082. Idea – OEMs Think Inside the Box Transcript


Chung-Chee: 00:00

And we’re going to come up with a unique solution, even though they may not be what we currently do right now, they know that BluePrint will stay with them. We get them the solutions that need. And we’ll make sure everything runs well before we even walk away, 

Chris: 00:15

EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics and spotlights the heroes to keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Granger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market. Instead, we focus on advice and insight from the top of minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world.

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have an idea episode. I’m very excited. We’re gonna be talking about how one OEM. Thinks inside the box, not outside. This is going to be a pretty fun conversation and to walk with us through it. We have Chung-Chee Tai, who is the Vice President of Engineering at BluePrint Automation. So welcome Chung-Chee. 

Chung-Chee: 01:03

Good morning guys. 

Chris: 01:04

How are you doing? 

Chung-Chee: 01:06

All right. 

Chris: 01:07

Oh, I’m excited. 

Chung-Chee: 01:08

It’s Friday. 

Chris: 01:09

It’s a beautiful day. Well, it’s kind of, it’s a little overcast, but it’s Friday. So we’re over. We won’t worry about the weather, you know, that’s right. Well, you know, Chung-Chee, we do have a lot of listeners out here for EECO Asks Why and not all of them are familiar with OEMs.

So could you just get us started by explaining what an OEM actually is? 

Chung-Chee: 01:29

So OEM is three letter or O-E-M or original equipment manufacturers. So what BluePrint does is we provide a packaging solution. So in basically we have a packaging machine, we are more than just providing a machine that packs, the product into a case. We are really a solution. So we are an integrator as well.

 Our customers, they come to us, they say, hey, I have this product, for example. And then I want them in a case in certain format. And we figure out how to make that happen. Sometimes we have to flip a product. Sometimes we have to split up a group of products. Sometimes we have to merge a group of products. And just manipulate them and get them into the case. And on top of that, we have to get a finished case of finished product from one spot to another spot somewhere else. So we are, in addition to just selling a patching, a piece of patron equipment, we are really providing a solution to the customer and we are very flexible and we are proud of that.

Chris: 02:41

That sounds awesome. I mean, how about how things are changing throughout industry in general? I’m sure OEMs are seeing that too. What are you seeing as some of the most prevalent changes that OEMs are facing to serve clients in the future years? 

Chung-Chee: 02:57

So what we are seeing the most that will impact us the most right now is the ease of implementation of a automation solution.

 You know, 20 years ago what we see is customer they’ll buy a machine and then they will tweak it to a run perfect. But they can spend two weeks tweaking it and they only run one product. Nowadays they probably, they change to try to run two, three products a day. And the time that was afforded to tweak the machine to run perfect is no longer there.

What they want is they want to push a button. What we say is a changeover because there are, there are parts of the equipment that has to touch the product. So sometimes that has to be move in a different format, has to be put in and to the time allowed before it’s no longer there. 

Everybody wants a quick solution. I blame it on staples when he came up with that easy button. So now everybody is expecting that. So that’s one thing we’re seeing. And then the second part is the skillset of people. You don’t have the mechanics, the engineers that they couldn’t afford back then a lot of companies no longer employ those people.

Then on top of that, the skillset of the operators is not the same. A lot of times, and the labor market is still very tight and, you know, they don’t really know machines anymore. The people that can tweak to understand the machines are just not there. So they want a machine that can handle itself.

That being said, the machine also needs to be smart enough. So when a machine stops, for whatever reason, you cannot ask the operator to fix all the other issues somewhere else. You know, if there’s a jam, I need to be able to clear the jam right in front of me. And then hit reset, and then start the mission backup.

I should not have to go clear the products there’ll jam up somewhere else. It should not jam up somewhere else when there’s a fault. And then there’s a recovery or there’s a stoppage, there’s a recovery needs to be a really, really easy.

Chris: 05:16

I mean, so you mentioned a couple of things, the ease of implementation being, sounds like that’s the most prevalent for you trying to overcome, but also you touched on something that we’ve touched on several times throughout the show is the workforce attrition, the skilled labor. There’s a gap there. So it sounds like that’s impacting you as well. 

Chung-Chee: 05:37

Oh yeah, definitely. We have spent some time looking at the design, the interface of the machine. So if you look at how an operator would interact with a machine really is through the HMI which we buy from new guys, Rockwell. We use the Panelview Plus 7. That really is the only interface only information exchange between the operator and the machine. So when a machine say, Hey, I got a problem or the information has to be this way. If the operator wants machine to do something is also through that exact same interface. 

The struggle that we have nowadays is there is, I’m sure the guys that EECO and hear me talk about this all the time is the training that it takes to tell the operator how to interface with that screen. 

So imagine I’m the operator at a factory and I buy the machines from five different manufacturers. And everybody has the screen layout different and designed different. To be flexible now I have to learn every single machine to figure out how they are operating or how to get to certain screens. For example, there are two major phone manufacturers on the market, in the U.S. Market anyway. So you have iOS, you have android. So on iOS, whether I pick a iPhone five, seven, eight, 12,13, you know exactly how to get to the screen that you need.

You know if you look at this button, it means certain things it’s exactly the same, same with Android. I’m not an Android guy. I can’t really speak too much to it, but I imagine it’s the same, whether it’s manufactured by who makes them anymore, Samsung or Motorola or whoever, the screen is the same, but imagine you are the operator in, I have to do it with these five machines. They are all designed different. The interface with them is all different. So do you want to get to a, say a system settings screen? How do I get there? You have to look through the buttons that don’t look the same. So that challenge. So my really I’ve been pushing here in, we’re not certainly not there yet is for our machines to mimic what is on a phone.

So we need the HMI to behave like the phone to behave. I mean, ideally I would put iOS on it that way they look exactly the same because all the operators that we get they know their phones, they know their mobile devices. I don’t have to train them. I don’t have to say, “Hey, this buttons means a system preference.” I don’t need that. They all know that already. Imagine that the training that there’s no compressed to so littl.

Chris: 08:29

Right. I mean that, that skills gap could really be closed pretty quickly then I imagine. Right?

Chung-Chee: 08:36

Exactly. 

Chris: 08:38

Well, we’d have to put in some modifications on those interfaces though. We don’t want Snapchat on our machines, you know? 

Chung-Chee: 08:46

Hey, that’s not a bad thing. You know imagine the machine is down for whatever reason. And then you just flip the HMI over, you look at that and then you can talk to people like us and then say, “Hey, you see what I’m seeing right now?” You know? 

Chris: 09:00

Right.

Chung-Chee: 09:01

Can I ensure mine will come with a camera? And can the HMI be mobile that the guys just take it off and then move to the machine and then turn the facetime on and then talk to him and say, “Hey, you see what I’m seeing? Imagine that. And right now the HMI is just static. It doesn’t move. 

Chris: 09:19

Right.

Chung-Chee: 09:20

Yeah.

Chris: 09:21

Well, I mean, you know, technology’s evolving so fast, so I can’t imagine, but there’s a room full of engineers across the world, working on these types of solutions, you know? This is great. So how about outside of the machine interface. COVID. Because COVID has impacted manufacturers and OEMs greatly. How are you guys reeling with that or dealing with it moving forward to support your customers?

Chung-Chee: 09:47

Yeah,  when COVID first hit, you know, we went to a sort of panic mode, like everybody else, because we don’t really know where things aren’t going. So, our customers push a panic button first. And then, I mean, of course we kind of reacted to it because ultimately you want to provide what your customer needs.

So things kind of slow down maybe for a week or two for us. And then when things started back up, what we realize is all our customers found out that when people their are not available to work or when they cannot put people close to a post proximity because, you know, the six feet apart, right?

So when you have all the operators that are standing around packing the product into a case is no longer global because people can get infected. And people get sick they don’t show up for work and people got panicked. They don’t show up for work. What they realize is the solution is for automation.

The now they need more machines. So, and that’s what we’re seeing. Um, you know, with a machine I no longer need five operators standing together trying to put product into a case. So that’s what we are providing as you know we are considered essential workforce or essential workers just because the technology, the machines that we provide to our customers.

Unfortunately, it’s not fast enough. 

Chris: 11:17

Right. How about the impact for you for support and things like that? Have you had to look at remote connectivity or technologies like that to be able to support with COVID now? 

Chung-Chee: 11:29

Well, yes definitely, we have some plans, especially like customers in Canada or even in South America nowadays, they won’t let us in.

Um, or it’s very difficult to get in. Some cases they say, yeah, you can come in, but when you fly, when you cross a border, you have a quarantine for five days, five days in a hotel before you can come into. I mean, you can’t afford that. So, our machine is typically, and this is even before COVID now becomes more relevant that we have an E1 connection.

So when a customer calls in, they say, Hey, I have this problem, I can’t, I don’t know what’s wrong and we can dial into the, to the machine and we can look at it remotely. We make changes remotely. We utilize something like this and we utilize things like a team viewer. You know, cameras do that as much as we can.

We even started looking into something like a smart glass that customer can walk around and show us what is going on. 

Chris: 12:36

Yeah, that would be kind of cool. Wouldn’t it? 

Chung-Chee: 12:38

Yeah,yeah. We just need to map that to, uh, alternate reality. 

Well augmented reality.  

Chris: 12:49

If you can map the augmented reality and then you can really, you know, walk them right through the problem.

Chung-Chee: 12:54

Yeah. 

Chris: 12:55

Very cool. You know, we’re familiar with the eWon Solutions too, so it sounds like you’re using that. Like you’re talking to M to get to the machine itself and then being able to understand what’s going on. Very cool. 

Chung-Chee: 13:06

Yeah. Our eWon is really is a standard for us nowadays. So every machine from BluePrint, they get  an eWon in there.

The biggest struggle that we have is some of the bigger customers. I guess from the IT side, they’re just not comfortable with a device that can talk to the outside and the outside world, you have figured a way to overcome that. 

Chris: 13:27

Cyber security is it’s on top of everybody’s it’s top of mine, you know, so yeah, but it’s, it can be done safely. And I think that IT/OT, the more those types of groups can get together. Well, they will overcome that. 

Chung-Chee: 13:42

Yeah.

Chris: 13:43

Now we were also, when we were brainstorming, you brought up an idea that I wanted to definitely share with the listeners out there because this one, I haven’t heard people talk about, you were talking about, you know, I want to be able to, to have remote power transmission, you know? So I’m just curious if you want to expand on that for our listeners on how that would impact you and help. You know, some of the things that you’re working on. 

Chung-Chee: 14:05

So I have a mission right now on the floor is the customer wants a very, very quick, we needed to ship into Wisconsin. They are planning for a one day install and I talked to our assembly…. Sorry?

Chris: 14:21

That was one day you said? 

Chung-Chee: 14:23

They one at one day they, they bring it in. They put it down. They want to reconnect everything in one day. 

Chris: 14:31

Wow. 

Chung-Chee: 14:32

That’s my expression too. Your expression is like okay. So to do that, the machine has to be broken down into one, two, three sections, and every section has inputs and outputs and pneumatics and all those need to be disconnected and they need to be connected back, every sensor, you know, three or four wires. I’ll put two wires atleast, you get it’s not a fast thing to do. It’s not going to be one day. And even if you connect everything back, you got to check, make sure everything’s connected to the right spot. So imagine that for a whole machine. Typically when the machines that we build the machines all besides bringing the, the major prepays into interconnection within a machine is a lot, it’s a lot of work.

Then it’s a lot of work to make sure they are connected correctly. Usually our technicians will wire up everything we check as far as they can check. And then now I got to put a controls engineer on it. It’ll take about two to three days to troubleshoot all the potential wiring issues. And this is not even before we actually move anything on a machine just to make sure all the warnings are done correctly.

And has to be repeated antoher time when the machines get torn down and re-installed at a customer site. So the best thing I can think of is not having this problem. So EECO listen I need a solution. 

Chris: 16:11

I hear you. I hear you. He has a lot of connection points. I mean, do you have on average, the number of points that you’re typically connecting with the machine to get it up and installed, is that a couple of thousand connection points that you’re making up?

Chung-Chee: 16:27

So, if sometimes our projects consists of multiple lines. Yeah. You can get up to that point. 

Chris: 16:34

Wow. 

Chung-Chee: 16:34

Yeah. And a lot of times they get shipped overseas too. So imagine someone on the other side of the world, multiple time zones away talking to you, trying to figure out, actually we all fighting one right now in a, with another customer, with a safety PLC. We’ve been fighting this for the last two weeks. We are down to five devices and we think it’s going to take all week next week to figure out which one of those. 

Chris: 17:03

Wow. Yeah. A lot of troubleshooting.

Chung-Chee: 17:06

Yeah. Yeah. 

Chris: 17:08

And, and you mentioned too, in our, pre-work getting the, end-users familiar with the equipment and you, I think you made a great analogy. You said, do you ever buy a car and look at the user manual for you start driving? I said, of course not. You know, so I mean, that really impacted me when we’re talking about. So, how has that, how are you addressing that type of mindset with your end users? 

Chung-Chee: 17:33

Yeah. So I, I have people that come to tell me that we need to get people properly trained. Okay. I mentioned the skill set of the operator  nowadays and they are not necessarily mechanically inclined. I’ve explained to people in the past that, you know, one reason I’m a mechanical engineer by training. I’ll tell you that I never drawn anything on a piece of paper and I can not even draw a straight line. My lines are horrible. It’s crooked. And my writing is horrible. It’s just bad. It’s so bad that when I was growing up my dad says, “Can you write any better than that?”

Chris: 18:22

Right.

Chung-Chee: 18:23

Yeah. So, but the technology of 3D allows people like me to be able to design, even though I can’t draw a straight line because of computer because of the 3D graphics, people that cannot think in 3D and now they can actually draw something up because the technology allows them to do exactly that.

So basically what happens is, you know, when you used to require a specific pool of people that can do mechanical design. Now, we just open up that pool to allow more people that may not exactly can draw a straight line to bring being their creative mind. Same thing with machines. It used to be, we need skill set people that requires high wages, but if I can bring my machine to a point where I can bring anyone in.

And actually that’s true in a lot of our customers. They just can’t find the people where they are located. So they hire temps, they bring whatever they bring in, and these people, the operators, they really do not know how to operate a machine. And to say, to tell the customers that, you know, you need training, we need training. Okay. That’s one way to address it, but imagine I can have a machine that does not require a training. A machine that works like a phone. Anyone can get on it and they know exactly what to do. Imagine the machine that can walk and operate through, you know, the self guiding, tell them what they need to do to achieve what they need to do.

And what we’ve done at BluePrint so far. I know it is a very early on, infant stage of, we put some self guiding training videos. We cannot put it on the HMI itself because it takes up too much memory. What we do actually is we have a video, we put it on our YouTube channel, a BluePrint YouTube channel, and you can go up to it. You can see that if my VFD 525 just went down, I have to replace it. What are the steps that is required to replace a VFD? So you go up to our HMI and then there’s a couple of how to videos. It’s just 2d barcode, a QR code. So you take your phone and go up there and you scan it and it will take you to our YouTube channel and here’s the guy walk you through step by step. 

Chris: 20:48

Now that is cool. Now, did you guys make those videos yourself in house? 

Chung-Chee: 20:52

Yeah. The biggest struggle that we have is actually to get the engineers in front of a camera. They usually, they are pretty shy about getting in front of a camera. 

Chris: 21:03

Yeah, I’ve been there myself, you know, I still say I have a face for radio, but not this format, but we’ll go with it. 

You know, Chung-Chee I am curious those videos, are they open like to anyone or do you have to have special codes to get to some of these training videos? 

Chung-Chee: 21:22

You need our QR code to get there. It’s a private channel, so it’s not there for everybody. 

Chris: 21:28

Gotcha. That’s a unique way to address it because we’re seeing more and more people gravitating to that video component for training. So hats off to you guys. 

Chung-Chee: 21:39

Yeah, I’m just copying what a lot of people are like, the self-help on YouTube. So it’s not a new idea, but like I said, infant stage. 

Chris: 21:47

How long have you been, have you just started it? 

Chung-Chee: 21:50

I’ve been doing that for, I would say about two years now. So we’re just collecting the video the how to, for like the drives or certain devices that can be on every machine, but there are some others, that are very machine or machine type specific. So we got rerecord that, and every time. 

Chris: 22:08

I was wondering, were there any common theme type videos that could be replicated across, you know, multiple users so you don’t have to make those videos, those one-off videos every time? 

Chung-Chee: 22:20

Yeah. The devices, you know how to replace a device. They are the same for different machine types.

Chris: 22:28

Gotcha. Yeah. It sounds like you guys are all over top of innovation there. I mean, outside of the. the shyness of the engineers getting on board, any tips out there for OEMs that want to make videos? Do you guys do any scripting or just, how does that work? 

Chung-Chee: 22:46

You mean as far as making the videos?

Chris: 22:48

Yeah. Just, is there like a script that they’re reading through just what’s…

Chung-Chee: 22:52

Oh no, no, no. We just wing it.

Chris: 22:55

All wing it okay. Off the fly. I love it. I love this. Okay. 

Chung-Chee: 23:00

That’s exactly what I’m doing right now. 

Chris: 23:04

You’re doing a phenomenal job. So I guess you guys have like a marketing group or something like that that helps you finalize and package it and put it all together for your end users.

Chung-Chee: 23:12

Yeah we have people that can do that. 

Chris: 23:14

That’s very cool. That’s very cool. So one thing I love to ask guests and we haven’t had an OEM to talk about this Chung-Chee is our common myths and give people a chance to debunk them about their space that they’re working in. So is there anything from an OEM standpoint that you think people have a certain perception, but that’s just not true.

Chung-Chee: 23:34

Yeah. And so we do have certain OEMs, what they do is the sell the same cookie cutter. Not to name names, but you know, some people make a, checkware, for example, they have the same checkware, they will change in certain different parameters, just to do like different models and BluePrint is different as an OEM in a way that we’re not selling a machine or particular machine. 

I would say like, if you look at the projects that we have throughout the years even we’re selling into the same, supposedly the same project or the same customer at the same location is different. Putting a machine over at this location versus another location, and there happens to be a post right in between, or there’s a wall somewhere else.

What that requires to do is to provide a different solution. The packaging machine itself is only one piece of the puzzle. What we bring to the table, you know, we basically, we approach a customer and say  your product is coming from this one location. And this is how it is coming in. It needs to get to a packer, the packing machine and where they need to go anywhere in between all the equipment the requirements can change.

And we’re flexible in that way. Whatever you need, we are very accommodating to the customers. Yeah. So we, we are not just selling a cookie cutter. We’re definitely not selling a solution. 

Chris: 25:13

That flexibility. And a lot of times that’s what I had thought of in the past myself was just a cookie cutters, but it’s not just by hearing you go through it.

There’s a lot of felxability and changes and modification. It sounds like it’s an exciting field to be in. 

Chung-Chee: 25:30

Well, yeah, and I want to mention another thing on top of that. Sometimes we don’t know how to do it for certain things and we come up with a solution. It will be a one-up solution. You know, maybe, that drives the innovation from our side. And we will do that for our customers. 

Chris: 25:50

Right? Sounds like you have a passion for this. You love what you’re doing. 

Chung-Chee: 25:57

Yeah. Yeah, it’s a fun thing to do. 

Chris: 25:59

That’s cool. 

Chung-Chee: 26:00

My boss always say you got to enjoy what you do otherwise what’s the point?

Chris: 26:04

That’s right. What’s the point. So Chung-Chee this has been a lot of fun.

We always end EECO Asks Why with the why and that’s where we’re talking about the passion and really help our listeners understand what’s important at the core of the message. And this has been a fun OEM thinking inside the box. So for the OEMs out there that are listening. Why should they be evaluating how they serve their clients and be raising the bar to be the leader in their industries?

Chung-Chee: 26:33

So depending on how we interact with our customers, there’s the type that says, I want a cookie cutter, I want the exact same thing. And then when a customer has need extra steps, they want something more than just a cookie cutter. They know they cannot go to vendor A or vendor B. Um, they know that BluePrint is going to put an all of the effort and is going to listen to them.

And we’re going to come up with a unique solution, even though that may not be what we currently do right now, they know that blueprint will stay with them and we give them the solutions they need. And we’ll make sure everything runs well before we even walk away. Actually, we have machines that have been running out there for 20 some years. I visited those customers and they continue to buy from BluePrint. And I walk in there. I look at those machines and I say man, they should be in a museum and yet they are still packing bags for those customers. Right. And that’s, what’s unique about BluePrint. 

Chris: 27:37

That’s amazing. That’s amazing. Well thank you Chung-Chee, this has been so much fun unpacking the, OEM topic, you know, best wishes to you and BluePrint. And just thank you for what you’ve worked with EECO over the years. And we just look forward to continue to supporting each other in the future. 

Chung-Chee: 27:53

Thank you guys too. I mean, we couldn’t do what we do today without a support from EECO. And you guys have been excellent vendors for us. 

Chris: 28:03

Well, thank you so much for the kind words. I’ll pass that on too. I know you got your buddy Rich he’s out there listening, so we’ll, make sure he feels good about it. 

Chung-Chee: 28:11

Yeah. And thank you, Gina. 

Chris: 28:13

There you go. Gina’s well, Gina actually connected us, so yeah, absolutely. Thank you, Gina. So, ah, thank you Chung-Chee. 

Chung-Chee: 28:20

All right. Thank you.