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Competing for control, exclusive ifm efector interview

Firms are now more than ever demanding cheaper solutions to increase output. We speak with ifm efector about what the company can do for you. Sarah Falson writes.

David Delany helped start ifm efector New Zealand in 1998 and relocated to Australia as a member of the board of directors for the company in 2000. Today, with over 20 years experience in instrumentation and automation, he’s more than qualified to head-up the sensor and control solutions provider, based in Victoria.

The Australian subsidiary is a branch off ifm electronic, based in Germany, which engineers and manufactures sensor and control automation solutions.

The right combination

According to Delany, who today holds the post of ifm efector sales director, the company provides the right combination of German engineering with local service and support.

“Being a global company with local sales engineers throughout Australia and New Zealand provides customers with confidence that ifm will be there to support them in the long term,” he told PACE this month.

The company is active in the food and beverage, water and wastewater, and mining industries locally. This year will see ifm efector focusing heavily on its AS-interface products which have the ability to “significantly reduce wiring and labour costs for companies,” according to Delany.

“In this economic climate this is an important focus for our customers,” he said. “We are a solutions provider driven to develop products based on what customers demand rather than what is technically-feasible. ifm is positioned in the market as an innovative company, particularly with our Innovation-Step (i-Step) products.”

The company’s line of products represented by the i-Step logo are considered highly innovative for the marketplace, says Delany. They are designed to close gaps in applications and offer excellent performance for the price.

One example is the new ifm efector pressure sensor with diagnostic function for pumps, providing pump monitoring and pressure detection with one sensor. Not only the pump is monitored – it monitors, and therefore protects the complete system, including disturbances around the pump that are harmful for the entire system and its drives.

There are three key components of the ifm efector model that Delany believes currently differentiate the company from its competitors.

“We can offer excellent customer service, including fast response to inquiries, and strong technical and application support, including advice from qualified sales engineers. We are also able to provide on-site support and customer training,” he said.

“Live availability check and ordering via our online ordering system e-shop [is also important]. The system allows orders to be placed 24 hours a day, at a time that is convenient for the customer rather than being limited to within Melbourne business hours.

“Finally, we have excellent delivery times. We are one of the only suppliers to industry that holds extensive stock, meaning 98 per cent of orders are delivered within 24 hours in Australia and New Zealand for products ex-stock.”

A sensor history

The company was founded in 1969 and began producing and selling inductive sensors under the name ‘efector’ in Germany.

“At that time there were approximately 70 competitors in the market, however when ifm released the first 40…250V AC proximity sensor, the number of competitors substantially reduced. ifm also developed flexible film technology as a carrier for all electronic circuits that can be rolled, folded or bent. This technology enables ifm sensors to withstand harsh conditions, such as shock and vibration” he said.

“Today, ifm is a successful global company with six production sites, employing over 3,000 people.”

In the early years of ifm the product range broadened to include capacitive and photoelectric sensors, and in 1983, ifm launched the first flow sensors to the market, Delany claims. In 1986 ifm launched its own control systems for industrial use.

Since then, the company has launched many innovations to the market including the pmd optical distance sensor that was the recipient of a Hermes innovation award in 2005.

A leading spokesman

Today, Delany’s role is multifaceted but principally involves communicating the company’s mission, vision, values, policies and procedures and setting the sales strategy for Australia and New Zealand.

“The best part of my job is when a customer presents us with a problem and we are able to work together to provide an innovative solution that the customer previously believed to be impossible. Then returning some time later and being able to measure in dollar terms what the solution has provided,” he said.

Looking towards the remainder of 2009, ifm foresees customers increasingly demanding products that assist them to reduce their fixed cost of business. This includes reducing energy consumption, saving on installation and labour costs, reducing the amount of hardware required for projects or processes, and increasing uptime or availability of their plant.

“With the global economic situation worsening, customers are looking to be more efficient, develop new products to stimulate the market or create new markets,” said Delany.

According to Delany, the company’s AS-interface technology will fair well in answering this increasing customer demand, offering more functionality and diagnostic capability from customers’ devices.

“AS-i was developed by nine leading global automation technology companies to meet the demand in the marketplace for a more cost-effective solution to address the issue of continuous communication down to the last metre,” he said.

“Today, sensors have a lot of intelligence that previously required manual set-up via push buttons or using a special communication tool. AS-i allows you to alter parameters remotely without the need for manual adjustment, and in the case of replacement this information can be reloaded automatically onto a new sensor of the same type. Further, the technology means additional diagnostic information can be accessed and displayed by the higher-level PC, which means easier detection of fault location and reduced downtime. AS-i sensors are backwards-compatible.”

The benefit of this technology breakthrough in communication, according to Delany, is that for a low cost of investment in software, companies will have access to a lot more information and can easily set sensor or device parameters.

Weathering the storm

Delany says ifm efector has already begun to feel the pinch of the global economic crisis – particularly in the manufacturing and mining sectors – which he says will, in turn, have a “knock on effect”.

“I believe it will be a challenging year and we will have to work harder and smarter than we had to in 2007 and 2008, but we are well-prepared to weather the storm,” he said.

“We understand our customers are under constant pressure to reduce costs – and this has become of even more importance in the current economic conditions. ifm can play a vital role in providing solutions to improve our customer’s processes, therefore increasing their efficiency and reducing costs. For this reason, I believe that in partnership with our customers, 2009 will be a strong year for us as a company.”

Delany says that though there is a constant pressure to reduce costs and at the same time be more competitive in the marketplace, cost reduction cannot come at the expense of quality.

“It is essential to find the right balance between long-lasting performance and great value,” he said. “ifm is committed to providing on-site solutions to application challenges and to help our customers become more competitive.

“What does this mean for you and your company? You receive excellent value products from a company committed to quality and support. ifm provides customers with innovative solutions that help improve their efficiency and reduce costs.”

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