In conversation with John Immelman, Endress+Hauser

How did you join Endress+Hauser?

I’m a qualified electrical engineer. I spent most of my early career life in the IT world, working for some of the big companies like SAP. In 1991 I decided that I wanted to get out of the IT business because it was very volatile in terms of the mergers and acquisitions; on a Monday morning you never knew who owned your company or who you were working for. Also, management is not always the most skilled in the IT world. I decided to change careers totally and I applied for a sales management position at E+H in South Africa. I then moved up from sales management to marketing and by 1995 I was running E+H South Africa.

This is a family company, is that reflected in the corporate culture?

Yes, it’s like working for a big, very organised and regulated family. When we get people from other competing companies, they struggle to adjust to the freedom and responsibility that they have here.

What is it about instrumentation that motivates you to do your job?

The industry is very exciting, and also challenging. Instrumentation is at the heart of every capital project in the country and the region; we know what the status is, who’s going to fund them and the process they’re going to use. We’re there from the very beginning, working in the process with them and looking at new technologies and ways to optimise it.

It’s also quite varied; one day you could be working for the Parramatta rail line measuring the amount of water flowing through the sandstone, and the next day you could be at Mount Isa, overseeing the expansion of a copper mine, or discussing whether it’s good or bad to have a desalination plant in the city. Between those projects, you’ve also got the breweries and the chocolate factories and sewage pits and so on! When you come here and you listen, our guys are discussing all these things with each other, all the time, the different ways to measure and solve problems. We’re never bored.

You’re now doing not just process measurement, but also inventory/stock management…

Yes, because we can take our standard equipment and fit it in tanks and silos and vessels in the most remote parts of the world, and measure the contents in them. That information can be delivered through our web-based network, so the owner of the contents of that tank can sit in his office, do a scan and find out exactly what he’s got in every tank in every part of the world, using only the net.

We’re doing a very interesting exercise with the second biggest mining group in the world, starting with their most remote sites in Australia and the USA. They want to measure the shrinkage of diesel for their big trucks; they use a million gallons of diesel a year and they believe there’s a 10% shrinkage somewhere. We’re putting our measuring instrumentation in their tanks in the remote sites, and the information is then fed back via the net to a centralised head office. They can see how much they’ve got, and if something goes missing and nobody’s signed a piece of paper for it, they can investigate. With the cost involved, this is a huge problem so stock control becomes extremely important.

With regards to stock management, at a manufacturing plant you have tanks outside, supplying raw product to the process, adhesives, solvents, etc. We can automate the supply measurement, which means that the owner of the plant never runs out and never has too much, and the supplying companies can also optimise their delivery.

Inventory management puts us in contact with new customers and markets, and the discussions are more about return of investment and management than about optimising the plants but still, it’s the same instruments.