Whilst the clear majority of automation installed in companies is successful in increasing production, improving quality or cutting unit costs, there are occasional installations which don’t meet the criteria on which the machine was justified. This is clearly a major problem and one which is compounded by the fact the machine has been designed specifically for your company and product. You can’t just reject the equipment or buy a different system. So, when things fail to meet expectations, how do you resolve the issues?
Initially, there will be discussions between the supplier and customer. These may highlight the issues but not necessarily the solutions. It may be that extended development is needed (and you passed your deadline weeks ago), or that there is inconsistency in the output but no-one can identify the root cause. Management pressure to resolve the problems increases, whilst the supplier, having over-run his project timeline has other pressing installations, meaning resources are stretched or unavailable.
At some point in this process, tempers flare and relations start to break down. It is about now that companies start to think about a litigious approach to resolution. This, however, is a very big step. It will cost an inordinate amount of money, take significant time and reduce relations between the two protagonists to near zero. In short, regardless of the outcome, this is going to be costly, slow and painful without necessarily improving the core issue of system performance.
Before you step over the threshold into litigation, it may be time to engage an automation expert witness service. By approaching an independent expert who can act as intermediary, you are far more likely to reach an acceptable resolution faster and more cost-effectively, for both parties.
An automation expert will be able to provide an independent opinion of the key issues and how they might be resolved. Specialists in robotics, automation and controls, that have wide experience across many sectors, bring a level-headed assessment of the installation to help clarify problems and start all parties thinking of resolution rather than conflict.
Typically, the approach would be to view the system running for a period of time, understand the product being manufactured and the critical elements of that assembly and In-Process Checks [IPC]. There would be scrutiny of the Specification and Functional Design Specification [FDS] as these are the two key elements in assessing if either the specification was inadequate or unclear, or the interpretation was wrong or poorly implemented.
Ideally, the automation expert would liaise between both parties, ensuring that each sides situation was understood and a balance applied. It is at this point that resolution can start to be planned (with agreement from both parties). It is incredibly rare that a failure to meet specification is solely down to the supplier providing a poor machine. It is far more likely that there are multiple causes (usually on both sides) which mean that a pragmatic approach to resolution will be needed, where each party takes responsibility and (typically) some level of additional cost. This would be supported with a detailed breakdown of the issues found in a clear, concise report.
Failure of the companies to engage together to resolve the issues makes it likely that litigation will be the next step. An automation expert witness will be able to provide impartial opinions on the causes of the problems for the Court to be able to make informed decisions on how best to apportion blame and cost. There is danger here; you might believe your case is water-tight and that you will definitely win, but there is always the chance that the Court will find in the other companies favour with your business facing large bills (possibly in excess of the initial automation cost) with still no viable process on the shop floor.
The key points about problematic installations and failure to meet specification are:
- When things start to go wrong, don’t keep plugging away regardless of lack of progress
- Get an independent opinion earlier and seek the root causes of your problems
- Maintain good relations at all costs with the supplier / customer
- Be prepared to accept some level of blame and/or cost to resolve the problems
At Automa8, we have the proven experience and expertise required to navigate automation conflict situations, manage effective communication and ultimately help businesses resolve complex and demanding automation conflict issues. For more information or to discuss your situation in more depth, please contact:
Mark Le Sueur
72a Upper South Wraxall
Bradford on Avon
Office: +44(0) 1225 309 192
Mobile: +44(0) 7855 038 604