Technology helps OEMs meet customers' needs during pandemic

March 19, 2020

In the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, plastics machinery manufacturers are turning to streaming and cloud-based technologies to connect with customers.  


Davis-Standard continues to make sales and service calls when possible, but it has provisions for dealing with government travel restrictions and customers who want to limit outsiders from coming into their plants. 

“Obviously, the safety of our employees around the world is our utmost concern,” Davis-Standard COO Dan Guthrie said. “Since we operate in 10 different countries, the coronavirus has been on the top of our attention for quite some time now. We’re making sure we pay attention and comply with all of the recommendations as they were announced.” 

Davis-Standard assembled a global steering committee that meets three times a week to discuss changing health recommendations in each of the countries and jurisdictions in which it and its subsidiaries are located and to ensure it is complying with all guidelines. In addition, between those meetings, local site leaders and human resources leaders meet with employees to address coronavirus concerns. 

“It’s a fairly fluid situation, so we’re keeping tabs on what’s going on,” Guthrie said. 

If travel restrictions prevent a Davis-Standard technician from reaching a facility or if a problem can be addressed without an in-person visit, customers have options. 

“We have a 24-hour global service center where we’ve got over 115 technicians in seven countries speaking seven different languages that are available to our customers,” Guthrie said. 

Often, a technician can help a customer resolve a problem over the telephone, but when necessary, technicians can log into a customer’s extruder controller to diagnose and fix many problems. 

“We’re available to log into our control systems on our existing machines that are out there 24/7,” Guthrie said. “If a customer has an optimization problem or a process failure or something that’s happening with their machine and they want us to jump into one of our different control systems online, we can do that.” 

Some customers are choosing that option, saying they want to keep visitors out of their plants for a little while, Guthrie said. 

Despite the current challenges, Davis-Standard will continue providing customers with in-person or remote technical service, he said. 

“A lot of these customers are in critical services,” Guthrie said, “They’re providing medical garments, antiseptic wipes, medical tubing, IV bags and medical films essential for health-care workers tackling the viral outbreak. 

The company's customers also are producing packaging for essential products like toilet paper, paper towels, food and beverages. 

“We’ve got to keep these customers running, and we’re focused on that while keeping our employees safe,” Guthrie said. 

In addition, the sales staff is taking advantage of online streaming technology by more frequently using audio/video conferencing software to conduct meetings instead of making in-person visits. 

“Various tools are out there today to have those face-to-face meetings with customers via technology,” Guthrie said. 

Davis-Standard also has substituted online company meetings for in-person meetings to avoid having large gatherings of workers. 

“We tell folks to stay at their workstations or at their desks and join into online meetings,” Guthrie said. 

In addition, lunch breaks are staggered to avoid having too many employees in a lunchroom at once. 

The company is making hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes available throughout its buildings. 

Davis-Standard and its subsidiaries have operations in China, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Canada and the U.S. 

Its plant in China had to close for two weeks at the height of the coronavirus outbreak, but, because the company had built-in lead times around the New Year’s celebration, the shutdown didn’t result in any significant shortages of parts, Guthrie said. If there are any future disruptions in service at any of its facilities, Davis-Standard has the capability of switching production of a needed product to a different facility or changing the shipping method from a long boat ride to a quick cargo flight. 

“Because we have this global perspective, we can see the effects some of these self-quarantines and limited community interaction having some benefits,” Guthrie said. “So, we are monitoring updates daily, we’re trying to comply with the recommendations as we hear them.” 

Husky Injection Molding Systems 

Husky is offering alternatives to onsite service for customers, ranging from online options to telephone calls. While the offerings are not new, the company is reminding customers who previously have not used the services that they are available. 

Husky employs more than 250 service technicians in 45 countries, said Tony Black, president of customer success management at Husky. However, customers have options for off-site assistance, especially during these challenging times, he said.

The company plans to increase its call center resources, if needed. If technician travel becomes more widely restricted, Husky field technicians will be redeployed to support the call center. Husky operates four centers in Bolton, Ontario; Mexico City; Dudelange, Luxembourg; and Shanghai. In addition, technicians can work remotely from their homes, especially during the coronavirus outbreak. 

“Our priority is making sure our employees and our customers and our customers’ customers are safe and that we are fully supporting them in this challenging time,” Black said.  

The call centers are available 24/7, and remote support is available in nine languages. 

Husky also is increasing its use of TeamViewer, an online platform that connects the company to its customers either individually or in groups and allows for screen and file sharing. It can help technicians support customers who require in-depth remote troubleshooting.  

The company is reminding customers that they also can obtain technical support through remote interactive support, which allows a remote service expert to connect with a customer’s facility and work through service issues using tablets or smartphones. Husky technical experts use Help Lightning, a third-party online application, which establishes a video feed between Husky and the customer. It allows the expert to see exactly what the customer sees. In addition, the Husky technician, using this “merged reality environment,” can point to machine components he or she wants the customer to adjust or check. The technician also can send the customer diagrams or blueprints. 

“Help Lightning is a relatively new tool, and it’s very effective,” Black said. “It uses a technology called merged reality. It merges two videos together, and it’s actually allowing our experts to work directly with our customer remotely, and the expert is seeing what the customer sees.” 

The company also is recommending that customers use its new spare parts portal launched in November to order parts online.  

“The web orders are really steeply increasing, up about 40 percent since we started it,” Black said. 

The portal is available in nine languages and will soon be offered in 11 languages, he said. 

Absolute Group 

The Absolute Group of Companies, which sells injection molding machines and robots, continues providing sales and support services to its clients while taking steps to protect employees and customers. 

“As a result of the COVID-19 virus, the Absolute Group of Companies (Absolute Haitian, Absolute Robot and Absolute Machinery used machinery) has made safety adjustments to our operations as recommended by the CDC and state health departments, primarily to protect customers and team members, but customer responsiveness has not been impacted,” co-owner Mike Ortolano said in an email.

The Absolute Group has an extensive cloud-based infrastructure that allows it to continue providing service and support, he said. The company’s business functions — including accounting, order processing, service management and scheduling, sales management, engineering services and management — are cloud-based platforms that have been customized. 

“In the case of ARI [Absolute Robot Inc.], we have the capability to remotely monitor robots and their control systems, which was recently introduced at Plastec West 2020, just at the right time,” Ortolano said. 

Since February, owners of ARI’s A/AW, BW and CW servo robots have had access to Virtual Assist, ARI’s new remote monitoring system that simplifies troubleshooting through ARI’s service department. Virtual Assist allows an ARI service engineer to remotely access a customer’s robot controller offsite to assist in programming or identify service issues. 

Absolute Group employees who are able to work from home are doing so, especially if they have flown domestically or internationally in the last seven days. The company is holding employee meetings through conferencing software to maintain social distancing recommendations, and Absolute Group buildings have been closed to guests and customers to protect customers and employees. 

The company reports no delays in the deliveries of new machines or robots as both Absolute Haitian and ARI have inventory. Absolute Haitian has more than 125 machines in South Carolina, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois and California ready for delivery. In addition, more stock is en route from partners in China, where workers have been back to work for several weeks. 

“While we are taking precautions, we have not experienced any delay in the installation of new equipment,” Ortolano said. “Our extensive field service engineering team is well-distributed throughout the U.S. and Canada, and in most cases, it is possible for us to support field service and installation without the need to fly personnel. Though we have placed certain restrictions on field service travel, our entire team is active and available for support.” 

Absolute Group’s in-person training classes for March and April have been postponed. The company plans to offer online training to the registrants of those classes and then finish the hands-on portion of the training later. ARI customers can use the company’s online support portal, an extensive collection of video guides, manuals and programming tips. The resources are free for all customers. 

“While we are acting responsibly in the current environment, we are open for normal business and have our full team ready,” Ortolano said. “With interest rates at their lowest in several years, we hope to help our customers acquire capacity at an especially affordable level so that when the coronavirus comes to an end, we are all ready to meet pent-up demand.” 


Yizumi-HPM has put some customer visits on hold and employees are driving to more appointments. 

“We’re restricting air travel,” said Rick Voges, sales manager for the Southeast region. “If we’re doing service work or start-up work, we’re trying to do that by car and driving, but there are a lot of companies that aren’t allowing subcontractors and nonemployees into their facilities.” 

Most of the Yizumi-HPM staff continues to work from the company’s offices in Iberia, Ohio, except for members of the sales staff who work remotely, he said. Workers are trying to follow the CDC’s recommendations regarding frequent hand washing and avoiding congregating with too many people. 

Yizumi-HPM isn’t experiencing problems with deliveries. The company this week had more than 30 injection molding machines in stock, and work at production facilities in China is returning to normal, Voges said.  


Maguire Products is experiencing some minor inconveniences, such as having to bar customer visits and visitors to its facilities, said Frank Kavanagh, VP of global sales and marketing. 

“We are not seeing any delays in deliveries at the present time,” Kavanagh said. 

There have been some delays with service trips, but not with start-ups, he said. In addition, customer training is going ahead. 

“We can do most of this online, if necessary, he said. 

The company is at full staff and only staff members are entering the building, he said. 

AGS Automation 

“Our sales department already received the information several times that no visits to the companies are currently desired,” said Marc Schwope, managing director of AGS Automation Greifsysteme Schwope GmbH, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany.  

Schwope recently sent customers an email offering to consult with them via TeamViewer, software for online meetings, desktop sharing, web conferencing and file transfers between computers. AGS, which sells end-of-arm tooling for robots, is promoting the video conference option because customers have increasingly told the company they aren’t allowing visitors into their plants.

PLASTICS responds

Tony Radoszewski, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), issued a statement asking local, state and federal governments to designate plastic resin and plastic product manufacturers as “essential” so they would stay open if shelter-in-place orders are issued. 

It is critical that health-care workers have access to plastic products. Single-use plastics can literally be the difference between life and death,” he said, citing items such as IV bags, components of ventilators, and protective gowns, gloves and masks that are made of plastic 

“Additionally, plastics play a vital role in many other areas such as protecting our food and keeping it fresh, which reduces contamination and waste,” Radoszewski said. They contain water for those without access to a clean and safe source. Also, single-use plastic bags provide a sanitary and convenient way to carry our groceries home while protecting supermarket employees and customers from whatever is lurking on reusable bags. 

Contact information: 

Absolute Group of Companies, Worcester, Mass.,508-792-4305,  

AGS Automation Greifsysteme Schwope GmbH, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, 49-2204-968100, 

Davis-Standard LLC, Pawcatuck, Conn.,  

Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., Bolton, Ontario, 905-951-5000,     

Maguire Products Inc.Aston, Pa., 610-459-4300,  

PLASTICS, Washington, 202-974-5200,

Yizumi-HPM Corp.  Iberia, Ohio, 740-382-5600,  

About the Author

Bruce Geiselman | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Bruce Geiselman covers extrusion, blow molding, additive manufacturing, automation and end markets including automotive and packaging. He also writes features, including In Other Words and Problem Solved, for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. He has extensive experience in daily and magazine journalism.