Collaboration: The Ultimate Problem-Solving Component
Mike Hampton 11.16.2023
Okuma Takes Collaborative Customer Service to the Next Level
There’s more to machining than your CNC machine. Every machine tool operates within a larger interconnected ecosystem. From tooling, workholding, metrology systems, and CAD/CAM software to cooling systems and automation — the list continues. If even one component is out of step within the whole, the finished product suffers.
For the best results — in terms of product quality, consistency, productivity, downtime, efficiency, and ROI — some synergies must be attained. In other words, the capabilities and actions of every component and sub-system must be matched to and coordinated with the machine tool itself, regardless of whether it involves one manufacturer or multiple vendors.
The first step is selecting the right CNC machine to help establish error-free machining and a tight collaborative environment with all of the involved players. This coordination is essential and will help ensure part number 1,000 is identical to part number one.
The Value of Collaborative Engineering
Developing clockwork-collaborative engineering is best done during the pre-build stage when the customer works with their distributor and external system providers to define the business objectives of the machine tool, and the productivity and quality levels that are expected. While the machine’s ecosystem can continue to grow and evolve over time, the pre-build stage offers a unique opportunity to develop the highest level of synchronicity between the machine tool and the required systems.
Historically, at Okuma, the distributor serves as the point person to ensure everyone is on the same page. Working closely with the customer, the distributor’s team has a good understanding of the machine’s capabilities, as well as an in-depth knowledge of what external systems are needed to meet the customer’s requirements. The representative then serves as the customer’s “agent,” organizing quotes, configuration specs, and scheduling demos when requested.
Within the industry, there may not always be transparency and coordination between the customer, distributor, and third-party vendors, as well as the input and guidance from the machine’s manufacturer. Without an orchestrating distributor, this approach, unfortunately, causes the onus for a successful installation and operation to fall on the end user’s shoulders once all the ordered components arrive. From a bird’s eye view, this systematic problem stems from machine tool sales often being viewed as transactional instead of holistically oriented. In short, the components being sold take precedence over the desire to create shared success for all.
Partners in Technology: A Rising Tide Raises All Ships
Okuma has chipped away at the industry’s transaction mentality for several decades. The latest initiative, Partners in Technology, is among the boldest yet. Partners in Technology is an evolution of the company’s former Partners in THINC Program.
In all, Partners in Technology consists of more than 45+ partner companies representing:
- Productivity components
- Coolant/coolant systems
- And more
Most of the member companies have partnered with Okuma and its distributors for 20+ years and know Okuma machine tools well. They are selected based on stringent criteria, including product quality, service capabilities, and compatibility with Okuma machine tool technologies.
The program aims for the network to coalesce to provide holistic solutions for manufacturers. My experience has shown me that the best solutions are seldom derived from one individual working alone and instead are most often discovered through team efforts. The Partners in Technology program does just that by connecting Okuma’s corporate values of “passion for manufacturing” and “drive for innovation,” which enables us to focus our attention on turning customers’ problems into productivity.
The Partners in Technology Facility: Collaboration Central
If there is a physical “face” of the Partners in Technology program, it's the state-of-the-art facility located on the Okuma America campus in Charlotte, NC. At this proving ground, partners can demonstrate their products on Okuma machine tools, meet with end users and distributors, network with other partner companies, host events and trainings in a dedicated auditorium, vet ideas, and share knowledge with Okuma engineers.
Currently, the facility houses millions of dollars in machine tools as well as multiple offices and conference rooms. Many of the partners and distributors maintain standing office hours at the facility, with several of the program’s partners working out of there daily.
The Partners in Technology facility is also a test site for Okuma engineers and partner engineers to assess and thoroughly vet new technologies and integrations before bringing them to shop floors. Every collaboration turns out to be an opportunity to learn something; when we discover new technology or hit on a big idea, we share it via trainings that are open to partners, distributors, end users, and, of course, our own staff.
The name encapsulates what the whole program is about. It’s about collaborative problem-solving with all the pieces and expertise needed, all in one place. For example, a customer can meet with their distributor representative to define the overall operational requirements of the machining cell. The representative and customer then select the right Okuma machining tool and configuration.
Based on the selected machine, the representative and customer then identify the add-on technologies needed; partners can also demo their technologies on the Okuma equipment so customers can see how the machine and systems work together. The distributor brings all necessary parties together to talk through the options, rates of metal removal, cycle time reduction, cost estimates – really anything.
The whole idea is to bring everything together for the customer — design, engineering, integration, testing, and even training — to ensure the entire cell is error-free before it's delivered.
Strong Relationships Travel Well
It’s important to realize that the Partners in Technology initiative extends far beyond the physical building. Its value is completely portable. For customers who aren’t in proximity to Charlotte, NC, Okuma, distributors, and required partners will often travel to the customer’s site to provide the same collaboration and guidance they would find on-site.
Customer visits don’t always involve the potential purchase, configuration, and customization of a new machine. Customers also rely on the Partners in Technology program to resolve issues with their existing equipment.
A customer in Syracuse, NY, needed assistance recently with their multitasking lathe, so we flew in all the players, including supporting partners as well as our VP of Customer Service. We sat down on-location, dissected the machine tool and ancillary products, and workflow to identify the problem and ultimately propose a solution. The immediate result? The machine was back up and running like new.
The most important result? The satisfied customer could continue to run their shop at peak performance due to the extreme collaboration to ensure success. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about – passionately pursuing a customer for life.
We Welcome You to Partners in Technology
The Partners in Technology facility is open to visitors within the manufacturing environment. Visitors can arrange a visit by reaching out to an official Partners in Technology partner, Okuma team member, or their Okuma distributor representative – or fill out the form below to get started.
Contact Your Distributor to Schedule a Partners in Technology Visit