For example, Krones was able to move much of its communication with customers into the virtual realm, using video conferencing instead of conference rooms, remote service support instead of hands on the machine, and webinars instead of in-person training. Of course, we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. The necessary communication channels and technology were already available, but there was a lot of untapped potential that we have since to put to use. And although the ‘how’ has changed, the ‘who’ remains the same: the same team members are still available to discuss contract details, clarify technical questions, or work together to fine-tune machines. The following relates five examples of how we are able to successfully implement projects despite the exceptional circumstances.
Lockdowns, travel restrictions, physical distancing – a year ago, few would have imagined what the “new normal” would look like in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has the entire world in suspense. But there’s no time to stand still, certainly not in an essential sector such as the food and beverage industry. And so, instead of stopping us in our tracks, the crisis has inspired an unparalleled drive to find new ways of working together, from a distance.
1. The bid, the contract award, and order clarification
“The Sady Pridonia Group in Russia produces fruit juices, baby food, and non-dairy milk products. Currently, nearly all of their products are packaged in cartons. However, for its new oat milk line Sady Pridonia contacted Krones for the first time – and learned of Milkron. That gave us an opportunity to submit a bid for the entire processing part of the line. Because of travel restrictions and the strict lockdown in Russia, we had to rely on Microsoft Teams as our main communication tool for the technical discussions. We at Milkron had many virtual meetings with the decision-makers at Sady Pridonia as well as Krones sales representatives in Germany and Russia.
This was the first time I had personally done the entire process, from the initial contact to contract signing, without a single face-to-face meeting. So I’m really pleased that it worked so well! Of course, we had a lot of intensive meetings – as many as four a week in March. But unlike in-person negotiations, which usually last all day, these virtual meetings were only one or two hours each. Sady Pridonia brought clear expectations to the table. And thanks to the high frequency of relatively brief meetings, we were able to clarify questions internally before the next meeting and quickly show what was realistically possible. Through these meetings, we got to know each other quite well and ultimately achieved the same outcome that we would have had if we’d all been sitting at the same table.
I think the good relationship we built also gave the customer confidence in us. In April, Sady Pridonia awarded the contract for the entire process technology to Milkron. Right now, we are busy working on the detail engineering and developing the software. We need to deliver all of the components, including Evoguard valves and an HST homogenizer, to Russia by the end of November. Installation will be handled by the customer – but of course we’ll have Milkron supervisors on site as well.”
2. The Factory Acceptance Test
“Last year, Refresco placed four orders with Krones for various plants in North America. This summer, it was time to do the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) for a blow-molder-filler block from one of those orders. Travel restrictions made it impossible for Refresco’s project team to travel from Florida to Neutraubling for the test. Knowing this, we got an early start on developing a Plan B – a remote FAT. We quickly realized that a remote FAT couldn’t be the same as a live test with everyone on site at Krones’ plant. So, we used the live FAT agenda as a basis and developed a unique schedule for the virtual FAT. Refresco provided a prioritized list of the topics and indicators most important to them, and we verified whether the requested items could be covered in a video conference. In the end, we scheduled two days for the remote FAT, with three hours for each machine.
The main tool we used – besides the blow-molder and filler, of course – was Microsoft Teams. Krones’ sales team and product specialists dialed in to the video call, as did various representatives from the customer’s side. The number of participants varied depending on the topic at hand. Overall, though, far more people were able to participate than would have travelled to Neutraubling under normal circumstances. To give the team in Tampa, Florida, a live look at the machines in Neutraubling, the respective product specialist and I, as project manager, were each equipped with a cell phone, a gimbal, and a microphone. Those tools enabled us to walk Refresco’s representatives through their machine, demonstrate test runs on a variety of container sizes and speeds, and answer technical questions. Since processes like molding cavity changeovers would have exceeded the time allotted for the meeting, we ran those sequences ahead of time, recorded them with a GoPro camera, and made the video available to Refresco.
Since that first virtual FAT, we have been able to run several remote FATs per week at Krones, for all of our machines. And the feedback has been consistently positive. For me, close coordination and good preparation are essential. Expectations and key topics absolutely must be clarified in advance so that we can set up an agenda that meets our customers’ expectations and fits reasonably into the online framework. When we do a remote FAT, the customer is placing a lot of trust in us. Instead of spending two or three days physically at the machine, they only get a brief look at it via video chat. But they trust that we will deliver the same quality they have come to expect from Krones.”