Nick Shrubsall, Product and Marketing Manager for Instron’s Dynamic Upgrades and Accessories business, talks to AZoM about their Lab Health Check campaign for upgrading old equipment and helping improve reliability, productivity and capability.
What has led you to champion this new Instron initiative?
Having supported the sales of complex hydraulic systems for a number of years, I have become very familiar with the procurement process for large capital equipment. When I became the Product and Marketing Manager of our aftermarket business, I set out to understand a very different market place, with a very different set of challenges. With such a large install base of existing and loyal customers, I wanted to understand what their real challenges were and why so many systems will rarely see pro-active investment after the day they are installed.
Our Lab Health Check Campaign offers customers the chance to get a free consultation which will give them insight into their lab performance and the status of their existing equipment. We can then help to highlight areas of business risk and also opportunities for improvement and growth. The idea of investing in current equipment can often be overlooked, but is a cost effective and efficient way to increase both capability and throughput within a lab.
Why do you think some customers overlook their existing systems when they apply for funding?
It is a complicated situation to understand and one size does not fit all. Typically people feel more comfortable when applying for new equipment as it has obvious and tangible benefits like added test capacity, or bringing a new capability to the lab. Applying for new capital equipment often feels easier to justify, and is perhaps even what the board want to hear. When it comes to investing in existing equipment we see lots of customers who adopt a ‘make do and mend’ mentality, keeping old systems alive far beyond their supported life. The real pain comes when old systems do fail, and customers who haven’t planned ahead get caught out. We want to help customers realise the full potential of their existing systems. There are strong returns from doing so, and upgrading can be far more cost effective than buying new equipment.
Which industries and users struggle the most in terms of raising funds for upgrades?
Although we can see some industry wide trends in the availability of funding for modernisation, this can still differ greatly depending on the individual. There are a great number of customers who have a positive and pro-active approach to upgrading; who regularly budget for maintenance, and invest in upgrading their existing systems. This is especially true of compliance driven industries like aerospace, but also where machines are directly revenue generating and uptime is critical, such as in contract testing labs.
However, we do also know that there are a significant number of customers who want to invest in upgrades, but are reluctant, or who struggle, to put together a strong enough business case to justify the investment – this is where Instron can help.
What technologies are most susceptible to obsolescence?
It’s not at all dissimilar to the consumer goods market; the faster that technology moves the sooner we see the impact of obsolescence. The obvious fast movers are electronics and software. It is amazing to think that some of the testing machines still in use rely on electronics that are as old as the video tape.
In software, we can look at the recent example of the Windows XP obsolescence. Having been at the heart of almost every PC for 13 years, on April 8th 2014 Microsoft declared it was now officially unsupported. Although it is easy for a domestic PC to be upgraded, lots of industrial PCs are locked to Windows XP because of their control electronics and as a result of old software which isn’t compatible with a modern operating system. For some older machines the only way to become Windows 7 compliant, and keep your IT department happy, is to plan a complete upgrade of the control system.
What kinds of upgrades are available for existing equipment?
If you were looking to increase productivity in your lab we would first look at upgrading the control system for older machines. That includes replacing old control electronics, test PCs, and utilising the latest materials testing software. Just one example of the benefits of a modern PC is the integrity of test results and the way data can be handled. It is really surprising how many laboratories are yet to embrace the benefits of backing up data to a network drive and still rely on moving data with USB drives. There can be some challenges in getting the implementation of this right but it is something that more and more of our customers are taking advantage of. The best thing of all is that we can upgrade control systems for almost any hydraulic system. If you have a mixture of machines from different suppliers, we can upgrade your control systems and provide a common user interface across all of your machines.
If you are looking to expand your capability and move into new areas of research or work with new industries, then there are a lot of options! For example we have fixtures for improving machine alignment to the latest NADCAP requirements for composite testing, or temperature chambers which allow you to test in non-ambient conditions. Non-Contacting strain measurement can also let you work with new materials and challenging specimen geometries. Perhaps you are interested in fracture mechanics and are looking for a new load string and software to go with it. The list really is endless and all of these things can be installed on the machines you already have!
What benefits should your customers be thinking about when they consider upgrading?
The justification for investing in existing equipment comes from the cumulative effect of all of the incremental gains which upgrading brings. A lot of customers understand that the age of their equipment means that they are at risk; they may even be experiencing the increase in maintenance costs, or downtime, associated with old equipment. With that in mind, it is surprising how few customers even apply for funding to upgrade. We also find that those who do, can often struggle to put the justification together.
There are some obvious benefits to be seen from upgrading unreliable equipment:
- Reduced machine downtime and maintenance costs.
- Access to the latest software, training and technical support.
- Easier to use software, resulting in increased productivity and efficiency.
There are also a lot more benefits to upgrading that are easy to overlook but can have a significant impact on your business.
The customer needs to ask themselves:
- What is the impact on their business of reducing setup time by 25%?
- How does operator satisfaction affect throughput within their laboratory?
- Are potential customers put-off by the state of their lab, could a cutting edge lab help win new business?
- If they aren’t losing business from customers, then do they find it hard to hire the best engineering talent for the same reasons?
The attitude you have towards investing in your lab equipment is a reflection of your attitude towards investing in your products, your services and your staff.
Could you please briefly introduce your new Lab Health Check program?
We want to help customers understand the potential of their existing machines. If you have a number of older machines we can help you identify the systems that are putting your business at risk. Upgrading a lab is not necessarily something which happens overnight, but is an ongoing process, and a change of mind-set.
Informally, this is something that Instron has always done well.. On a case by case basis we have been able to help new lab managers take stock of all of their inherited equipment, or work with them to help focus their investment. What we are doing with the Lab Health Check program is making this approach available to everyone, by making the process quick and easy, and offering more insight and advice than ever before.
By discussing the challenges that our customers are facing today, and the future direction of their labs, we can prioritise the changes that will have the most impact on the productivity of both their machines, and the technicians that run them.
We have also found though, that just seeing the real age of equipment written down in print can sometimes be enough to cause people to sit up and listen!
In short, our Lab Health Check will provide you with a comprehensive and clear view of your lab equipment, and give you access to the information you need to start building your own modernisation strategy right away.
Where can our readers learn more about the health of their lab equipment?
Everything you need to know about the Lab Health Check Campaign is explained in a few short videos here. I encourage you to share the link with your colleagues, it only takes a few minutes to watch the videos, and it could be the first step towards real change.
What do you want readers to take away from this interview?
I want to reassure anyone reading this interview that it isn’t all doom and gloom – there are hundreds of labs around the world who are facing the same challenges as you. Most importantly of all, I would urge you to take action today and start a conversation about upgrading your equipment.
The most encouraging thing is that when customers have successfully applied for the funding to upgrade their first system, the benefits are so clear that it becomes even easier to get the future funding required to invest in other systems. With the Lab Health Check initiative Instron can set you off on the right path.
Don’t wait for your old machines to let you down, be pro-active and let Instron help you build a business case that gives you the funding that you need in order to get the best out of your lab.
About Nick Shrubsall
Nick Shrubsall is the Product and Marketing Manager for Instron’s Dynamic Upgrades and Accessories business, as well as being a chartered member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. After attaining a MEng in Cybernetics from Reading University in 2008, Nick started with Instron as an engineer based in Research and Development. After 2 years in engineering he then moved into a commercial role as an Applications Engineer, supporting the technical specification and sales of complex hydraulic testing systems across Europe. Having specialised in fatigue systems and working on high value capital equipment projects for a number of years, Nick is now focused on strengthening Instron’s aftermarket solutions.
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