Latest News

Consulting an important part of connectivity equation

Mike Wheeler talks to Rafael Koenig, managing director of industrial connectivity specialist Weidmuller, about the company’s approach in a competitive industry.

Starting out as a textile factory in Chemnitz, eastern Germany in 1850, Weidmuller reinvented itself in the 1940s as a manufacturer of Staffel terminal blocks. When Germany was divided after World War II, the company re-established itself in Detmold, then West Germany in 1948. There, it became a specialist in industrial connectivity, and, 70 years later, now employs more than 4,500 people and has a turnover of $1.2 billion. Not bad for a company that started out selling buttons over 160 years ago.

Weidmuller Australia is run by Rafael Koenig, an affable expatriate from Germany who made Sydney home in the late 90s. Koenig knows that it can be an uphill battle taking on the big players in the automation and process control market but he also has enough self-belief in Weidmuller that it is building momentum in what can sometimes be a crowded market.

Koenig also believes that there are enough points of difference between Weidmuller and the competition that his company can more than hold its own.

“In today’s technical world, it is not just enough to sell components,” said managing director Koenig. “We try to partner up with customers because we want to give them the value add component of our business. Today’s user expects technology solutions that help them solve their challenges and problems while improving their business outcomes.”

One example is the comprehensive connectivity program that Weidmuller has to offer. This spans a large portfolio but starts with the humble DIN rail terminal block, which comes in different variations – spring cage, traditional screw cage, and the push-in block series. But it is the aforementioned added value component where Koenig believes Weidmuller can make inroads.

“When we went to a recent conference, we did a comparison of how quickly we could get one of our cabinets wired up,” he said. “That made us think, ‘how can we add value?’ ‘How easy is it to use them?’ ‘How much time can you save?’ ‘How can you optimise that space in the cabinet?’ and ‘How can you mix and match products so they fit together?’”

Another perspective that Koenig said needs considering is this: How secure is an investment if Weidmuller products are used? Will the technology still be around in a couple of years? How do the products match with the big topics that the industry is facing, such as digitalisation, Industry 4.0 and connectivity to
the cloud?

“For every step in between there is a solution with Weidmuller,” said Koenig. “We are there to help identify problems that a customer has. Not only with a particular product and their application, but also with helping find a solution.”

He also said not to underestimate the importance of going that extra step for clients, especially for those that are unsure on how the connectivity should work with their set up.

“One thing that we are really good at is what we call connectivity consulting,” said Koenig. “By consulting, the aim is to partner with our customers in order to optimise their supply chain, how they use their cabinet space and the functionality of their products.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be us but it is all about the concept and what the customer wants to solve. We take it a step further and said, ‘maybe we can help you optimise your panel layout, and if you want, we can also assemble your solution for you’. We tell them, due to our core expertise in connectivity, it’s the best way to utilise a control cabinet and how we can assist in the building process. For us this is the best way to differentiate us from other suppliers in Australia.”

It is also important to listen to what the customer wants when doing the consulting. Koenig believes it is Weidmuller’s job to give people choices, but it has to be in close consultation.

“The customer always has the last word,” he said. “Like any other service provider, we do factory approval tests, but data technical specifications are set by the customer. Before we start to put anything together we will seek approval and provide detailed drawings and documentation of what we deliver. We say, ‘this is our solution. Is this what you want?’ You just can’t go ahead and build something and then tell the customer that this is what they need. Unfortunately, this is still the way some people operate.”

And there is a fine line between a customer’s demands and offering sound advice, which is why it is important to not only know what you are talking about, but also know that the end-game is the best possible outcome for the client.

“We want to do what the customer wants, but we also want to get our knowledge and say, ‘we have some areas where we can optimise what you are doing’, and then try to advise them accordingly,” he said. “We try and use our knowledge to improve what the customers
are doing. We see our service as a specialist in the connectivity arena and how customers can make the most of the space that they have in their cabinets.”

Finally, when it comes to connectivity, other key ingredients in the Weidmuller formula are the ease of use of its push-in products and speed of use.

“Push-in technology takes about a third of the time compared to using screw terminals, and the push-in technology is a preparation to populate and wire up cabinets that are fully robotic and automatic,” said Koenig. “It used to be a trend you’d see in Europe where you’d have large cabinet builders and control cabinet builders that work on the same designs over and over again. That does not apply that much to the Australian market yet, but if you are a serious machine builder, they would standardise on one cabinet and the goal is to fully automate and wire up these cabinets. So the robotics that are needed also require a form of connection technology that is simple and convenient and that is the push-in technology. It is still a work in progress.”

With automation ramping up in the manufacturing sector, connectivity is going to be an important part of the equation over the next decade. Koenig believes that Weidmuller is one company that can not only provide the products to help run plant and machinery, but also has the expertise to give the best advice possible.

Apart from the connectivity solutions, Weidmuller has in recent years expanded its automation technology portfolio and has identified digitalisation as a critical strategic area.

“The future direction of companies like Weidmueller will see a significant build up in expertise for digitalisation, communication technologies as well as software capabilities,” said Koenig. “Our activities in industrial analytics is one example that demonstrates the progress of our business towards becoming a technology partner not just for connectivity.

“Our strong relationship and proximity to our customers is key to our success in Australia and we take particular pride in the quality of the distribution partner network that we are part of. This network allows us to work shoulder to shoulder with other leading global brands.

“We see our role in supporting our channel partners through our Weidmueller experts and, together with them, make our customer more competitive in a world that sees massive changes in our industry.”

Send this to a friend