Archive for 2010

Making a Project Successful

October 14, 2010 by Ken

When Setpoint starts a project we begin with the mindset that we want to make a fair profit even though it doesn’t always work out that way. When you bid a clean sheet design it’s at best an educated guess hoping you are on the high side, if you are lucky and bidding on more than one of the same machine you stand a chance to make up some of your losses from the first one on the following on’s. The first one is your test unit where you find out how close you got with the design.

Once you have the first machine assembled you can see what does and doesn’t work.  This is just the way it is, no one can foresee all the issues you will face. So you go back to the drawing board and hope you can fix it with one more try.  Now let’s say you have a proven machine that works and you start on the follow-on’s. We had a project where we thought it would take 1998.08 hours to complete; we ended up using 4776.75 hours on the first machine so we went over by 2778.67 hours.  The cost of materials was over by $46,735.90 but we still had 3 more to build.

After building the first machine we knew what worked and what didn’t.  I set up all the assemblies to be done in sets of 3 to promote the effectiveness of repetitious assembly.  So for instance, all 3 lifting assemblies and all 3 pulling assemblies were built at the same time by the same tech.  One tech cut the entire conduit for all 3 machines at the same time, while another cut and labeled the wires to be put in the conduit, and others laid out the panels to be wired. We drilled all the holes needed in the frames before anything is put in the way, then we installed the guarding and started putting the completed assemblies on the unit.  Getting the order of events down made a big difference.   All assemblies that are built with sensors and air lines are labeled and set before it is moved to the unit for installation.

We had minimum debug time due to having done it once already, which makes follow-on’s go much smoother.  The start up also went faster because the programmer had worked out all the bugs in the program.

We had a total of 2900 hours to complete all 3 units, and $391,737.50 to purchase all materials, our hours came in at 2573 hours, 327 hours under.  The cost of materials was $379,769.01, we were able to save $11,968.49 so all in all not too bad.  What made this successful was taking those things that we learned from the first machine and applying them to make the follow-on’s go quickly.

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Focusing on What is Really Important

September 30, 2010 by Kara

As a part of my continued training in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) skills I found that I really wanted to understand what the people coming to our website were doing and if the information was relevant to their searches.  In seeking help in understanding Google Analytics, yes I am like the majority of the other companies out there I love my free analytics, I found a class offered where the teachers are certified through Google so I signed up.

When I first started looking at the analytics of our website I thought that I wanted as many visitors to my site as possible because then I was more likely to get a lead.  That ended up being completely wrong.  I was looking for quantity and not quality, which is odd because the culture here at Setpoint is all about the quality of time and not quantity of time spent on a project.  Slowly I began editing the site and streamlining it to make it more relevant, my visitors did decrease but the percentage of people who found us irrelevant also decreased.  Plus, added bonus, I started getting better leads.

So after taking out the extra stuff off my website and focusing on what we do, now our volume of traffic is down but those who are coming are actually finding what they are looking for, which is great!  I learned a lot from the class that I signed up for.  They walked all the way through the program and showed us different ways we could view the data, filters we could set up like taking out the people here at work.  Because really, do I care how long one of our engineers spend on our website?  No, not really, they aren’t going to buy anything.

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Taking a Problem and Finding a Solution

September 16, 2010 by Scott P

Setpoint Systems builds custom automation solutions and in the process there are problems that come up where a creative solution can come in quite handy.  Recently we used a creative solution to fix a problem of excess energy with servo motors.  Many people don’t understand that one of the issues faced with running motors and servos at high speed and high cycle rates is the deceleration. As if accelerating to speed were not bad enough, you have to be able to stop the thing as well. Accelerating requires extra current, but in decelerating, there is a lot of energy that has to be disposed of somewhere. In fact, the energy available in an object in motion increases with the square of the velocity. If the velocity doubles you increase the energy by 4X. All that energy has to be absorbed by something.

Commonly in servo drives and frequency drives that excess energy shows up in the form of excess DC voltage on the DC bus. If this voltage gets high enough, the drives are designed to protect themselves, usually by declaring a fault and shutting down. Well, now that’s really convenient, eh? So the question that begs to be answered is: What do you do with all that extra DC voltage? Most drives have some sort of internal method of absorbing the extra energy, frequently in the form of a resistor circuit. This feature allows the excess voltage to bleed off to ground at a reasonable rate. If the DC voltage climbs too high or too fast, such that the bleed off circuit can not absorb all of it, then the drive faults. Let’s add more resistors! That will usually work.

However, on a machine that I was working on recently we sized a resistor to handle the excess energy of a VERY LARGE servo press that had to stop VERY fast. The resistor recommended by the vender was 48” long. No that’s not a misprint.  That is four feet long, for a resistor! We didn’t like that option. So our vender recommended that we look at a product from a company named Bonitron. They make several sizes and flavors of devices that take excess DC energy, chop it up and spit it back out onto the three phase AC line. They call them Line Regen Modules. By using a diode module, also from Bonitron, we were able to hook multiple drives onto a single DC bus without back feeding into each other and feed it into the Line Regen Module. So far, it’s working great. I am quite impressed with the capability of these units. Check them out the next time you see a “DC BUS OVERVOLTAGE” fault, it was a great solution for us.

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Gaining Confidence

September 9, 2010 by Kara

During the first year I worked at Setpoint Systems we overhauled our website and part of the services the company offered was Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as a part of the overhaul.  Within a few months of the new website being up the VP of Marketing found a new job and decided to leave the company.  As his assistant it fell upon me to take responsibility for our website.  The only thing I knew was some basic HTML that I had learned at Setpoint to maintain the existing website.

As I started working with the company who was providing our SEO services I realized I had no clue about what they were even talking about.  As I talked to my boss about it, we decided that I needed to learn about what search engine optimization even was because I needed to understand what the company we hired was doing.  As I began to read articles, blog posts, and follow forums on the Internet I began to get a basic understanding of what SEO was all about and how to do it.

Everyday I pushed myself to learn more so that I could figure out things like why we weren’t ranking on Google searches, or why people didn’t stay on our website.  The day came about 9 months after I started learning about SEO that I realized I knew more about SEO than the company I was paying.  My boss already knew it but I didn’t see it yet.  When I learn a new skill it’s hard for me to say that I know more than my teacher.  I was in no way ready to do SEO on my own but I was ready for a new company who knew more and could help me to continue to learn.

Thus began my task of searching out different SEO companies, interviewing them, and selecting the one that I felt would not just help our website but would teach me along the way.  This second company lasted for a year and a half and I learned so much more and started to gain confidence in my abilities because they would let me do as much as I was capable of.  If I came up with the idea they encouraged me to follow through on it.  I started to realize that I did understand what I was doing.

Once again I was tasked with finding another SEO company that could continue to teach me.  The problem now was that I felt that I knew what I was doing so if they couldn’t match up with me then they were scratched off my list.  I was astounded that people were still selling services that were considered outdated when I started learning about SEO over three years ago.  After researching these other companies I realized that I did know as much as they did and I was just as good.

For the past nine months now I have been doing the SEO for our company on my own.  I consistently rank for the keywords that I am most interested in.  I am still working on maintaining and adding new keywords because I don’t want to have a static website.  I have been fine tuning our site and weeding out items from our site to streamline what our offerings are because even though we have done torque and swaging stations I found that people who were searching for them were not looking for the type of industrial machinery Setpoint provides.  Through doing this I have found the bounce rate decreasing which helps me to see that Setpoint’s website is more relevant.

Gaining confidence for me came through doing.  It was easy to read about and start to understand what SEO was all about but it wasn’t until I started doing or applying what I was learning that I started to believe that I really could do this.  I think this is true for many things, once you learn about a topic the point at which you know you can do it is when you start doing it day in and day out.  It wasn’t until after I couldn’t find another company to replace the last company I had hired that I realized that I could do this on my own.  I may purchase a service such as keyword research from one company or another along the way to give me a fresh perspective but as a whole as long as I continue to have time to devote to our website I know that I am good at what I do and will be able to continue to help the Setpoint website to show up when people search for lean automation equipment or industrial automation services.  I also have to remember to never stop learning, the ideas of search engine optimization are continually changing and I need to stay current so that I do not become one of those people who are doing things that are no longer useful.

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Working at the Same Place as Your Husband

September 2, 2010 by Setpoint

When they first talked about having my husband come and work for Setpoint Systems I wasn’t sure how that would work.  Seeing him all day at work and then going home and being with him all night, just seemed weird.  The reason being is when he and I go home a lot of times we will talk about work and things that happened during the day.  Sometimes it would be just to vent or sometimes just to have conversation.

In some ways having him here at work has been nice because we have the same days off. It’s nice having the three day weekend that we can spend together.  I have loved working for Setpoint for that reason and he loves it too.  This summer when we wanted to go camping we could leave early and get a good camping spot, and have an extra long weekend.

I do all the travel for work and he has been going to a customer’s site out of state so I know when he will leave, when he comes home, and where he is staying.  I know that the guys hate to travel so I want to make it as comfortable as I can.  He is MY guy after all.

Working with my husband and working right next to him we actually talk more at work than we do at home.  When he gets home he loves to be out in his shop and so I forget to tell him things.  At work when I see him I remember to tell him things and he does the same.  I was worried about not having our own space, but we have been able to go about our own jobs just fine.

I’m very grateful that both my husband and I have a job.  He has a lot to offer a company and has lot of knowledge in a lot of different areas, so I know that Setpoint will benefit from having him here.  Working with him has been so far a good thing.  (As long as he does what I tell him to do).

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The Balancing Act of Life

August 26, 2010 by Machel

School has started for your kids, and you.  Now what?  Juggling home, school, family, and work can be a daunting task.  But if you keep focused and stay on point, it is possible.

For the last 7 (yes seven) years I have been attending school while managing 2 kids (3 if you count my husband) and work.  I could not have done it without the support of my family and friends.

The hardest part for me has been worrying about what I wasn’t doing.  When I was with my family I was thinking about school, when I was at school I was thinking about work or what I needed to do at home.  Being a multi-tasker by nature, it was difficult to remember that I was only human.  Some days it was like working 3 full-time jobs, and only getting paid for 1.

Being organized and setting a schedule is the key.  It helped us quite a bit to sit down at the beginning of each week and go over the schedule for the family, figure out menus and shopping, and making sure the clothes the kids needed were ready at the beginning of the week and not trying to do laundry at 2 a.m. (although that has happened).  I’m not saying you should be a schedule Nazi, be flexible.  Also, start teaching the kids to do their own laundry.  Their spouses will appreciate that at a later date.

I’m hoping all this hard work will teach my kids to finish what you start.  My poor daughter doesn’t even remember me not going to school.  I feel it is important to show them that education, especially now, is vitally important to their success.  A lot of companies won’t even look at you unless you have graduated college with some kind of degree.

If you are lucky enough to work for a company that values education, take advantage of it.  Setpoint has been great to work with my ever changing schedule.  I know my family and Setpoint will be glad when I am done.  Of course, I will be ecstatic to remove a full-time unpaid job.

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There’s No Room for Guessing in Sales

August 19, 2010 by Clark

My goal as a sales professional is to ensure the following three things happen with each of my clients on every project or job we do for them:

  1. Help my clients be successful
  2. Provide them with a solution that exactly meets their needs
  3. Make sure there are “no surprises” at the end of the project

Open and honest communication between me and my clients is the most important thing required to ensure each of these three things happen.

Over the past 3-4 years I have been following a sales process developed by Mahan Khalsa, who is a very successful sales consultant and has developed proven techniques that allow sales professionals to meet these three goals outlined above.  The whole premise behind the success of Mahan’s techniques is “No Guessing.”

Clients naturally want to be successful.  So in order for me to help them accomplish whatever it is they think they need to accomplish to be successful, I need to know a lot about their issues and results they are hoping to solve or realize by hiring my company.  That way my company can come up with whatever it is that may help them succeed.

In most initial sales calls, sales people want to brag about how great their company or products are because they generally have limited amount of time to be in front of the customer to try and convince them that what they have or do is better than everyone else in the world.

I go into sales calls with potential and or existing clients, with a totally different mindset.  Number one, I assume that they already know enough about my company to even get a face to face meeting in the first place.  So spending time over selling myself and my company is a waste of time.  After all, they just want to know how much, how long it will take and how much they will make if they spend money with my company, right?

So what I focus on is right out of the Mahan “No Guessing” training.  I never assume I know what the client’s needs are, and I never assume I have a solution that will exactly meet their needs until I’ve asked the customer a pile of questions.  Each question I ask is centered around finding out what issues they hope to solve or what results they hope to be able to realize.  Through this question and answer process with the customer, we eliminate incorrect assumptions or guessing and actually find out from the customer themselves what exactly they are dealing with.  You can also ask the customer what they have too little of or not enough of.

The more we know about a client’s needs the better chance we have of providing a solution that exactly meets their needs.  If the client seems hesitant to provide you with information specific to their needs or issues, you can easily stop and let them know that all you are trying to do is find a way to help them be successful, provide a solution that exactly meets their needs and ensure that there are no surprises down the road if they choose to move forward with your company.

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What it means to be a Setpoint Strategic Partner

August 12, 2010 by Setpoint

By John Lennox-Gentle – L-GA

For many years we at Lennox-Gentle Automation in Golden, Colorado, have held a special relationship with Setpoint Systems of Ogden, Utah, we are a proud Setpoint Systems Strategic Partner.

In our Strategic Partner role we assist Setpoint during their “capacity shortage” periods by providing the Lennox-Gentle Automation teams engineering and manufacturing expertise at special “trade” rates.  This synergistic relationship has certainly profited Lennox-Gentle Automation, and we hope it has also profited Setpoint.

From our first meeting with Setpoint, many years ago we have been impressed with the Setpoint Systems philosophy.  This philosophy sprang from a vision laid out by the Setpoint founding partners.  It is a simple yet profoundly effective outlook.  They just maintain an “open and honest” relationship with their employees, associates, vendors and most important, their customers.   I hail from the “old school” of management which taught us “tell your people (staff and customers) nothing but good news or you will loose them” so the first “open” step I took was more of a “leap of faith” for me.   I threw all cares aside and engaged the Lennox-Gentle Automation team in the Setpoint “open” policy.

My first cautious step was made easier by my main contact with Setpoint, my “Project Manager”, my “Mentor”, and now my dear friend, Roger Thomas.  Roger, with his avuncular attitude, genial manner and inherent wit, places his personal stamp on the relationships he develops with his people, his vendors and his customers.  Rogers’ honesty is contagious, and each member of his team has the same “tell me the full scoop, no filters, no holding back” attitude.  Roger is the epitome of “open”.  Not just by his “open” policy, but also by his “full frontal”, “show it how it is”, “open toga” policy of true, honest project reporting, “pimples, warts and all”.

Working with Roger, Clark, Bob, Ken, John, Scott, Steve, Joe and the rest of the Setpoint team is a joy for us.  Each of their attitudes naturally promotes the entire team to get involved, and this combined energy is focused on the fight with the delinquent project issues, rather than in, the other company, who lull each other into a false sense of accomplishment or security.

I know that Roger and the Setpoint team has our six, they have proved it time and again, and I am sure they know that we have theirs.  We hold no project “secrets”, we share all the project problems, as well as the project progress with the entire Project Team.  (The “Project Team” being the L-GA and Setpoint project staff, company staff, vendors and most important, project customers).

I have now modeled my company on the Setpoint, “open” policy.  I recently remodeled my engineering offices by knocking down all the office physical and psychological walls and was pleasantly surprised how this has positively affected the Lennox-Gentle Automation team morale.

The team members can hear each of the other members’ project interaction with vendors, other team players and customers.  Now there is no need for any “pat each other on the back” meetings, and the progress and “status” meetings have shortened from hours to minutes because of this “open office” and “open policy”.  Team communication is almost subliminal.  We inherently know each others problems so we can be immediately ready to assist with their resolution.

Being a Setpoint Strategic partner means much more to us than sharing a mountain range, albeit when visiting us the Setpoint team retains an odd sense of “direction” as their mountains are in the East.  It is sharing the project responsibilities, sharing the project pains and project glories with a trusted companion who is as eager as you are in bringing it to a successful conclusion.

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Financial Management is the Same Big or Small

August 5, 2010 by Joe Knight

Setpoint Systems is a small automation manufacturing company with revenues raging from 5 million to 25 million annually. Setpoint has always been able to grow to the projects it has. We have learned to flex with the opportunity. In the new work world much of what companies’ do is through outsourcing. Setpoint had always been able to find a way to do that. The other challenge for a small manufacturing business like Setpoint is to keep the cash flowing. In today’s world it is nearly impossible to get financing if you are a small business.

I am the CFO of Setpoint and when I am not at Setpoint I am on the road training people on how to read finance. I have a book published called Financial Intelligence that outlines how to read financial statements and is representative of my training approach. I have done or am currently training companies like General Dynamics, General Motors, Metlife, Visa, Electronic Arts (EA), NBC, and Boeing.

In my experience with these large Fortune 500 companies, I have realized that the issues that these large companies deal with are very similar to the problems we face at Setpoint. One of my clients is that small company called General Electric (GE). As I was struggling at Setpoint to stay cash positive and not exceed our limited credit line on a major project, I was training at GE (I do the finance segment of their MDC, Management Development Course, at their Crotonville training campus.) As I was presenting information on the cash flow statement this last year, an attendee from GE capital talked about how she recently was unable to get funding for a $50 million credit line requested by a borrower. When she called the GE treasury department for the funds they said we are out of funds. With the commercial paper market collapsing, we do not have the liquidity to provide the funds for the credit line. As I heard this I remember thinking this sounds like the problems I am having at Setpoint trying to make payroll. Of course, we always do find a way to make payroll and GE found a way to work around the collapsing commercial paper market as successful companies do. But what was interesting to me was that our problems with cash were similar. GE has over $150 billion in revenue and Setpoint has around $10 million.

Later in that same session, another attendee said that his business was a project based business. He said that during this last year GE management required that all projects must remain cash positive. This means that customers must provide funding up front for GE projects during this same cash crunch period. As I heard this student talk about this issue, I remembered a week earlier telling my team at Setpoint that given the lack of credit out there from now on all contracts had to be completely funded by the customer. I smiled as I thought about how similar my problems were to GE. Now as GE is losing revenue, they are learning more and more how to access the contractor approach for growth just like Setpoint is.

What I have learned by working at Setpoint and watching the struggles of large Fortune 500 companies is that business is the same no matter the size. It doesn’t matter if you are the biggest company in the world or a small sole proprietor. You need to figure out how the make a profit and generate cash if you are to stay in business. GE has been doing that for nearly 100 years. At Setpoint we are approaching nearly 20 years with a lot of good years to come.

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An Industry Stuck in the Past

July 29, 2010 by Clark

Over the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to visit an industry that has some of the largest manufacturing facilities in the United States. There were five distinct things about each one of the facilities that I noticed the second I walked out onto the manufacturing floor:

  1. The equipment was very old, typically 1940’s vintage
  2. The equipment was very dirty and well worn
  3. The air smelled of machine lubrication
  4. The sound level in each facility was very loud and the floor shook as the machines processed their components
  5. There were massive amounts of inventory everywhere representing the many different stages of the process

With my background in manufacturing and lean automated equipment, I was overwhelmed at the opportunity for improvement and waste elimination associated with this industry.

In many of the facilities, I noticed lots of manual labor sorting components.  After asking why, the pat answer was, “This is how we ensure a quality part makes it to our customers.”  My immediate thought was, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?”  After probing a bit I found that there were very few, if any, in-process inspections to ensure quality product was coming off the end of the manufacturing line.

The level of NCM (Non Compliant Material) throughout the plants was out of control.  I found bins of parts with NCM tags as old as 2 years in one facility.  Again, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?” popped into my mind.

I’ve spent much of my past 20 years in the Aerospace, Automotive and Medical device industries.  In each of these industries, modern equipment and processes as well as lean manufacturing techniques were employed to ensure the products being produced were of the most high quality and reliability.

So what has kept this industry from stepping up and joining the ranks of world class manufacturers and what can be done to break this cycle of inefficient manufacturing?  I don’t know but am confident that someday, some company will break the mold and embrace lean thinking.  When that happens all the other companies in this industry will have no choice but to follow or be left behind.

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