“From pipeline to pump” is the credo of Westmor Industries. The Morris, Minnesota-based company is a manufacturer and distributor of energy storage, transportation, and dispensing equipment within the US. In 2008, it was acquired by Superior Industries – “from rock face to load-out” – a multinational manufacturer of dry-bulk (aggregate, gravel, sand, crops) processing apparatus, also based in Morris.
So, together, Superior and Westmor deal with the ground and what comes out of it, and have both local and global perspectives, depending on the brand. Beth Koehl is Salesforce Platform Manager for both companies, an “invented role” that increasingly puts her in a data quarry of sorts, looking for solutions to convey insights from the rock face to her team and its customers.
A long-term user of field-service management tools from ServiceMax (whose Asset 360 solution was built on Salesforce), Koehl explains:
On the Westmor side, we both manufacture and service fuelling equipment. Like an 18-wheeler driving down the highway with a fuel truck on it. We also build stationary tanks for housing fuel at a depot or other location. We build gas stations, and service those stations too. And although we don't build ethanol plants, we do service them.
This is a US-centric business, with Westmor’s Field Service Manager Zach Arnold managing the field-service elements of those processes – engineers out on the road, maintaining all that equipment. He explains:
It's everything from the terminal itself to the transportation, bulk storage, and retail facilities. All those points in between. I deal direct, typically with the fuelling side, with end-users being either retail or private fleet. But we have other people helping with aviation and airports, as well as taking care of terminals and railcar loading.
Minneapolis Airport, we typically fly out of there. And all of the refuellers that service jets are made by Westmor, too.
On the other hand, Superior Industries is in a sector with a more global remit. Koehl says:
It’s a very different kind of manufacturing company, which happens to be headquartered in the same town. We deal with rocks and sand. All the things you need to make a road, for example. And anytime you're moving product from A to B, like from a salt mine in Turkey or loading a ship of wheat imports anywhere in the world. Anything where you're moving lots of quantity from A to B: the conveyors, and so on.
Then specifically in the aggregate industry, we make machines to crush the rocks or wash them, because we don't like them dirty. Then you need to screen them – the little ones over here, the big ones over there. It’s that simple! Our marketing team would baulk at that description, but it’s what we do! There we have a separate field-service team that goes out – engineers who service those things, techs who go to Turkey for three weeks to fix issues over there, for example. All those field-service issues are managed in ServiceMax. Zach's team also uses ServiceMax, but for smaller, more regionally focused jobs.”
So, a tightly knit team, within a team-up of two companies, using a dedicated SaaS tool, which is itself now part of a larger company. A team within a team within a team: a good fit, perhaps? Koehl notes:
Zach comes up with great ideas, and I help him do them. We've been using ServiceMax, just the field-service part, for 10 years. Field service is obviously a big part of our business. Up until now, the other pieces [of service and asset management] we've been able to do by using our own systems and processes, but we realise that we soon need to put all that under a bigger system umbrella.
On the manufacturing side, we've been looking at all these kinds of products – not only just PTC’s [ServiceMax's new parent], but also competitors’. We haven't implemented anything [beyond ServiceMax] yet, but from a manufacturing perspective, that’s where we need to go.
That raises the question of what those other functions and processes are that could, potentially, be brought together within an integrated asset and team management system – from any specialist supplier? Koehl suggests:
The tools that we use for all our user manuals. How we process our warranties and claims. Plus, we don't have a PLM [product lifecycle management system] yet, but we know we need one. So, all of those things that we learned about at LiveWorx [PTC's recent user event], it was really useful to see them brought together under one umbrella, and how they could interact or match to make a complete solution. We know we need to get there. And this this has helped open our eyes to how those things could work together.
Potentially then, the recent $1.4 billion acquisition of ServiceMax by PTC could result in a deeper relationship for Westmor and Superior? Koehl says there is always a need for those kinds of tools, adding:
We always do a ‘bake off’ whenever we're buying any kind of software; we need to perform a cost/benefit analysis. You can always make it work [using any best-of-breed systems], so it’s a case of how much time and money you are prepared to put in there to get the system you actually want.
We’ve talked about having a PLM tool for many years. We need to get there someday, to take our manufacturing shops to the next level. So, that would be the key one when I when I look at the whole portfolio. We almost bought something a few years ago, and then took a step back because we didn't have the internal resources that we thought were necessary to make it successful. So, we just put a pause on, but now see the need coming back. We have to, to stay competitive.
She argues that having a common technology platform in the cloud helps different businesses operating at state level in the US – including competitors – learn from each other and raise the bar in terms of overall quality:
The platform helps us have a common ground with others in the industry. I actually just talked to a colleague [from a rival] here. She told us, ‘I need to get back out to Minnesota. I want to see what you guys are doing with the latest thing, and with ServiceMax'.
As to the future, Koehl divulges that ServiceMax has an AI pilot scheme, using its ZINC chatbot, that Westmor and Superior have asked to be involved with.
It’s where you would only look at your service data and ask it questions using natural language. We said we would be willing to let them use one of our sandboxes as a test.
Does the old-school nature of both businesses – definitive 19th and 20th Century industries, as the US economy opened up through oil, mining, and prospecting – lead to any resistance when it comes to the ‘new oil’ of data and cloud-based tools, and the new gold rush, AI? Koehl says:
It's pretty old fashioned. But we don't want to be old fashioned. So, we just move ahead, by helping our partners and vendors be better, as it is too painful for us to work in that old kind of environment.
We have to drag some of our partners across the line, and show some of our vendors how this could be better. They resist, so we just build something for them. Then they jump onboard and get excited about it.
For now, the mobility advantages of using a SaaS tool for field-service cannot be overstated, Koehl concludes, and nor can the value of the data both Westmor and Superior have gathered on the road:
That continues to grow every day. And we continue to see the value, not only for us, but for our customers. When our customers see value in it, then we're able to use that as a competitive advantage.
The gap between us and our competitors just keeps getting bigger, because of the data. And it’s not just any old data, but structured data. Now, the extent to which PTC may enhance that, I think it's too new to know. But it won't hurt it, and I'll be interested to see where else it can go.