# Pursuing work in an economic slowdown

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#### Ron Gage

Hi folks:

The place I hang my hat during the day has decided that it's necessary to pursue work in areas where we have absolutely no expertise. Their justification: we need the work.

Am I the only one who see's this as wrong? Have any of you encountered something like this in your places of work? Is there an effective way to
deal with this?

Details: I am primarily experienced with Allen Bradley stuff. The project in front of me right now is Siemens based (CNC stuff, not general
automation). I have never even used Siemens before, and neither has anyone else who has worked here. Company owner here gave an "of course we can do this" answer to the customer without consulting with engineering. Oh, to make things fun, the preliminary design review with the customer is next Friday, and I am still having problems figuring out how to get this
all to fit together.

--
Ron Gage - Electrical Engineer
CELL Webpage - http://www.lns-saginaw.net/cell.php

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#### Rich Olson

The first project done with any manufacture is the toughest. You should keep an open mind, plenty of people would welcome an oportunity to
use something new! I'd work for your boss if he fires you. Also, there is another world besides AB.

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#### Steve Myres, PE

Maybe the best option is to do the project with the help of an outside consultant, doing as much of the work yourself as you can, under the guidance of the outside guy. This will reduce the number of hours you have to pay the guy for, which will make your management happy, and you and your inhouse guys will begin to build the platform experience you feel you lack.

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#### Alan Rimmington

I agree that you can look bad if you don't know your stuff, however look at it the other way. 1) Your company is taking the risk on the
project not being completed ontime/in budget. 2) If your company is seeing a down turn in work would you be rather out on the street. 3) Face the challenge head on, stretch yourself, overcome the challenges, prove that you are not an old dog who can not learn new tricks, and boost your CV!!!!

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#### Vortech

Well, first off, when your company starts to take on new ventures due do shrinking profits, or worse soaring loss's, there are only two things that can happen,

1) you have Administrators making sound choices based on sound research...which may very well = Great results. (they might know what you can do better then yourself)

2) your administrators are grabbing a straws to stay afloat, possablly underbidding work in new fields, due to there lack of knowledge of said new field. these almost always fail

No matter what spot you find yourself in, It cant hurt to try your hardest to make things work, and maybe gain some new valuable knowledge

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#### Wes Crucius

Ron,
I have to disagree. If companies were never willing to stretch themselves, there would be no innovation. What will happen when Siemens buys Rockwell? This way you'll be prepared. Now, to your point, it definitely needs to be a carefully planned approach, which this situation does not appear to be, given the schedule. Hopefully your
fear and the owners lack of fear will combine to yield the necessary cautious optimism to be successful.

Good luck.
Wes

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#### Michael Griffin

I'm not sure whether you are saying the application area is out of your field of experience, or whether you aren't familiar with Siemens hardware. This makes a difference in knowing just how big of a hole you are digging for yourselves.
If the problem is the application area, then I would suggest that your company get someone with experience in on contract for the project. If the problem is simply lack of familiarity with Siemens hardware, then contact
your Siemens rep. He'll help you figure out what hardware you need, that's what he gets paid for.

As a customer, I am used to dealing with companies who at the start of a project are unfamiliar with hardware they will have to work with. It's not a problem as long as they have a plan to find out what they need to know, and are able to find the right people for the project if this is required. We often supply advice, samples, drawings, and other assistance to our equipment suppliers.

There often simply is no single company with expertise in all the elements needed for a project. What is a problem is when people won't admit they don't know something until it's too late for them to find the answers.

If this is an ordinary new equipment project, then allow extra time in your schedule for "the unexpected". You may be unfamiliar with Siemens hardware, but it isn't from Mars. It is intended to be used by mere mortals, regardless
of what you may think of those of us who use Siemens hardware on a regular basis.
I've never been disappointed with the reliability or performance of anything from Siemens. They just have a talent for making it look more difficult than it really is.

If this is a retro-fit on a tight schedule (e.g., rebuild a machine over a week-end), then I would very strongly suggest getting someone who has worked with the hardware before, so you aren't sitting there on Monday morning
looking desparate because you don't know what bit to flip.

As an aside, you've mentioned that this is a CNC type project, but didn't mention any details about the application. You may be interested to know that Siemens has a multi-axis servo card for the S7-300 (the FM - something) which can be used for some simple machine tool applications. It is more than just a plain servo card, as it has some of the capabilities and programmability of a simple 4 axis CNC system. It isn't the equivalent of a true CNC system, but
for some types of dedicated production machines the PLC plus servo card can be better solution.

************************
Michael Griffin
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#### Ron Gage

Steve:

> Maybe the best option is to do the project with the help of an outside
> consultant, doing as much of the work yourself as you can, under the
> guidance of the outside guy. This will reduce the number of hours you
> have to pay the guy for, which will make your management happy, and you
> and your inhouse guys will begin to build the platform experience you
> feel you lack.

That's the real kicker. It's a small job, like $18k. No room for bringing in outsiders - if we even knew where to find one around here (mid michigan). Then again, no room for training, no room for messing up either. -- Ron Gage - Owner, Linux Network Services Reliable, Affordable, Secure Networking Solutions (989) 274-8088 Saginaw, Michigan C #### Curt Wuollet Hi Ron > The place I hang my hat during the day has decided that it's necessary > to pursue work in areas where we have absolutely no expertise. Their > justification: we need the work. Perhaps the wrong reason, but staying in busuness is a strong motivator. > Am I the only one who see's this as wrong? Have any of you > encountered something like this in your places of work? Is there an > effective way to deal with this? It's only wrong if you can't deliver. It's actually pretty unique to automation and it's balkanization that an engineer can count on going from place to place and job to job and use the same comfortable tools and products to get the job done. Even in the same job. 15 years or more ago I was hired as a technical writer for a place that was stuck on a dying proprietary 8 bit vertical packaged system because it was the only technical job in that part of the world. I left after moving the company to UNIX and AIX, writing a lot of stuff to make it work and becoming the UNIX R&D department. I did everything from emulation code to flying to all the dry nasty spots in the SW US to save us from the lawyers on installations. I did very little (no) technical writing. I was an Electronics Instructor at a Vo-Tech when I took the job, having fled from the crashing Control Data Corp. where I was involved in IC and component testing, methods and test equipment. At CDC I had previously been involved in application engineering for ICs. I was hired at my present job as a UNIX systems administrator and now do the automation stuff that can't be done with packaged systems and build test equipment for electrical stuff. I don't recall being asked if I could handle any of the changes. Many, many, times, this has sucked bigtime, and I have chased technology all of my adult life, never hitting a comfortable spot for as much as a year. But the education has been exquisite and when someone left and I was now the robot programmer, I just poured another cup of coffee and dug out the books. Specialization is for insects and staying in your comfort zone is a very bad career move. The current stability has caused me to create new challanges to move the job and the world in the direction I want it to go. CNC is hardly a bad thing to know and I'm absolutely sure you can do it. I'd pay more attention to it if the stuff we has wasn't from the dark ages. > Details: I am primarily experienced with Allen Bradley stuff. The > project in front of me right now is Siemens based (CNC stuff, not > general automation). I have never even used Siemens before, and > neither has anyone else who has worked here. Company owner here gave > an "of course we can do this" answer to the customer without > consulting with engineering. Oh, to make things fun, the preliminary > design review with the customer is next Friday, and I am still having > problems figuring out how to get this all to fit together. You mean that you've got some _some_ idea how to put it together? What a luxury. You'll do fine. You'ld never learn it without a little motivation. and a deadline. :^) Shouldn't you be reading something else? Regards, cww R #### Ron Gage > Perhaps the wrong reason, but staying in busuness is a strong motivator. > Staying in business is always a good idea - don't get me wrong. Perhaps I should have been more clear. This is an$18k job so there isn't exactly any room to bury in some training, or to screw it up. The way I see it, we are apt to loose money on this job, which in my opinion is
worse than having no job at all - especially on a small job.

> > Am I the only one who see's this as wrong? Have any of you encountered
> > something like this in your places of work? Is there an effective way to
> > deal with this?
>
> It's only wrong if you can't deliver. It's actually pretty unique to

That's my exact fear - that we won't be able to deliver. If this was a larger job, with room for screwups and training, then this wouldn't be such a concern.

--
Ron Gage - Owner, Linux Network Services
Reliable, Affordable, Secure Networking Solutions
(989) 274-8088 Saginaw, Michigan

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#### Greg Goodman

Ron,

A big part of my livelihood comes from cleaning up after other people's projects, many of them
executed under circumstances similar to what you describe. A lot of the projects I get are overdue and over budget before I ever hear about
them, because somebody (some company) that wasn't a good fit for the job got hired on the basis of a sales rep's song and dance.

As I see it, you've got a number of options, including the following:

1. Come up to speed quick, execute a competent project, and walk away a hero. (Actually, you don't walk away a hero. As far as the client's
concerned, you've only done your job. And you've raised your management's level of expectation, increasing the likelihood that you'll get tossed
headfirst into deep water again next time. You'll be the only one who knows what a superhuman effort you put out to save your company's bacon. After a few more unappreciated efforts like that, you'll be looking for a
gig as an independent consultant.)

2. Do what you can with limited resources and more limited time, and hope the client doesn't spot the on-the-job training that they're paying
professional rates for. Depending on how snappy they are, and how quick a study you are, they might pick up on it or they might not. I'd assume
that they'll figure it out eventually, and that if and when they do, they'll be unhappy about it, especially if the project runs into trouble. In that case, they may start looking for another integrator. They may never tell you - or even their own management - the real reason for the change, because the real reason makes them look like saps. But I wouldn't count on getting a lot of repeat business from these people... or their close friends in the industry.

3. Find a way to bow out gracefully. Best bet is to convince your company to stick to projects they can do with available resources. The only argument likely to work is a cost-benefit analysis that shows either
(a) the cost to do this project is higher than they think or
(b) the risk of failure / penalties / lost clientele / hurt reputation is higher than they're
willing to gamble on.

Be prepared to back up your contention; it's only a valid argument if you've got numbers to support it. Also, this will probably not make you any friends in management; somebody's already got political capital invested in this decision. If you go this route, be prepared to get called a negativist, unprogressive, not a team player, etc. (Do not expect any pats on the back for keeping the company from getting involved in a train wreck. Saving people from their own bad judgement is generally a thankless task.)

4. At least be on record with your assessment of the current situation. I favor a professional and detailed email to management specifying the
amount of work to be done (specifically including the coming-up-to-speed element), an assessment of high-probability things that might go wrong to stall the project or give the client a bad impression, a recommendation that the client's expectations be carefully managed, and suggestions as to the most expedient way to forestall the potential pitfalls. One suggestion might be to contract outside expertise, both to jump-start the project and as an "investment in in-house ability to execute future projects expediently". Alternatively, assuming there's
time, you might attend an intensive training course. Another suggestion is to place additional emphasis on the requirements analysis and specification phase of the project. (This is a multi-purpose tactic that serves to make sure that you're not on unexpectedly unfamiliar ground, and to give you time to investigate whatever it is you don't know. It also doesn't hurt your professional image with the client;
people like to work with thorough-going problem solvers who consider everything up front and don't get surprised.)

Regards,

Greg Goodman
Chiron Consulting

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#### Lewis Bodden

I've been put in situations like that many times. I've been told that one brand of PLC is much the same as another. They are and they aren't. There is a learning curve that you have to overcome. The similarities are the basic concepts of doing things (The under lying logic). The big difference is the mechanics of the Ladder and how you key it in. From my experience when it's over you will look back and say that it was difficult, but you overcame those difficulties. The most important factor is to be honest with everyone. First your employer. Tell them that you are uncomfortable with the situation and that you will do your best. Be up front with your customer. Don't try to pull the wool over their eyes. You can rely on help from the PLC manufacture or outside consultant. You have a good source of help right here. Don't be afraid to ask your employer to provide some training. After all he's the one that got you in this situation.
Do your best and be honest.

J

#### Joe Jansen/ENGR/HQ/KEMET/US

I guess it beats hanging your hat at home. Feel lucky, my current employer has eliminated over 50% of the jobs worldwide over the course of the last year. Corporate engineering has gone down by better than 20%. Since our only customer is internal, we don't have the option that you do.

I think that management giving a 'yeah, sure' answer with no technical backing is a bit absurd, but it beats layoffs...

--Joe Jansen

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#### R K

Ron,

This is a common practice in many companies.
If there is no way you can achieve your project goals, the best idea is to inform the project manager he will require either additional resources, and/or a new project schedule. Don't get emotional and say it can't be done; anything can be achieved with the right resources.

They will only know there is a problem if you tell them, and if you tell them, than you become the problem

It is all about managing perception

Regards,
Richard

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#### Gruhn, Paul

Geez, I wish people would stop thinking this! The potential monopoly this would create would never be allowed to happen.

Paul Gruhn, P.E., C.F.S.E.
Siemens, Houston, TX

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#### Bill Sturm

>Staying in business is always a good idea - don't get me wrong. Perhaps
>I should have been more clear. This is an \$18k job so there isn't
>exactly any room to bury in some training, or to screw it up. The way I
>see it, we are apt to loose money on this job, which in my opinion is
>worse than having no job at all - especially on a small job.

When things are tough, making money is not as important as making payroll... Even if you do not make a real profit margin, if several people
work on it for a few weeks and you cover your costs, then you have gained.

Bill Sturm