market that I have to try to be more price competitive.
And so I am either increasing margin or I’m making it so that, with less cost, I can reduce price to the customer, which then makes that also a key differentiator and I can now be more competitive in the market. Those fundamentals haven’t changed, even though the organization may have changed over the years. And so I think that’s where, even though we get this turn within the business, the fundamental drivers in the business haven’t changed. Some of those org changes can really severely affect the day-to-day work that takes us to get to the end product.
Yeah. I’m wondering, because I’m piecing some of your comments together of the high-level vision that you had mentioned, how can I do better, with your earlier comment of you had an old ERP system and engineers don’t like using ERP. And then I know that you guys, you were doing Internet of Things before Internet of Things was being campaigned as a vision. You guys have been doing it for a long time. So, I’m curious, were all three of those things starting to transpire all at the same time?
I would say they were all siloed essentially, because while we were doing Internet of Things a long time ago, we have a very homegrown, competitive advantage IoT that we built into our own platform. I would say we had it in our heart before the industry even knew what IoT was. And we were doing that mostly because our products are installed in very remote locations, that it’s very expensive sometimes to send a technician out to.
So, we were forced into that area just by trying to reduce costs. And it may not have been a cost factor. My customer needs 99.9% availability of his equipment, and if it’s in that remote of a location, I need a way of either monitoring it and being able to diagnose problems before I can send a guy on a three-day trip just to get to the location of the equipment. That’s where we had that whole IoT thing came in a separate silo than I would say even the product digitalization and evolution of how we do our other business processes.
Yeah. I mean, it’s one thing to talk about the product, right? And you guys have an amazing product and you lead the market in that category. And then it’s another thing to think about the impact that your product has on society, and then the fact that you talk about it in terms of uptime and thinking about how you can help ensure that that uptime exists.
And ultimately the effect on not only the consumers but your customers is the vision, or the priority for you guys. And it sounded like from the high-level vision you expressed of how can I do better, I assume that those things that I just said, with the impact that your product has on society, it influences the whole strategy of, even if you don’t have a clear ROI it’s the right thing to do?
Yeah, definitely. Now, of course, if you could show clear ROI to the business sometimes you can get these things pushed through much faster. That’s also the not so much fun part of this digital transformation, is trying to march down the path of making this kind of change and fundamental shift in the business when you don’t have a clear ROI.
So, sometimes it’s really easy to put those initiatives on hold because people like to say, “This isn’t important to me right now,” because they’ll make important what has a clear ROI. But still trying to keep a focus on it is still always a good thing. But yes, very difficult, very challenging. This is definitely not for the faint of heart at all, to march down this path. That in itself is also, just me saying that makes me sad, because some of this stuff, it shouldn’t be that difficult.
Why is it so difficult for us to latch onto this and make these changes within our business? Because maybe we are too busy, maybe we don’t have our sights set on the right goals. Yeah. I sit here today and just look at what I’ve done in the last nine years at Solar Turbines, I’m like, “Man, we’ve done a lot.” And if we had known where we are today and could go back to the beginning and be like, “Hey, this is going to be awesome. We’re doing all this stuff. We’re going to be this good at our business in nine years. Even though we don’t feel like we’re ahead of the pack, we’re like, no, you’re going to be awesome.”
But trying to wrap your mind around that as you’re going through it is very difficult, and I think that just because we are so busy, trying to overcome some of these challenges, sometimes it feels like I’m trying to turn the Titanic with an oar. It’s really difficult to get the company to change its focus and to turn the ship, but once you do start getting it turning, you’ll slowly find out just the impact it can have on your business.
And sometimes too it’s also like when I do these, trying to have the right OCM in place is also key, because any time I do a fundamental shift in my process and my technology you always tend to have a productivity dip because of that change. And trying to understand that you’re going to have a productivity dip and not to have people freak, overreact and try to course correct is key. Because what happens is if I do a technology change and a course correct, I’m going to introduce another productivity dip. And then if I have another productivity dip and then somebody course corrects again in the wrong direction I’m going to have a third productivity dip, and pretty soon I’m on a crash course of not getting any productivity. As long as you understand that, you can stay the course and get through that productivity dip, then you’ll start seeing these really big gains.
Then you can start making informed decisions as far as, “Well, maybe I didn’t get the productivity I wanted but I’m on the right path. What are the slight course corrections I can make to really improve.” I think we’ve found that really valuable. We did have those exact cases where people freaked out during that productivity dip, and trying to have the right people focus and say, “Well, what’s really the source of the problem? Is it something we can get through?” and just understanding, “Okay, what’s a true problem we have to solve and then what’s just a people push just to try and get them used to the new process?” Those were all key things that you just have to try to get through.
Yeah. I mean, that speaks to your certainly maturity level and experience in going through it. In fact, we just had a conversation with a client yesterday, because they’re planning a new implementation of Windchill, and they were talking about how they cannot have any impact to productivity. And we had that tough conversation of what you just described around the productivity dip and the process of OCM. You can certainly minimize it by deciding that OCM is an important part of the implementation, in its own work stream and its own right, and there’s ways to help mitigate it, but if you stay the course and you believe in the methodology and the strategy associated to it, it’s a short dip for a big gain.
Let’s peel the onion back a little bit here, your guys’ business model around engineering to order. When I think about that this business model, can you expound a bit? Because in order to have that happen, especially with the product that you guys have, your quotes have to be spot on, not just from, “Hey, did we do this before? What was that estimate?” Everything is essentially custom to that potential customer, and so sales has to be able to collaborate with engineering and engineering has to be able to collaborate with manufacturing to know exactly how this thing is going to be built and the amount of resources it’s going to take to get it done. And then ultimately, how’s it going to be delivered to the client. Is that a fair assumption and description on my side?
Oh yeah, that is. Yeah, the engineer to order business model can be a very difficult one and it is quite different from those I would say who are blessed to do high volume manufacturing. The high volume manufacturing which you usually have is you have really low margins but it’s okay because you have economy of scale. For us, we have much bigger margins but our volume is really low.
So, when some manufacturers think volumes in their thousands or tens of thousands is low, they’re like, “No, we output stuff in the millions.” Well, we are outputting stuff in the hundreds, and so that just means that we have to have the right collaboration in place all the way from the sales office, through engineering, and through manufacturing, because they all have to work together to say, “Hey … ” Well, first of all, when sales is looking at a potential customer’s implementation, “Am I even going to make money on this?” So, they may talk with engineering on 10 different proposals to find out, “Well, first of all, are these 10 different proposals going to suit what my customer needs and am I actually going to make a profit off of this?” Because we won’t offer something to the customer if there’s no money in it, so they have to make sure that all that’s in place.
And before that used to be done all through phone calls, emails, and Excel spreadsheets, and we said no, we need better processes around this and actually connect the systems. So that when my sales guy can actually figure something in his configure price quote software, it can flow down to the engineering systems and it can actually give engineering something that they can take a look at and actually say, maybe blend that with some ERP data and be like, “All right, well this is how much this is going to cost. This will get us 80% of the way there. The rest, I can give you a proposal based off of the custom features that the customer wants, and then the expected margin is going to be about this.” Then that gives sales that much more ammunition to then talk with the customers as far as what we’re willing to propose and work on.
What key technology do you have implemented to support that?
Early on, we’ve been using part structures within Windchill, and then we have CAD data management. So, what we did was we started to link the two together. Instead of having part structures manually updated and separate CAD structures, we said, “Okay, well let’s go ahead and connect those and get some 3D publishing going.” That was the foundation level, core technology of linking that kind of data together.
Then once we got that in place, we took a look at options in variance, to be able to put the sales logic from the Excel spreadsheet, what it used to be, into the actual BoM structures. Then as we did that, we then said, “Okay, well can we connect our product configurator to options of variance so that our product configurator can help drive the bill material within Windchill.” Then that’s what got us to, “Okay, now we can connect sales to engineering through this integration, and data can start flowing through our systems instead of through people’s telephones.”
Then what happened too is that as engineering was building this options in variance structure, they also looked at manufacturing and said, “Well, what can we do to make sure that manufacturing, we can give them merely execution-ready data from the time that we start cutting our engineering deliverables?”
So, then we looked at MPMLink within Windchill for manufacturing process planning, to say, “How can I plan out all this data so that I can get manufacturing as close to ready to produce this product as they can be?” So, then we had this blended. I now have options in variance where I’m driving logic and EBOM in the CAD structure that’s then linked to MBOM structure that has related process plans. And once all those can now be executed together, I create essentially copies of those for each sales order. I can now send those to my ERP system and to my manufacturing execution system and have this digital trail of all this information.
So, now I’m going from my sales front end to my manufacturing systems, creating manufacturing deliverables that then flow down to my ERP and my MES systems, all without having people to email, talk, and work on Excel spreadsheets in silos. A lot of that just within the Windchill world, we used to even have separate segregations in engineering disciplines where the mechanical design, the hydro schematic design, the software design, ancillary design, which is all of the air flow through our thing, they were all done in silos where essentially … It used to be that you could tell engineering, “All right, we’ve got a sales order, go.”
All six engineering silos were essentially running down the sprint path in their own silo, they’d all get to the finish line, and they’d all get to the finish line very quickly. But then you’d find out that the answer that they had at the end never matched and you’re like, “Well, okay.” All right, so this is not good because everybody’s marching, it’s like you’re running a race down … what do you call that in the Olympics where they’re all sprinting? But their walls are so high nobody can see each other. And they all get to the end and then you expect them maybe to all get to the end at the same time, but nobody does because they can’t see what each other’s doing.
Okay, so by linking all the data together and having them work on a common goal together on the same data structure, they are now coming and some people say, “It’s taken my process longer.” “Yes, it’s taken your process longer because you are no longer working in a silo. You have to work together as a team. So, you all work together, you all get to the finish line at the same time, but you all come together with the same answer.”
And so then we’re finding out that we’re spending less time at the end reconciling the data, finding less errors, and we’re getting to the manufacturer with a cleaner product, which has helped tremendously. Helps manufacturing build quicker because I’m no longer resolving problems on the shop floor. And the quality that we get is better because now we’re finding out that the engineering between the disciplines is tighter and doesn’t have the same data errors that it used to have years ago.
Man, that’s really, really compelling. How do you get that mind shift from … When people talk about digital transformation, it can take on different definitions for sure. And you had said that the process takes longer, but you’re coming up with the same answer at the end of it.
And then going back to your comment around ROI. The initial investment was sold for headcount reduction, and then after going through the process of starting to implement it and march down that path and sequence that you described, it turned out that less ERCs was the biggest ROI associated to that. When you say that everybody was collaborating and the silos were taken down, is that what you meant when you were talking about less ERCs and the quality increasing?
Yeah, that definitely had key players on it. I think what also helped too is that since everybody’s working together, and it’s not just the engineering disciplines but it was also that manufacturing was getting involved early, because with the use MPMLink and process plains, the manufacturing and engineers are no longer just getting the end result. After we’d executed a sales order, engineering’s done their work, then they throw it over the brick wall to manufacturing? No, no, no. They’re actually looking at the engineering before we’ve even cut the sales order, figuring out how they’re going to assemble it.
You’ve got all these disciplines working and so you actually find out that in the end, because we actually make an engineering standard upfront which contains a base part that we then customize, because that base product is now getting scrutiny from all the engineering disciplines, that we have a better starting point. And by the time we actually do get a customer order and get to manufacturing, the end result is much cleaner than we would have had before.
But trying to prove ROI is extremely difficult. Most of these ROI justifications we didn’t learn about till years after we went live with some of these fundamental shifts, and then we looked back on it and we started doing analysis once you start getting data and we were like, “Wow, some of these were actually goldmines.” Initially, we said we’ll be able to do the same amount of volume with the 13 headcount reduction, and then usually what we ended up getting is most engineering managers never want to actually let anybody go as a sign for headcount reduction.
So, we got to this whole end and then people were like, “Well, I’m not letting anybody go. I’m actually going to be spending more money and not saving the company money.” And the CFO says, “Okay, well this project was a colossal failure.” Okay, so if that was the case when we went live, why is it that we’re still doing it today five years later? The answer is because not only … Some people want to claim on an actual ROI, because that would have meant that they would have gotten pressure from management to reduce their headcount.
But instead, we found out through difficult economy times, because our industry is very cyclical, that we ended up doing the same amount of volume, if not more volume on our engineering side, with less staff because we had to. We were forced to do it. We were like, “Wow. So, you mean we went through difficult times, I had to do essentially more work with either the same people or less people because we had to shift people around, and I was still productive and I had a quality product that had less errors and it got to the customer faster?” You’re like, “Yes sir.” “All right, well how did this happen?” Well, it’s because we did this technology change that enabled our business to take advantage of all this and now we’re reaping the benefits.
So, if I were to tell a company today how can I foresee this in the future, it’s really difficult to foresee that in the future but you can listen to somebody like me who’s been through this, or a company like ours that’s been through it, and be like, “Hey, look at what they’re seeing. Do I need to get on that same path and am I going to see similar results?” The answer is going to be yes. You should be able to see similar results down the road and you can take the lessons learned that somebody’s been doing it and say, “Well, what did you get out of it? What are your lessons learned?”
And by collaborating like that, which is why I usually don’t have a problem sharing my story with other companies, is because that’s the way that we can help share the vision. Because some of these are so difficult, the more we share the vision hopefully people can start appreciating it and maybe want to do the same thing. Selling to executive management is always going to be difficult, but the more we can get that word out there hopefully we can start selling the vision a little bit, because some of these visions can be hard to sell to people that are so in the trenches of, “What am I doing today? I just need to worry about getting part of it done today.”
Well, sure, that’s fine, but then what happens when something like the current pandemic hits and now everybody’s working from home? If you have the technology in place, maybe the impact to your business won’t be so bad because you aren’t relying upon the old ways of doing things. I now have everything in a central, digital thread system, to where my sales, my engineering, my manufacturing, can all still be productive because the technology’s in place.
How long have you had MPMLink implemented?
We went live in 2015 and we started exploring this in 2012. It took us three years to go live, but that was only because all those key drivers I talked about originally, we implemented them altogether. So, we took one product family … That’s another thing too. Don’t just shift and do a big bang of everything. Usually what we did is we took one product family and said, “We’re going to do this technology shift on one product family that works well together.” We implemented the process change across this product family, and then we had plans then to migrate that to all the product families.
Yeah, we implemented a lot because we did options in variance, we did MPMLink, integrating the front end sales tools, and integrating to MES. So, those were all major initiatives that could have been done separately, but we combined them all together. If you start combining them all one piece at a time it’s not so time-consuming. So, you can get definitely very big productivity gains just by doing one or the other. Or, if you want, try to combine them together. It’s just that it’s going to take you a little bit longer if I do implementations and multiple product shifts all at one time.
Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s great insight. You guys definitely took on a large initiative and that’s great advice, to roll out one product family at a time. It’s frequently an approach that we take as well depending on the customer environment. Aside from being able to deploy regularly, it starts to build up momentum within the organization as well and this swell of enthusiasm of the change and the positive effects that the deployment’s having.
What’s next for you guys? What’s on the horizon?
That’s a good thing, because I was just thinking the same thing, so you led me down that path. We’re always looking to improve so what’s next is we’re definitely migrating all this into new product families. And as we do that, we’re finding out that when we initially did the implementation we did a whole bunch of new technology but without modifying our product structure, which is what PTC told us not to do. People think, “Oh, we know better.” Yeah, they found out that they didn’t. But that’s fine. Good, viable lessons learned.
It’s good to listen to your software vendor, to say, “Hey, what’s the best way for me to use the technology?” And if you say, “I know better,” maybe you need to spend more time researching. So, we’re slowly migrating that to our other product families. We’re becoming more modular and more interchangeable. So, we’re reducing the complexity across all our product families, because we did some analysis to say, “Hey, how many … ” So, I have a turbine engine and I’m driving and I have to get fuel to it somehow. We found out we have 48 different ways to get fuel to the turbine.
All right, so can I consolidate that down into less designs across all my product families? Okay, well maybe I only truly need six ways to get fuel to the turbine. So, they’re doing that kind of analysis and making more common modules I can use across all my different products. And then also make it so that things could be interchangeable. Then that also helps me make sure that I can build modules, stock them on the shelves, and they don’t have to be sales order specific to the point that I can only drive a key, one-time-only assembly.
The other thing that we’re doing too is we’re saying, “Okay, so how can I build more IoT into my system? How can I digitize my shop floor?” Because we’re slowly trying to reduce paper off the shop floor, and that’s always difficult because the guys in the shop love to print out drawings. They started initially using Crew View 3D-spinnable images, now they’re slowly using work instructions that have links to 3D visuals, and now it’s like, “Okay, well how can I take the next step? Maybe I need to look at providing them an AR experience.”
And while we’re not typically seeing, like, I don’t really need to give my end-user on the shop floor a 3D AR experience, one of the things I would love to see is a guided worker where he or she doesn’t necessarily need all the information at their fingertips, but at least can help guide them and say, “Hey, you’re currently in this work center. Do you want to log into op 20 that you’re currently on?” And then they have a way of acknowledging that they have completed the operation, they can move to the next operation without having to go to a computer terminal.
Those are all things that we keep looking out for. So, you’re always saying, “Okay, so how can I improve today? How can I improve tomorrow?” We always have to look forward five years so that we can be successful when technology actually becomes ready to adopt. Because that’s a key thing is that there’s technology I can adopt today, I could look at that for key driving today. And then there’s technology I can adopt tomorrow.
So, always keep your eye out for the technology I can implement tomorrow. And not only that, is that while I may not be ready to adapt, maybe I can either influence how it’s being developed so that I can take advantage of it in the future, or at least I can be ready for it and I can see where the industry’s going and I can better adapt my business process today to map where the business is going tomorrow. So, those are all things that we’re always looking out for, is how can I help make sure my business is ready as technology becomes available?
I mean, I love your outlook and enthusiasm, and it speaks to why you guys have been ahead of the curve traditionally. And moving forward, you said it earlier when I asked about the high-level vision, and you gave a pretty I would say simple but profound answer of how can I be better, how can I do better. And how it became a vision and then embraced into your culture. And what you just described of what’s next for you guys reinforces that comment. Even if the company’s not ready to adopt it, how can you explore the technology and influence how the product is being designed, the software application that you think can offer value to your organization. That’s excellent.
Yeah. I would say, just to help wrap things up, is I would say that the biggest thing that you need to look out … Because we started this journey thinking that we were behind in technology, that all of our competitors were ahead of us. And then as we started marching down this journey we quickly started to see, we were like, “When did we get out in front?” Some of our engineering managers actually took that as a big risk. They were like, “We don’t want to be first doing this kind of thing.”
But I think the worst thing that can happen to your enterprise is being complacent. Don’t just think that what you’re doing today is fine and just not look towards change, because I think that’s why all of a sudden we got to be a technology leader in this area, because we thought we were behind so we jumped on it and said, “We need to get ahead, we need to catch up with people.” And then we quickly found out that we were ahead of people and we were like, “Well, how did this happen?”
Yeah, definitely try not to be complacent, because we found out that a lot of people were and were only using the systems for very fundamental core things and not using them to what they were intended to do. So, just try to keep the vision out there, look towards improvement, and don’t think that you’re fine doing things the way you are today.
That’s sound advice, Eric. I think we could all use it, regardless of what industry we’re in. Well, listen, I appreciate you taking the time and sharing the journey and story and definitely the words of advice of how folks should look at this whole structure and evolution of what digital thread is and how you can work to transform not only your organization, but anybody listening, help transform your organization to a better place in the future. So, Eric, thanks again for all of the time and words of wisdom and we’ll look forward to treading on and being better.
Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me. I love talking about this. And as a final part too, I’m on the PTC User Organization and the chairman of the Smart Manufacturing Technical Committee. So, if anybody listening wants to join in and gain more information, please feel free to go to ptcuser.org and join in the conversation.
That sounds great. Thanks so much, Eric, I appreciate it.
All right, thank you very much.