Who should specify controls platforms?

We're starting to hear that manufacturers who buy packaging machinery are beginning to realize that if a machine builder has settled on a controls vendor, it's best for the manufacturer to embrace that choice rather than asking the machine builder to incorporate controls components preferred internally by the manufacturer.

Why? Because the machine builder's software programming tasks can be greatly simplified and modularized if he is allowed to consistently build upon a controls platform of his own choosing. This in turn permits him to build better, more functional packaging equipment and deliver it faster and at a lower cost. That makes it the proverbial win/win scenario: better for the builder and better for the buyer.

One of the clearest articulations of this philosophy and the benefits it brings came in a phone conversation I had with Hershey's Wade Latz shortly before the very first Packaging Automation Forum, held way back in 2006. Senior director of global operations engineering at The Hershey Co., Latz was the keynote speaker at PAF 2006. Here's what he had to say in our phone conversation:

"We used to be quite rigid when it came to the controls platforms that we specified on our packaging machinery. But about four years ago we opened up our controls standards to enable our OEMs to utilize controls platforms that they are most familiar with. In turn we are realizing reduced machine delivery times, cost savings, and performance guarantees that are in line with our corporate strategies. In the past we were adding complexity and were forcing major engineering design changes onto the machinery builders. By modifying our internal expectations and behavior, and by opening ourselves to other major globally based controls manufacturers, we've made it less complicated for the machinery builders to build packaging machines. Other benefits we have realized are that the equipment can also be delivered, installed, and commissioned more quickly."

The reason I bring this up now is that I'm learning not all manufacturers embrace this philosophy as enthusiastically as Hershey. In fact, I recently visited with a food manufacturer that took the opposite tack in ordering a highly sophisticated piece of equipment that handles both secondary and tertiary packaging. Since introducing the machine a couple of years ago, the machine builder had used controls components from Technology Supplier A. But when the food manufacturer expressed a preference for Technology Supplier B, the machine builder acquiesced.

What are your thoughts on this matter? Would packaging machinery building be enhanced to the benefit of both builder and buyer if the builders were left to make their own decisions about which controls platforms they wish to incorporate? Drop me a line at Reynolds@packworld.com

By the way, Spring of 2009 brings the fourth rendition of the Packaging Automation Forum, which is sponsored jointly by Packaging World and Automation World magazines. Speakers are needed. The best way to familiarize yourself with the subject matter to be covered is to view last year's program at www.packworld.com/paf. Then contact me.

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