Featured Interview -- Sam Cafferata of Concept Systems

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Sam Cafferata is principal engineer and Controls Group Team Leader for Concept Systems.

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Sam Cafferata, Concept Systems Inc.

ADDEDFriday, November 19, 2021

  • Q
    Do you specialize in any industry, product or discipline? Why or why not?
    A
    That’s a yes and no answer. Really both. We apply automation principles to just about any industry. But if you want to talk about whether we specialize in industries, I have numerous engineers in my team with many years of experience in different industries. 
    
    If I could line them up with that, that’s a much better solution, and really that’s more from an understanding perspective, not so much the technology. Every industry has its own language and so when we build it, it’s in its own understanding. If I can bring those two together, that’s where I have the greatest success.
  • Q
    What challenges are your customers facing now?
    A
    Customers are really suffering right now. The big challenges are labor shortages, getting people to come to work, supply. The supply chain is just destroyed right now, so they can’t get materials. They can’t get machinery. There’s another big one and that is keeping your equipment running. Now if something breaks down, if you don’t have it on the shelf, you could easily be down 3 months waiting for a part. So that is significantly changing how plants are operating.
  • Q
    What does disaster recovery mean in terms of a control system?
    A
    It’s really looking at your machinery from the perspective of: If it breaks down, what is the plan? Do you have a plan? There’s a whole series. If it’s provided by an OEM, that you have backups of all the programs. Just like your computer. Say your computer goes down. What do you do? Do you have a plan? Do you have all your information backed up? Do you have a spare? All those things come into disaster recovery. It's just really having a plan and being ready to execute it so that it’s not a complete all-out disaster.
  • Q
    What’s unique about how you approach a project?
    A
    At Concept, we have a project methodology that really helps drive our projects. It’s 13 steps. It starts from the proposal all the way through to end-customer support. The big piece with that is it really drives alignment between the customer and Concept. An automation project is not just programming.
    
    It's really the planning and the execution of that entire process so there’s no surprises anywhere along the way from acceptance of the PO all the way through to start with the machinery. There should be no reason for any questions.
  • Q
    What would you say is the best time for a system integrator to get involved with a project?
    A
    Early. Very, very early in the project. The sooner we can help, the better. And the more money I can save you. A project is a lot more than just the programming. There’s the whole organizational piece. There’s the whole planning piece. Say you have multiple vendors coming together. If I can help organize that upfront, you can have a nice, cohesive control system. So, everything talks together rather than a whole bunch of separate systems and we’re going to Band-Aid it together. 
  • Q
    Do you have a favorite project?
    A
    I guess I have lots of favorites. But what I would define more about the project being a favorite is the people in the project. If I have customers that are really interested in what they’re doing and really care about what they’re doing, then it’s going to be a fun project.
    
    I don’t like to work with anybody that it’s just a job. If I’m working with people that really care and are excited about what they’re doing, then I’m all in
  • Q
    What advice would you give to a prospective customer researching automation/controls engineers or system integrators?
    A
    The advice I would give is to think about what you’re doing and think about it more as a whole, not just as a programming piece or just as a panel part. Think about what you’re doing and find somebody you could work with that will help you throughout the entire process. Really think about the project. 
  • Q
    How should a customer go about choosing a system integrator?
    A
    Find someone who you can really work with. But also look at what they do, where they’ve been and how long they’ve been around. That’s the main thing, right, is you don’t want Fred in the shed. You want someone you can call on, someone that could help you. Someone that has the team that can support you. 
    
    Sometimes Fred in the shed will look like a very good deal, very cost-effective, low overhead. But when push comes to shove, Fred in the shed is just Fred in the shed and tomorrow his shed may be gone.
  • Q
    What kinds of trends and challenges are you seeing in industrial automation right now?
    A
    Back to the shortages, right? Not enough people and really that comes from all areas. But in the manufacturing world, there’s a real labor shortage of people coming to work and that’s causing a tremendous demand from the control side. Trying to help automate that. Not so much eliminate jobs but find ways to use the people you have better and with that, there’s a shortage of controls engineers also. 
  • Q
    What does it mean when a controls system is obsolete and what should be done about it?
    A
    A control system being obsolete is really about what happens if it breaks down. Can you get the parts that you want? 
    
    You know, the world of computers, the world of automation is changing at a very high pace and 5 or 10 years, it may still be working. But do you have a plan? What happens if it does go down? Let’s go through your machine, talk about what parts are available, what are not available and make a plan. 
  • Q
    Concept is a CSIA-certified control system integrator. When someone asks, “Why should I hire CSIA-certified?” what would you tell them?
    A
    Certification means that you’re going to be getting a qualified integrator and you’re going to be getting somebody that’s around for the long haul. They’re doing everything right. You know, they’ve got all your stuff backed up. So, if you have a problem 3 years from now, you can call them up and say, “Hey, I need some help,” and they’re going to be able to help you. So, I think it’s a big deal.