Sam Hoff Talks About Digital Transformation

Resource Type: Blog |

Intro (Sam Hoff did a podcast interview with Bryan Powrozek, Sr. Manager, Industrial Automation at Clayton & McKervey, and discussed digital transformation. Here are some highlights of the podcast.)

What is digital transformation to Sam Hoff?

  • Digital transformation and Industry 4.0 are buzzwords. You ask the 10 leading experts; you are going to get 10 different answers. I find that digital transformation uses tools like the digital twin and business analytics to get information from the plant floor to improve manufacturing without having to be right next to the equipment.

Does digital transformation go beyond the plant floor?

  • Without a doubt. There has been a transition in the industry and the plant floor and front office are getting blended together. As an integrator, we are no longer just working with one department; we are working with OT and IT together in a lot of our solutions.

How has digital transformation been embraced in manufacturing?

  • Most systems that are out in manufacturing, and even most of the systems that are being built today, are not being built with Industry 4.0 in mind. Companies are building these large automation lines using tools like SOLIDWORKS and NX to simulate the mechanics, but once they go and mechanically start building the lines, they throw all of that work out. They Build the lines over here and then have the programmers program over there. Instead, let’s take those files, those tools, and use them to program against. That is the basis of the digital twin. As with all things, it takes time to perfect the digital twin as simulations can be off. But once the digital twin is set up, you now have something that you can test and commission the system with before it is even built.

What are some of the hurdles that companies face with data analytics?

  • I am a huge fan of baseball, I love baseball, and we are seeing that analytics are sort of taking over baseball. Sometimes you look out and you see that they have four outfielders and three infielders between first and second base with no one over in the left side of the infield. Why is that? It’s because they have a team of people, that know baseball, doing the analytics so they understand what is going on and can know that hitter. That team has a way of contextualizing the data and make it meaningful. Now with the push for data analytics in manufacturing, I am seeing that some companies think that they can throw all of the data that they are collecting at some AI company and that is going to get them answers. If that AI company isn’t able to contextualize the data, it’s not going to be any help. These transformations are better suited for system integrators, as they know what the data means and how it can be used to run your business.

 What benefits can you gather in data analytics for your customers?

  • We put together an edge strategy to determine how those pieces of equipment are going to be maintained over time and what predictive maintenance can be set for that equipment. There are several things that a system integrator can do to stay on the leading edge and not the bleeding edge.

What changes have you noticed in the industry in the past 30 years?

  • When I started Patti Engineering 30 years ago, you needed to know 2 devices. Once you knew the PLC and the robot controller, you could run that entire plant, because that was all there was. Now, with the complexity of automation, the vision systems, the AI, and everything else, a single person can’t run that plant alone. So now we have conversations about how can we help that person do their job better? What tools can they use to have a better understanding of what is going on?

What changes have you noticed in the industry in the past 5 years?

  • We are seeing the Industry 4.0 and digital transformation projects go from just proof of concept to actual implementation now. Conversations with our clients are happening at a much higher level now and across multiple departments. We’re helping the industrial engineers with predictive maintenance and IT group with cybersecurity. It’s all about consulting the client and finding ways to bring them value.

What benefits have digital transformation brought to your company?

  • As a system integrator, when we commission a project and start up the system, you have to be there. So that requires a lot of travel. With digital transformation, we can reduce the amount of onsite time by virtually commissioning, and monitoring customer systems remotely by performing data analytics offsite. Patti Engineering has had a remote employee policy for many, many years, but digital transformation has helped us utilize our remote employees even more.

How do you manage your customer’s expectations when they come to you saying they want to do digital transformation?

  • My first question is why do you want to do the digital transformation? I want to hear why. Most of the time it’s my boss is telling me that we need to implement it. Then my next question is, what is your biggest problem? What keeps you up at night? And then listen to what they have to say. From there, we can get into what we can do, the different strategies available, and the different digital technologies to work to solve that problem that hasn’t been fixed when going the traditional way. All digital transformation projects have to start with solving a problem.

Listen to the full podcast here

Related categories: Blog Industry 4.0 / Digitalization

Sam Hoff's Bio


Samuel M. Hoff, Chief Executive Officer, started the company from his home in 1991. Since then he’s expanded his business to more than 35 college-degreed engineers. Patti Engineering has engineering offices in Auburn Hills, MI, Austin, TX, and Indianapolis, IN.