Watching Customers In Action

Watching Customers

Peter Twarog (right) discusses an ongoing project with Engineering Technician Leroy Burbank in a research and development lab at Hypertherm.

Peter Twarog spends a lot of time trying to figure out how to make equipment more efficient and processes more productive. An engineer at Hypertherm for the past 12 years, Twarog started out designing new products and now manages an engineering team. His favorite part of the job is spent watching end-users use the tools of their trade. Sometimes those tools were designed by him; sometimes not. It doesn’t matter. “I’m an engineer, and I’m wired to try to understand the end-user’s application. I look at their equipment and how they use it and try to figure out ways to make it better.” So he spends time with distributors visiting their customers’ work sites.

“I want to know how people are using equipment,” Twarog says. “I want to observe exactly how they hold the torch, how they cut, what’s slowing them down, what is difficult to do. Sometimes it’s easy for a customer to articulate what they need, such as faster cutting or longer parts life. But sometimes they don’t realize what they need, and seeing them in action helps me to figure it out.”

But it’s not always so straightforward. When an end-user is using an oxyfuel torch and there’s a plasma cutter sitting in the corner, Twarog knows he is stepping on fine ground and the reasons why that torch is sitting there can vary from the user being afraid of it to the foreman not liking it. On one memorable site visit, Twarog was watching an employee at work. He was certain he could cut the time spent doing the job by 90 percent, but the employee was not interested. “The worker said, ‘I don’t care if this job takes me all day, I don’t want to do it in an hour.’” Juggling the needs of the boss who wants the job done quickly, the employee who is building what he or she perceives as security or increasing hourly time, or a line supervisor with his own agenda have taught Twarog that when working with an end-user or a customer, there are a variety of workplace cultures to understand.

Twarog looks forward to visiting customer sites with distributors and finds that these experiences are very helpful when considering which features and capabilities to integrate into new product designs. “We ask questions to find out what end-users want and what they need. We watch them use their equipment, and they tell us where they are having challenges.”

A revolutionary change in product design does not come often. Twarog points out that design changes tend to be evolutionary, done in incremental steps. He points to “plug and play” as a strong force in current industrial design. “People don’t want to have to set or adjust anything. They want to turn on the equipment and get right to work.” He believes automation is another driving force, along with integration, getting all the parts to talk together to work better as a system. Twarog’s engineering side says this would translate into finer holes and better cuts.

“Engineers are always trying to make equipment easier to use, cut thicker, cheaper and faster,” Twarog says. “And while end-users want better equipment, they also don’t want to spend as much on consumables. So there’s still a way to go.”

Observing end-users at work alongside distributors always pays off for Twarog. “When everything clicks and you’ve given them something they really like, that’s rewarding. When the customer is happy, I’m happy.”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association

    Where's The Money
    Robotics 101

    The Pitfalls of Social Media

    Balancing Inventory Turns And Customer Service

    Shale! Shale! Shale!

    Liquid Natural Gas Distribution

    Watching Customers In Action

    Technology Claims The Collections Beast