You-Chuan, who goes by “Payne”, has worked for Krones since 2011. He still remembers well the time, two years ago, when the first-ever three-module Varioline was to be installed and commissioned on Chinese territory. The customer was Tsingtao, one of China’s most recognized breweries, where a few other Krones machines were already up and running at the time. Tsingtao’s leadership had decided to install a packaging line consisting of three modules that could increase the speed and efficiency of production.
When Covid-19 was officially declared a pandemic in spring 2020, the ensuing changes and restrictions worldwide impacted nearly all aspects of life. The timing could not have been worse for the Krones Service Team in China and put service technician You-Chuan Pan in particular to the test.
For this highly complex machine, Krones had intended to send Varioline experts from Germany to perform the installation right up to commissioning, with local Chinese technicians on hand to learn how the machine operates and how to work with it. However, as travel restrictions were imposed to stem the spread of the pandemic, only the delivery of the machine itself could happen as originally planned. The technicians from Germany were only able to contribute their expertise virtually, from their home offices. And the Chinese technology experts suddenly had to install a version of the Varioline that was completely new and unfamiliar to them.
Flexibility and improvisation were key to the installation’s success
At first, the customer was also a bit skeptical that the local engineers would be able to get the machine fully programmed and ready for production on time, without some sort of prior training. To top it off, delivery of the machine was slightly delayed so that installation couldn’t begin until May 2020. Payne headed up the Varioline’s installation. And although he’s plenty familiar with programming machines through his daily work, he had only ever seen this particular machine in videos, as he reveals in an interview with Krones Magazine: “This Varioline is a highly complex machine. Up to then, the only Varioline systems installed at Chinese customer sites had just two modules.”
Of the nine total SKUs (stock keeping units) covered by the order, only one could be tested in our plant because many of the tools had not yet been manufactured when the machine was shipped out to China. As a result, several parts – both hardware and software – were not suitable for installation and had to be retrofitted on site. For their communications, the teams in China and Germany made use of a whole slew of different digital technologies, including remote support that involved chat rooms, emails, VoIP, and a VPN connection.
Photos and videos were crucial to the teams’ ability to collaborate on especially complex or hard-to-communicate installation issues. Image sharing also came in very handy when the six-hour time difference precluded real-time communication between the Chinese and German teams. In those situations, the on-site team often employed alternatives to resolve the issue as expediently as possible. “For example, we closely examined the relevant descriptions and instructions to see whether they might not hold the answers to our questions,” recalls Payne. And if a direct exchange was needed, all participants reacted extremely flexibly to compensate for the time difference and make contact via video or telephone possible.
A win-win for Tsingtao and Krones
Looking back, Payne is very satisfied with the collaboration: “It worked out well, and our colleagues in Germany responded quickly.” This smooth communication also made it possible for the new Varioline to be commissioned in early June 2020 and to begin production at Tsingtao just two weeks later, right on schedule. The customer’s satisfaction with the results of the improvised installation process is also a powerful testament to a new service model that Krones intends to pursue further: promoting a local service organization, with remote support from a centralized team of experts – thus using their resources to optimal effect and, at the same time, reducing the costs associated with service.
The commissioning of the first Varioline 3M in China under at times unfavorable circumstances has been a great test of our ability to implement thismodel. The result: satisfied customers and employees. “The customer still turns to me when there are questions about the machine,” reports Payne with obvious pride.