Excerpts from Here, There, Everywhere by Jim Montague published in Control Design Magazine.
But you gotta know the territory! The mantra of the traveling salesmen in “The Music Man” is especially true for machine builders venturing out to find and serve new users in international markets.
Just as machine builders know their own strengths and the needs of long-time customers, they must become equally familiar with the requirements, business practices and standards of potential users in new countries. Very logical, but international markets and regions require a lot to be learned quickly — and sometimes builders must redesign equipment to meet these new demands.
Still, the rewards can be huge for builders willing to venture outside their comfort zone. To get over these high organizational and logistical hurdles and steep learning curves, many builders go beyond simply shipping to new countries, and instead develop innovative partnership arrangements with counterparts in other nations, while others coordinate efforts among their subsidiaries in multiple locations worldwide.
When You Gotta Go
20-year-old Invotec Engineering, an integrator and builder in Miamisburg, Ohio, grew up serving users in North America, but started offering its custom medical device assembly, test and inspection systems and related services internationally in 2005–06 (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Invotec Engineer’s business development manager, David Barton (left), adjusts a custom laser marking machine at the recent Assembly & Automation Technology Expo in Chicago. Invotec brings international users to the U.S. for training and machine validation.
“Our customers needed our equipment in their facilities outside the U.S., mostly in Mexico, some in Europe and a little in China,” says David Barton, Invotec’s business development manager. “A customer will tell us what they want, such as a manufacturing system for a newly developed surgical device, and we’ll design and build it in-house. But then we’ll bring in their engineers and line operators from Mexico, for example, and they’ll train with us and validate their new system at our facility. After that’s done, we ship the system to them. We also travel to their facilities to get new systems up to speed, and we make some service trips.”
Intellectual Property and Reshoring
Though it’s crucial to learn local business customs and technical requirements, it’s also important to not give too much away. Some machine builders explain that developing too much core competency and intellectual property (IP) in a new country could increase the risk it will be stolen or copied.
“Medical device manufacturers are reluctant to go outside the U.S. due to potential IP problems,” Invotec’s Barton explains. “They find these issues are easier to manage in Europe and Mexico, but they don’t want to go to China with any new machines. Once a machine is five or 10 years old, then they’ll take it to China.”
Barton adds that a lot of machine building is coming back to the U.S. — or being “reshored” — because there are too many problems with maintaining quality and handling IP overseas. “This is good for us,” he says.
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