Jeff Ingraham, Business Development Director of StarSolver® says the StarSolver program began years ago with a simple idea.
"Praxair wanted to develop a set of calculations so we could help customers quantify welding costs," explained Ingraham. "In essence, we wanted to look at labor, wire and gas. Looking back on it now, it was quite ahead of its time in terms of calculating productivity."
What began as Praxair's methodology to boost customers' efficiencies eventually morphed into a full-blown way of doing business, Ingraham said.
"Initially, the work centered around a very complicated spreadsheet that allowed us to input data parameters, evaluate costs, and so on.
From there, the StarSolver program really matured and became a concept – a way for us to work with a customer and say, 'There's something we can do here to help you improve your operations.'" Ingraham said the shift in thinking was an essential step forward in the evolution of the program. But there was still room for improvement.
Despite continuous advancements in the early days of the program, the StarSolver program's basic format — a spreadsheet-based solution — had built-in limitations from a business-intelligence standpoint. Ingraham explained that the StarSolver program was created to protect customer's proprietary data. People didn't want information about their manufacturing processes ending up in the wrong hands – that was a risk companies were understandably not ready to take. Hence the multiple layers of protection the StarSolver Program offers. Armed with this information and years of feedback from users, Ingraham and his colleagues set out to transform StarSolver program's back-end technology to meet the challenges of today's ultra-competitive manufacturing environment. In early 2011, advancements in online security finally opened the door for the program to become a cloud-based application.
Today, Praxair's redesigned StarSolver program architecture employs the same level of protection used by top financial institutions — a far cry from the old spreadsheet-based program. It's also been purpose built for a much flatter world, employing an advanced, multi-language user interface that's ready to serve Praxair's global client network.
Jeff Ingraham said these enhancements put the spotlight back on the unique value customers get from a StarSolver program audit.
"A lot of companies can do consulting and show you inefficiencies," said Ingraham. "But then the question becomes, 'How do you effectively implement all those recommendations?' With the StarSolver program, we have a built-in focus on implementation."
For Ingraham, and Praxair's GNS team, that emphasis on real-world results should put the StarSolver program at the top of every Praxair customer's to-do list.
"When we first launched it, there was no charge for customers to participate. There's still no cost for the service, and today, the analysis goes much deeper. There is a full matrix of equipment, devices and automation opportunities to consider in addition to the gas and consumables we used to focus on." Jeff Ingraham points out that the program was designed from the ground up to be a win-win for Praxair and its customers.
"When somebody buys a machine, there's this fear that after the first week of training, they're on their own," said Ingraham. "When you partner with Praxair and you're working the StarSolver program, you're not alone. It's in our best interest to work together and make sure your entire operation is running at peak performance."
In reality, the program comes at a significant cost to Praxair. However, the company understands it is a signature service that few in the world could provide at any price. The StarSolver program utilizes the full force of Praxair's global network of industry experts — specialists who have decades of experience gained by serving thousands of customers.
"It's not that we know everything," Ingraham conceded. "But through the StarSolver program, we are committed to using logic to find the root cause of inefficiencies, and we're committed to finding the proper solutions to alleviate those issues."
Typically, the StarSolver program process takes anywhere from a week to a month. After an initial walk-through and assessment, Praxair assembles a team of specialists to address the customer's specific needs. If a customer is working in the automotive industry, for example, the team may include a Certified Welding Educator (CWE), a Certified Welding Inspector (CWI), a Certified Welding Supervisor (CWS), a degreed Certified Welding Engineer (CWEng) — or any combination of experts that best suits the customer's situation.
Ingraham said a big part of the process is about adapting to each client's unique challenges in order to find solutions they didn't even know were possible. "Whether it's Lean Six Sigma, Kanban, Kaizen, JIT (Just In Time) — whatever the floor-management system might be, we're ready to work with it."
In one example, Ingraham shared how a customer was able to reduce the cost per-foot of weld by 83 percent as a result of the StarSolver program process. He says those kinds of realizations aren't uncommon as customers begin to look at all the variables that impact productivity.
"For many people, working efficiently on the shop floor means figuring out the cost-per-foot to weld," he explained. "What we focus on goes beyond the gas and consumables you're using. We want to look at the end-product you're fabricating."
Jeff continues by saying that – as an example – if Praxair can improve processes and performance for cutting, welding, etc., they can also help customers better manage time and impact the bottom line quite substantially.
"And if we can help take X amount out of your bottom-line cost to make that product, then what would that do for your company?" For Jeff, those kind of "AHA!" moments make all the years of work he's put into refining the program worth it. Adding that in most cases, customers are completely floored by the StarSolver program experience.
"There's definitely a wow factor," said Ingraham, describing the typical reaction a customer has when they first meet their StarSolver program solutions team. "They realize they're not just talking to some guy who's been around. With the StarSolver program, they're talking to an expert. It might be one of Praxair's certified engineers or educators or inspectors, and that person is part of a team that will provide recommendations and straight answers based in facts and data."
It's this emphasis on real-world applications and bottom-line results that makes Jeff proud to be part of the process. "What we're doing with the StarSolver program is using almost 100 years of industry expertise to improve your productivity.
Are you as productive as you could be? Contact your local Praxair representative about the StarSolver program today.