1. Tell us about your first year at Factora – what surprised you?
The caliber of Factora customers! I’d had over ten years of working with Factora at GE, I’d known Charles for almost 20 years, but I had no idea Factora dealt with some very large Fortune 100s. Not to mention 2 of the top CPGs on the planet.
The second is the level of resourcefulness. The things Factora people can do with the tools we have – the outcomes blow me way. At the start I kept marvelling but they’d say, nah, it’s everyday work. I’m realizing it’s partly because we don’t have a product, we’re not selling one. The focus is on figuring out how to solve a problem – using the best tool available.
2. What are the major differences you note, in being with Factora vs GE?
GE was a great learning school. I went to school for 15 years with GE, wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But GE was more transactional. Here at Factora, the focus is on building long-term relationships with customers. Avoiding what you’re not set up to do best and going ahead full steam on what you excel at.
At Factora relationships have to be culturally aligned. If we feel a new customer isn’t a good fit, we don’t pursue. We both have to be vested. When relationships last 5, 10, 15 years, the bond is strong.
I’ve heard people say, including at GE, “When we have a really complex need, we go to Factora.” We’re the ones who get asked to solve the hard problems.
It’s partly because being vendor-independent gives us terrific flexibility. For every new project, we can choose the best tool to use. Basically, we’re selling our skills and experience, not a product. It helps a lot with our say/do ratio.
3. Tell me about the “Factora system”
That was interesting! Within a space of weeks, three different customers mentioned to me that they refer to their platform as the “Factora System.” Not the GE or PTC or whatever system.
But there is no Factora system!
I think it’s because we’re one team. It’s not about the technology brand name, it’s about delivering value to the customer. There’s every combination of training, troubleshooting, planning, mentoring – basically, delivering the full solution.
4. Do you think the resourcefulness Factora consultants are known for is connected to the B-M-T model? In other words, does being driven by a business goal (rather than simply implementing technology) force better thinking?
There’s an onboarding evaluation process for all new employees – I went through it – that way the new hire knows and we know if they’re a B, M, or T.
Once we know that, and say they’re a heavy B[usiness], we’ll try to move them towards T[echnology], and vice versa. We can use our people more strategically, play people to their strengths. And for anyone who wants to grow, there’s a clear path – not a requirement, but a choice – to gain strength in all 3 areas.
I don’t know of any other system integrator that focuses as hard on internal growth. We have a full-time executive in charge. And a culture committee. We talk a lot about how you gain and retain trust.
5. Where do you see Factora 5 years out? 10?
Stay true to what we do well. Focus on the customer. …Double our size.
6. What excites you most about IIoT?
Velocity, speed of deployment. All those projects people have been dreamed of, now they’re affordable, and take orders of magnitude less time. We can build out visualization, use machine learning, get to the end game faster. Without those expensive custom programs.
Also, it’s pulling in new minds into the industry, now that the opportunity has grown and the pace has increased. People who might not have been interested before.
For us at Factora, it’s fun tearing new products apart and trying to break them. We do that, spend 3 months testing hard to see what the weaknesses are, and the strengths. See if the product meets our standards. Find out what it’s made of.
7. What are your thoughts on the future of American manufacturing? Are we seeing a resurgence? Where’s the opportunity?
We’ve been seeing a lot of buoyancy, in the past 9 months, around the MES/MOM space. In the past it was seen as a vitamin rather than a painkiller. But as competition keeps ramping up, and robots and the IIoT are redefining the possibilities, that’s changing.
And someone has to keep the robots running! So far, robots can only excel in narrow roles. The new people coming in, drawn in by the new possibilities of IIoT, they’re going to have fun with this one.
8. We hear the line between OT and IT is blurring – tell me about that
If you look at OT, traditionally they’ve got to keep the plant running. There are heavy penalties when they don’t. They’ve got financial and operational risk and security. So change is regarded with suspicion, understandably so.
But now with new IIoT platforms like ThingWorx from PTC, the playing ground shifts. More and more in the last year, we’re talking to a DT person, someone who looks at the whole situation from a more strategic view.
9. What are your thoughts on advanced analytics?
A great tool – particularly when it’s the right one for the job. Python and R are fantastic products.
The big challenge is still to connect, feed the advanced analytic system back to the operations manufacturing system, so that process engineers can make operational changes. Decrease the latency in disparate systems.
10. And what are you thinking about AR?
If you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have said AR is 2-3 years out, in terms of a real impact. I admit it, I got a pair of those google glasses years ago, I still have them. Back then, it was a technology looking for a problem.
But AR is here today. The hands-free benefit is huge. AR can be used in PLM, asset lifecycle, it’s exciting stuff.
My vision is a world where the operator doesn’t have to open doors on a machine; they’ll be manipulating things in AR, outside the machine workings. That lowers the risk and injury from interaction with moving parts. The only real bottleneck here is the mechanics, the actual industrialized AR devices – the rest is here.
11. Let’s talk about machine learning – where you think the best areas of opportunity are?
Machine learning is using historic data to find out, basically, what good looks like. It’s perfect for an activity with frequently repeated actions.
And one thing that people forget – you need recorded failures for machine learning to succeed! Machine learning learns, to a great extent, through failure. This worked, that didn’t. For it to find out what good looks like, it needs to know what bad looks like.
There’s great value to be gained with really big assets, where downtime costs are huge.
12. Tell me a customer story about the B-M-T model, how you applied the model to choose the Business goal, the Manufacturing area, and the Technology.
I’ve got two, one in CPG and one for the auto industry.
Example 1. We got pulled into a failed POV for a producer of non-woven fabrics. One of those situations where they’d decided on the Technology before they’d analyzed the problem and built their business case. They knew OEE very well, so they decided to go that route.
But the process has none or very few failures, so the OEE analysis didn’t tell them much.
What they should have focused on is centerlining and waste. Which we did – using the same GE technology, but in a different way. We configured the technology to align with the business case.
Example 2. We were introduced to a GE channel partner, a global auto parts manufacturer headquartered in Asia. We got a phone call on Tuesday and had 2 of our people on-site by Friday, spending the day on discovery, walking the plant.
Here’s a potted version of the conversation afterwards:
Manufacturer: What do you think?
Factora: It’s amazing!
Manufacturer: How so…?
Factora: We’re amazed you can make auto parts at all! There’s stuff all over the plant, no connectivity of data, you don’t know where things are …
Manufacturer: How long to get productivity up to your standards?
Factora: Two years. [It’s something we’re known for – brutal honesty.]
Manufacturer: We don’t have two years. What can you do -in one year?
That conversation was in November. In December, we sent one of our toughest drill sergeants.
By March, our drill sergeant’s team had finished the business case and two proof-of-concepts. She recently got the go-ahead, and the first project will be completed in a year as promised.
It’s for an area the size of 15 football fields, about 150 lines. The rest of the plant and the other sites will be the focus after this one is complete.
The business case is impressive! They’ll not only save through greater productivity, they’ll save on shipping by being able to produce enough to fill the need locally. In terms of M & T, Manufacturing and Technology, we’ll be cherry-picking for savings – leaving all their custom elements alone and hooking up data in the vanilla areas, to a great extent through IIoT.
13. Then you’re happy about your move to Factora?
We’re growing fast, Factora has a fantastic team, and I really enjoy my face-to-face customer meetings. I’m a lucky man.