Unitronics has developed an innovative range of products that combine a PLC and HMI in one unit, and the company also says that it goes the extra mile to provide market-leading support for its customers around the world. Jon Severn, the Editor of MachineBuilding.net, interviews Mr Ofir Levi (pictured), the Technical Support Manager at Unitronics, to find out more about the company's technical support team, and how customers benefit.
1. Who do you have in the technical support team at Unitronics and where are they based?
The Unitronics technical support team comprises highly trained engineers who are experts in the field of machine automation. They are located in the Unitronics headquarters in Israel and in Boston, USA, at Unitronics Inc.
We are great believers in personal, one-on-one customer service - we do not do tiered support. The engineer that answers the phone or receives the email is the expert that solves the problem and answers the query.
2. How can customers contact you with technical queries?
Customers can contact us by telephone and email. We also provide online support by remote-controlling the customer PC via appropriate software.
The technical support team also prepares video tutorials, e-learning, and other materials that help customers to learn how to use our hardware products and programming software, as well as handy software utilities. We also provide online webinars and global onsite training if requested.
Unitronics technical support is available six days a week, from Sunday to Friday (the working days in Israel are from Sunday to Thursday and in the USA they are Monday to Friday). Due to the 7-hour time difference between Israel and the USA, our customers are covered by in-house technical support at almost any time of the day or night. In addition, we have a very active technical support forum at forum.unitronics.com/ that our engineers constantly monitor. Queries posted there are answered by our staff - and also by a number of power-users of our products.
3. As well as answering customers' questions by telephone and email, how else do you provide technical support?
We have a very active forum through which we help forum members with their questions. Some of our long-time power-users also take part in forum moderation.
There is an FAQ (frequently asked questions) section on the website. This is continually updated if, for example, we find we are repeatedly being asked the same questions via telephone or email, or through the forum.
As I mentioned previously, we also host online webinars and dozens of training seminars per year, all over the world.
4. If required, can the technical support team be supplemented with expertise from the research and development (R&D) team?
Unitronics R&D and the technical support team work hand-in-hand. There is a constant flow of information between us, probably the best in this field. It helps that we work in the same building and have lunch in the same cafeteria.
Whenever a case requires deep digging, or in the case of feature requests, we can just pick up the phone and get quick answers. We often go to the R&D department to discuss a specific case or requested enhancements directly with the relevant person - in essence, the R&D experts join our investigations.
The close connection we have with R&D certainly boosts the value of our products for our customers. Our R&D people listen to the customers; in fact many product features are the result of direct feature requests and customer feedback. They are attentive and agile in their response.
5. Can you provide some examples of typical technical questions that you answer?
Here are a few examples:
Q: How do I implement a Web Server using a UniStream controller?
A: The UniStream Web Server is very user-friendly and intuitive. First, select Web Server on the Solution Explorer tree, then click the green plus icon to enable the Web Server. Use the Properties window to set global parameters such as Title, Background, Roles & Users, etc.
The Web Page editor will open automatically.
Designing Web pages is almost the same as designing HMI pages - using the same easy, drag-and-drop interface.
Select web elements from the Toolbox on the right side of the screen, drop them onto the page, and set its attributes via the Properties window.
After downloading the application and connecting the UniStream to the network, you browse it by simply entering its IP address in the web browser.
Attached is a sample application for your convenience.
Q: How can I protect my application? (I'm using a Vision series PLC)
A: We have several options to protect your application:
Attached is an example application which demonstrates Licensing feature.
You can find detailed explanation how to use UniVision License in UniVision License help.
Q: How do I display Chinese on a UniStream HMI panel?
A: You can do this on the Solution Explorer by simply clicking Languages, and then clicking Add/Edit Language.
Next, select the desired languages from the list, in this case Chinese. The Language Table opens, showing the text strings for all the HMI elements in your application, click the term you wish to translate and enter the text.
At Run-Time, you enable the user to change languages via an HMI element Action.
There is a great, 90-second Tech Tidbit on our YouTube channel showing the exact process at www.youtube.com/watch?v=31gvX1G4IX4&list=UUn3hbVcNg0DXzMsi1xgE7fA
6. Can you give some examples of more unusual support that you have provided?
Here are two examples.
7. How has the Unitronics technical support function evolved over the last five years?
I have expanded our pool of talent, adding some excellent engineers to our team. The knowledge and expertise of the technical support department has developed and grown as well. We take advantage of the tools of the times, using more advanced tools for webinars, and creating video tutorials.
I am proud of the way I have developed our comprehensive training programme for OEMs, distributors and clients. I conduct training seminars locally and abroad. In recent years, I expanded the programme by coaching our own technical support engineers in how to conduct seminars, enabling us to hold seminars more frequently in different parts of the world.
In addition, I have established a technical knowledgebase that is accessible for our customers, partners and employees, and this is widely used by all.
8. How do you expect your technical support to evolve over the next three years?
In the future, we expect to keep adding talented members to the team and, as we grow, offer more customer visits with a broader range of field services. We will continue to expand our online training and support tools. However, we will maintain our policy of providing personalised support for people who contact us.
9. Do you believe that Unitronics' technical support is different to that available from other suppliers of automation products and, if so, how?
For starters, Unitronics technical support is totally free of charge!
Unitronics support is also up-front and personal. When a customer contacts us, that customer works with a real live Unitronics support professional - not an automated voice system or automated email generator. Email responses are written by a member of the team, who checks the questions/requirements carefully and responds appropriately with clear instructions that, where appropriate, are accompanied by screenshots and program examples.
Our 'official' response time is 24 hours but most queries are answered within an hour or two.
10. In which languages can you provide technical support?
Currently we provide support in English, Russian, Spanish and Hebrew.
11. What is your background and experience in automation and technical support?
I studied Electronics & Software Engineering (BSC) in ORT, an Israel institution, and served in the Israeli Air Force, where I received advanced technical training. I have more than 14 years of experience in industrial automation and control systems, consulting, project management and leading teams for technical support, automation software design and development.
Today, I am the head of the Unitronics technical support team, managing the teams in Israel and the USA, and I also play a major role in pre-sales and post-sales activities.
I maintain frequent contact with customers, investigating and troubleshooting problems. This close contact, and the fact that I often travel to customer installations, allows me to closely monitor the needs of the industrial control and machine automation sectors. The knowledge that I gain in the field is invaluable; it triggers many of my proposals for added features and improvements for our existing product lines. This knowledge also enables me to provide valuable input that helps to set the direction for new development and innovative new products. I am therefore deeply involved in the decision-making process for R&D.