John Mazurkiewic, Baldor Electric Co., Ft. Smith, Ark.
Andy O’Connell, V.P. Operation/Engineering, Rockford Ball Screw Co., Rockford, Ill.
Jim Mahan, Director of Engineering, Lovejoy Inc., Downers Grove, Ill.
Define service and support. What’s considered leading edge today?
Mahan: In the coupling business, we find that service and support take many forms. We must have product ready to go off-the-shelf or be able to modify our product on an “order in the morning, ship in the afternoon” basis. Before the hard product, the soft product must be available anytime of the day. That requires the Internet and a functional Web site that allows drawing downloads, catalog downloads, and interactive selection and configuration.
O’Connell: Level of service for linear motion screws is measured in the percentage of times complete product quantities are shipped by the user’s requested date. The generally accepted minimum level is 95% or better.
Mazurkiewicz: The value of a product is measured by fast service and high quality, with minimized costs and delivery time. Service and support are only two parts of the equation. They provide users with the right product for an application and the technical support for that product. But product and support must also be available within a moment’s notice, making time the third part of the equation. Immediate product delivery — having product in stock — may be considered leading edge today. Another method of service is self-help capabilities through Web sites and extensive help files. All users really want is to be able to pick up the phone and talk with a person who can answer their questions quickly.
In what applications are service and support most important?
O’Connell: Machine breakdowns require a rapid turnaround of linear motion components. Downtime can quickly cost a manufacturer, especially if the piece of equipment is part of a production line. The automotive industry in particular relies on its suppliers to maintain a high degree of service and support.
Mahan: New coupling applications, or even cost-reduction updates on existing systems, require the most service and support. Power-transmission couplings are considered an old-line product, but many applications require these couplings to perform new duties or combinations of duties. Combination duties are the most difficult, as no coupling can perform all the possible combinations. Sorting through coupling types is necessary, whether through an electronic selection program or electronic or traditional catalog.
What are limiting factors in a motion system when it comes to service and support?
Mazurkiewicz: Engineers should be most concerned about product delivery and support for motion control products, as they are typically the largest part of an application in terms of set up and program time. A company that provides the complete package — motor, drive and motion controller — should be considered, as it knows how the parts work together and can answer any questions. Another area of concern is software ease of use and whether software is compatible across a variety of drives and motion controllers. Most versatile software lets engineers work independently to put a program together.
O’Connell: One of the biggest factors that can limit the supply of alloy steel screws is the availability of the raw steel. Many steel mills are overloaded and the availability of scrap steel has been drastically reduced because of overseas purchasing. Steel supplies currently can be measured in months, rather than weeks. Many manufacturers are beginning to hold more inventory to minimize the effects of the delays in supply.
What should engineers know about component interactions and how they affect service and support?
Mahan: Because couplings straddle the space between the driver and the driven components of rotation machinery, it’s important to account for the coupling and both connected pieces of equipment. Reactions can be transmitted through the coupling, alignment can result in reactionary forces on the connected shafts and bearings, and coupling factors — like torsional stiffness, windup, or backlash — are all part of that connection. It may also be necessary to account for the connected inertias, the stop-start cycles of the application, cyclic loading during operation, or even emergency stopping.
What tips can you give engineers to help them optimize service and support in their designs?
Mazurkiewicz: With the Internet, it’s easy to filter through component specifications for the application. Once you’ve narrowed down the suppliers with the right product capabilities, contact each to learn about designs and other products that may fit your application.
Mahan: Contact potential suppliers early in the design stages. Talk engineer-to-engineer once the scope of the application is well known. Communicating via e-mail allows drawings and sketches to be sent to get a complete understanding of the issues. It’s usually best to eliminate the middle people during the engineering stage. Let the buyers enter once the specifications are fixed.