JÄGER Busi­ness Blog

Why per­son­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion will remain essen­tial in

rub­ber & plas­tics projects in the future

06.04.2022   |  Rain­er Brügma

WHITEPAPER

Rub­ber and plas­tics in mod­ern agri­cul­tur­al technology

Learn how agri­cul­tur­al tech­nol­o­gy can meet most of today’s challenges

Since the Coro­na pan­dem­ic drove employ­ees around the world into home offices, remote work has become the new stan­dard in the work­ing world. In many com­pa­nies, it is now even unusu­al to meet peo­ple out­side of one’s own orga­ni­za­tion in face-to-face meet­ings. As a result, cus­tomer or sup­pli­er meet­ings often only take place by tele­phone or via web meet­ings. How­ev­er, this approach is only opti­mal to a lim­it­ed extent. Espe­cial­ly in the rub­ber and plas­tics indus­try, a per­son­al meet­ing on site is often the bet­ter alternative.

Why should cus­tomer and sup­pli­er meet in person?

Online meet­ings offer a lot of advan­tages, espe­cial­ly in the cur­rent pan­dem­ic sit­u­a­tion. They’re flex­i­ble, cost-effec­tive, easy to set up, and easy on the envi­ron­ment. It makes sense that many com­pa­nies have dig­i­tized most of their com­mu­ni­ca­tion process­es. How­ev­er, vir­tu­al meet­ings are not suit­able for all sit­u­a­tions. There are still good rea­sons to meet with busi­ness part­ners on site and dis­cuss impor­tant issues face-to-face.

If we look at the rub­ber and plas­tics indus­try, there are three per­spec­tives that speak for face-to-face com­mu­ni­ca­tion on site: the customer’s per­spec­tive, the supplier’s per­spec­tive and the social lev­el.

The customer’s point of view 

Elas­tomers and plas­tics are mate­ri­als that require a great deal of con­sul­ta­tion, depend­ing on the appli­ca­tion. Although there are stan­dard prod­ucts on the mar­ket, it is often nec­es­sary to find suit­able cus­tomer- and appli­ca­tion-spe­cif­ic solu­tions that are pre­cise­ly tai­lored to the respec­tive area of appli­ca­tion. For this rea­son, devel­op­ment projects in the rub­ber and plas­tics sec­tor are com­mu­ni­ca­tion-inten­sive. Depend­ing on the com­plex­i­ty of the project, the cus­tomer and sup­pli­er should joint­ly define the frame­work con­di­tions and the indi­vid­ual project steps in advance, way before the first series deliv­ery can take place.

This inten­sive exchange of infor­ma­tion is dif­fi­cult to imple­ment in vir­tu­al meet­ings. Rub­ber and plas­tic com­po­nents are often abstract and very spe­cif­ic. Describ­ing them in an online meet­ing in a way that oth­er peo­ple can imag­ine is a chal­lenge. Espe­cial­ly since the infor­ma­tion must be pre­sent­ed very pre­cise­ly so that the design depart­ment can, for exam­ple, use it to cre­ate an ini­tial design draw­ing for a new devel­op­ment. Describ­ing the use case and the desired func­tion of a “seal” pure­ly by phone, for exam­ple, with­out a visu­al com­po­nent, is rather cumbersome.

Describ­ing goals and require­ments in a bet­ter way 

Pic­tures and videos of the appli­ca­tion envi­ron­ment or the machine in which the com­po­nent is to be installed can help. How­ev­er, it is not guar­an­teed that the design depart­ment will be able to do any­thing with these shots. It often needs views from dif­fer­ent angles or a close-up of a par­tic­u­lar area. It may be able to pass through instruc­tions on how the images should look. But explain­ing to some­one in a video call what details should be pho­tographed is usu­al­ly inefficient.

Most of these dif­fi­cul­ties can be avoid­ed if the rub­ber or plas­tics producer’s con­tact per­sons are on site in per­son. All the cus­tomer has to do is guide the sup­pli­er vis­it through his company’s pro­duc­tion to the component’s instal­la­tion sit­u­a­tion, where he can point out impor­tant influ­enc­ing fac­tors. The prac­ti­cal con­text of the inter­ac­tion — stand­ing in front of the machine — makes it eas­i­er for the customer’s team to describe their goals and require­ments accu­rate­ly and completely.

The supplier’s view

This pro­ce­dure makes it eas­i­er for the sup­pli­er to shape the project too, as he can get a pic­ture of the appli­ca­tion area direct­ly on site. Ques­tions can be asked direct­ly at the machine. In some cas­es, a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent solu­tion may be found than ini­tial­ly thought in the pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sion. Or an alter­na­tive mate­r­i­al for an exist­ing com­po­nent may be con­sid­ered that is more robust and less expensive.

In the course of the vis­it, the supplier’s tech­ni­cal experts may also notice fur­ther opti­miza­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties and sav­ing-poten­tials dur­ing the tour of the customer’s pro­duc­tion facil­i­ty, result­ing in addi­tion­al joint projects. Most cus­tomers are hap­py to incor­po­rate these tips and new ideas if they can add poten­tial value.

Going into greater detail

From the supplier’s point of view, an on-site vis­it focus­es on con­tent that relates to the fea­si­bil­i­ty of the tar­gets. This includes the fol­low­ing questions:

Such aspects are often not con­sid­ered or under­es­ti­mat­ed by the customer’s con­tact per­sons. If nec­es­sary, they can even jeop­ar­dize the imple­men­ta­tion of the entire project.

In addi­tion, there are fac­tors that can­not be con­veyed via an audio-visu­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel, such as hap­tics. For the design, it can be help­ful to know how a com­po­nent to be replaced or its oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment feels. What is the sur­face tex­ture of the pre­vi­ous­ly used mate­r­i­al? How elas­tic is the mate­r­i­al? Is the com­po­nent firm­ly seat­ed in the instal­la­tion sit­u­a­tion or does it have a clear space? Does it heat up dur­ing oper­a­tion or does it stay cool? These and oth­er fac­tors are not always men­tioned in dis­cus­sions, but they can have an influ­ence on the fur­ther imple­men­ta­tion of the project.

Tech­ni­cal con­sul­ta­tion on site

The social level

Although the focus of a devel­op­ment project for rub­ber or plas­tic com­po­nents is on ratio­nal aspects, the social lev­el should also be tak­en into account. The inter­per­son­al aspect can have a seri­ous influ­ence on the course of the project. Poor rela­tions between the employ­ees of both com­pa­nies lead to conflicts.

It even hap­pens that social com­po­nents tip the scales in favor of a par­tic­u­lar provider when look­ing for a new devel­op­ment part­ner. For exam­ple, when both teams know each oth­er well and have already worked togeth­er. Trust is some­times weight­ed high­er than tech­ni­cal or com­mer­cial aspects

Get­ting to know each oth­er in per­son and build­ing trust 

Video con­fer­enc­ing does allow the lead­ers of both com­pa­nies to get to know each oth­er, but these impres­sions are not com­pa­ra­ble to those con­veyed by a face-to-face meet­ing. Visu­al and audi­to­ry fac­tors are an impor­tant part of human com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but do not make it com­plete. Non-ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion sim­ply falls short. Face-to-face gives us a bet­ter impres­sion of a per­son than video calls, and it’s eas­i­er to build mutu­al trust.

In addi­tion, on-site vis­its give employ­ees from both com­pa­nies the oppor­tu­ni­ty to inter­act with each oth­er away from for­mal­i­ties, for exam­ple dur­ing a tour or over lunch. A pure­ly vir­tu­al exchange, on the oth­er hand, offers lit­tle scope for fur­ther discussion.

On-site ser­vice instead of e‑mail

Face-to-face meet­ings between cus­tomer and sup­pli­er main­ly take place at the begin­ning of the project. As the project pro­gress­es, con­tact usu­al­ly shifts to the dig­i­tal realm, since no new infor­ma­tion needs to be recorded.

Towards the end of the project, how­ev­er, on-site meet­ings become rel­e­vant again. Have all the tech­ni­cal and com­mer­cial details been clar­i­fied, or are there still reser­va­tions? This is where face-to-face meet­ings come in handy to reach a final agree­ment on larg­er projects. But an on-site vis­it also makes sense in the event of a ser­vice or com­plaint. If a com­po­nent is defec­tive, the cus­tomer con­tacts the supplier’s field ser­vice, which can rec­ti­fy or clar­i­fy the prob­lem on site. This inter­ac­tion is also pos­si­ble via dig­i­tal chan­nels, for exam­ple by e‑mail with attached pho­tos. How­ev­er, per­son­al con­tact offers advan­tages that should not be ignored.

Based on text and pic­tures, the deliv­ery part­ner can assess what the dam­age is, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly why it occurred. As a rule, the defec­tive com­po­nent is sim­ply replaced with­out rem­e­dy­ing the cause of the dam­age. The con­se­quence is that the replace­ment part may also fail in the fore­see­able future. How­ev­er, if some­one is on site to assess the sit­u­a­tion and iden­ti­fy the under­ly­ing prob­lem, the sup­pli­er may be able to find a solu­tion and pre­vent dam­age from occur­ring again.

Tip 

Hybrid mod­els are par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful in the ser­vice area. Here, a spe­cial­ist is on site to inspect the defec­tive part and ana­lyze the cause of the dam­age. If nec­es­sary, experts are called in by video con­fer­ence (for exam­ple, via smart­phone) to assist with tech­nol­o­gy and trou­bleshoot­ing. This approach offers max­i­mum flexibility. 

Whitepa­per:
Rub­ber and plas­tics in mod­ern agri­cul­tur­al technology

Learn how agri­cul­tur­al tech­nol­o­gy can meet most of today’s challenges

Com­bin­ing dig­i­tal and per­son­al con­tacts in a mean­ing­ful way

Even in the dig­i­tal age, face-to-face meet­ings still have their rai­son d’être. In rub­ber and plas­tics devel­op­ment projects, they allow stake­hold­ers to look at the product’s field of appli­ca­tion, ful­ly under­stand the use case, exam­ine sam­ples, ask for con­tex­tu­al infor­ma­tion, pro­vide feed­back, and assess the inter­per­son­al. All of these aspects are invalu­able to any devel­op­ment project.

Not every­thing can be set­tled by mail or dig­i­tal­ly. That is why it will con­tin­ue to be worth­while to meet busi­ness part­ners on site and hold per­son­al dis­cus­sions. Because only when the sup­pli­er knows the cus­tomer and his prod­ucts exact­ly cus­tomized man­u­fac­tur­ing solu­tions can be offered that cov­er all requirements.

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Autor: Rain­er Brügma

Rain­er Brüg­ma has been work­ing for Jäger for more than 20 years, includ­ing more than 15 years in field ser­vice. With his many years of expe­ri­ence in the rub­ber and plas­tics sec­tors, the trained for­ward­ing mer­chant sup­ports our cus­tomers in the greater Oldenburg/Bremen area.

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