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WhatsApp Enables Remote Thermoformer Startup amid Pandemic

GN Thermoforming and WhatsApp installation
Face-to-face messaging platform app allows remote installation and startup in April in Russia during the COVID-19 outbreak—GN Thermoforming system is now producing 240,000 meat trays a day.

As the saying goes, problems also present opportunities, though there are few universal hurdles as formidable as the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do companies handle new machinery installs and startups under these conditions? The safest solution is to handle the entire process remotely.

Faced with new business challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, GN Thermoforming Equipment of Chester, Nova Scotia, a major manufacturer of servo-driven, roll-fed thermoforming machines for the plastic packaging production, has come up with a novel way to install new equipment and train operators at customer sites. The company has made extensive utilization of the WhatsApp Messenger web platform to install new thermoforming machines for customers in Eastern Europe and the US.

GN faced a critical challenge at the beginning of the pandemic when Georg Polymer, the largest Russian producer of rigid meat trays, needed its new GN760 machine installed quickly so it could meet growing demand for meat trays in Eastern Europe.

“We had to think out-of-the-box and come up with a solution because our customer desperately needed the new capacity,” said Paul Phillips, GN sales and marketing manager.

With the prospect of having to postpone the installation due to travel restrictions, one of GN’s qualified technicians remotely guided its Russian customer through the installation of the new GN760, an in-mold cut thermoforming machine.

The April installation, which normally would take three to four days onsite, took about a week to complete using the WhatsApp platform.

Made possible by preparation, experience, and high-speed internet.

The installation was successful due to the customer’s broad mechanical experience with this type of machine and a high-speed internet connection. Perhaps the biggest challenge along the way was the language barrier. Georg Polymer faced some minor problems with wiring, but a video call to the technician resolved the issue. The machine is up and running, producing 240,000 meat trays a day. The company also has two other GN760s and three GN1914DM machines within its portfolio and produced more than 350 million meat trays last year.

“It gives us great comfort and confidence knowing that we can accomplish this kind of installation remotely with a customer who has a high degree of mechanical ability,” said Phillips.

Previously, GN had used its broad remote capabilities to perform various support tasks including troubleshooting. Phillips noted that face-to-face machine installations are preferable so the company can personally provide its know-how and superior level of customer service and support. Remote installation through a messaging platform required a high level of preparation including enhanced labeling of componentry and extensive diagrams and collateral support.

Since April, two more machine installations have been successfully conducted using the WhatsApp platform - one in the Central U.S. and another for Pro-Form kft in Hungary. Both customers installed GN800s, adding to their existing GN machine lineup. If travel restrictions continue, Phillips said GN would continue to install remotely through the WhatsApp platform so its customers wouldn’t face production delays.

As the COVID-19 crisis evolves, GN said it would adapt and adjust to its customers’ needs. “We will continue to review and examine our remote installations closely and optimize our solutions to ensure our customers get the support and training they require,” said Phillips.

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