Adapting to an age of technological disruption

PACE speaks with Vega Australia’s managing director John Leadbetter about responding to innovations in the automation and manufacturing industries.

With wave after wave of innovation emerging and promising to disrupt the industry in new ways, it can be overwhelming to keep up. According to Vega Australia’s managing director, John Leadbetter, however, what manufacturers are craving, in this new normal, is simplicity.

“They just want to be able to rely on the equipment that’s in their plant. They don’t want complicated equipment, they don’t want difficult equipment – they want simple equipment,” Leadbetter told PACE.

“One of the other things that people are looking for is, like all things these days, they want things more compact. So, instead of having large equipment out there, they want small compact equipment that’s easy to operate and easy to understand. Because, at the end of the day, if something breaks it’ll be a simple and safe process to unplug it, pull it out, put a new one in, plug it back in and have it all back up and running.”

As a long-standing supplier of process measurement technology to the process industry – including mining, water, grain, oil and gas – Vega Australia has the technical expertise and capabilities to supply its sensors to the automation and manufacturing markets.

Vega was formed in Germany in 1959 and has been located in Australia since 1987. With more than 60 years’ experience and 33 years supplying to the Australian market, the company is well known for its agile approach to product development in the markets that it has traditionally supplied to.

“How we improve our products, is based on customer feedback. We listen to what customers say, and we say, ‘Okay, that’s
something the market is looking for; we need to develop the product to suit those market conditions.’ We don’t ask the market to adapt to us, we adapt to the market,” Leadbetter said.

After a move more than four years in the making, Vega Australia finally launched a new product range targeted exclusively towards the automation and manufacturing industry on 1 January 2020.

“We haven’t suddenly made this decision. The decision to go into this industry took over four years, during which we looked at it, we invested in the research, we invested in the possibilities, we invested in what the requirements were, and then we developed the products to go into this market,” Leadbetter explained.

“We identified the manufacturing and automation industry as massive, so there are two ways we tackled this. First, we talked to customers, or the end- users themselves.

“Second, we’ve been approaching machine manufacturers worldwide and asking them to have a look at our products and use our products on their machinery. This way, when that machinery turns up to the customer, it has already got Vega equipment on there.”

In making the decision to supply to this market, Vega looked into adapting their products to the market.

“We took away some of the features that people are not looking for in the industry without compromising performance or quality but, rather, scaling them, standardising fittings, standardising cable plug systems and delivering them in a package attuned more towards the automation and manufacturing industry. In short, we’ve adapted to this market, rather than asking the market to adapt to us.

“One of the other things we looked at was the industry standards. For instance, if a customer is using a certain product and we come along offering something they prefer, then it’s a simple changeover for the customer. We’re making it so that the customer’s choices and the customer’s ability to make a change is made simpler.”

One of the ways in which Vega is incorporating those disruptive innovations, specifically the IIoT, and still keeping it simple, is by introducing Bluetooth communication into its general range of instruments.

“We decided that if we add Bluetooth to these particular instruments, we’ve already got something new for the market that no one else is doing. And, so, we’ve looked at the industry’s communication systems and we’ve adapted our electronics to their systems.

“The reason we went down that path is that the majority of people these days carry a smartphone, so by downloading a free app, they’re able to communicate or calibrate the particular instruments by something they carry around in their pocket and have easy access to the equipment. So, no longer do we need expensive test equipment or expensive calibration equipment – today, it’s all about simplicity and ease.”

Leadbetter explained that the new product range specifically for the automation and manufacturing industries is broken down into four core areas.

“The first one is a level transmitter for small tanks in the food, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries. They basically display the contents or the amount of material, liquids or solids in those particular tanks or vessels, which is necessary for clients to know exactly where their inventory stands. We did that with a small range of radar level transmitters.

“The second thing we looked at was pressure transmitters. Now the ones that we previously had were heavy industry pressure transmitters meant for very rugged environments – mining, oil and gas. So, again, we’ve taken those concepts and we’ve said, ‘Okay, in a dairy situation or a pharmaceutical situation, they’re not looking for ruggedness, what they’re looking for is strict hygiene or food approval or pharmaceutical approval’. In other words, your fittings must be of a certain specification – we’ve done that.

“The third thing we looked at was a simple device, basically an alarm point system, to show if your tank is full or empty. Not everyone wants to know the contents all the time, some of them just want protection from overfilling, or running out of material, so we’ve come up with a simple level switch. “The fourth thing we came up with was a controller where you can feed the sensors into the controller and it might monitor pumps, control valves, control gates. Again, we’re giving the customer not only the solution in the vessel, but we give them a solution where they can control their operation.”

With more than 60 years’ experience, Vega has proven it has put in the time, the research and the commitment into improving and simplifying their products – and now manufacturers, too, can benefit.