Steady year ahead for instrumentation industry

AMS CEO Dirk Kuiper

AMS has had its hands on the pulse of the instrumentation sector for the past 20-plus years. Mike Wheeler talks to CEO Dirk Kuiper about the trends of 2018 and what 2019 has in store for the industry.

An increase in business in the mining and power utilities sectors are the big moves that instrumentation and calibration specialist AMS CEO Dirk Kuiper has seen over the past 12 months. This is especially the case with the latter.

“Although the sales in the mining industry were down on previous years, I have seen a pick-up within the past few months,” he said. “But the power utilities industry has been very big for us. Mainly the power side of things. Over the years, we have worked hard on that aspect of the business. A lot of the major power stations are using our equipment now.

“The utilities industry is also moving a lot more towards the smart metering and things like that, whether it is domestic or industrial. I recently started a new company called AMS Water Metering to look at the smart metering side of domestic smart water meters. Several councils are already trialling them. That is definitely going to be a growth industry.”

But wouldn’t there be a huge capital investment needed to be made if literally hundreds of thousands of water meters need replacing. “Initially, yes,” said Kuiper, “but you save money by not having to employ so many readers. And the cost of these smart meters are coming down all the time. It will save the councils and water authorities a lot of money to be able to read these meters remotely. They can save a lot of money on leakage as well. That includes industrial applications, but with the new company we are concentrating on the domestic market.”

A peripheral industry AMS is looking into is renewables, which has also grown over the past few years.

“We are making a push into renewables, with some of our flow product lines,” said Kuiper. “Some of the companies we distribute for in Australia have produced products that are in that market and it is definitely a growing area for us. It has not been a big market for us thus far.”

A problem that Kuiper also talks about is something that has been an issue for the past couple of years – a lack of qualified instrumentation specialists. It is a subject that is
not going to go away any time soon, especially as it seems like a forgone conclusion that those types of specialised courses have been merged with the electrical/electronics’ programs.

“We are not getting enough people coming through the instrumentation side,” he said. “Industry in general struggles to get instrumentation apprentices, which is a crying shame. This is especially since they put [the instrumentation courses] together with the electrical ones. You get more electricians than instrumentation people.

“I’d like to see more instrument people, and more qualified instrument people. You even struggle to find qualified sales people in our industry.

“And a lot of them, the technicians, take the FIFO jobs in the remote areas and make the big money, but when they finish and the job has disappeared, the big money is gone. They need to think more about long-term employment.”

Kuiper said he is happy with the direction AMS has taken in 2018 and is seeing that the next couple of years will be good, if a little static.

“Overall, it’s been a very good year for us,” he said. “We had some major sales on the calibration side, which is interesting because there has not been as many major developments in the market regarding calibration.

“It’s pretty stagnant in terms of new products and software. I don’t think it will change over the next couple of years either. There will be some minor software developments, but nothing major will happen as far as hardware.”

And what about the buzzword of the past 12 months – the Internet of Things (IoT). Where
does AMS stand with regard to how it will have an impact on their business and instrumentation in the near future?

“All I do is read up about the IoT,” he said. “We don’t really get involved with the IoT side here. None of our product lines that we represent have done anything with the IoT. However, in the future, we’ll have to be involved because it is definitely a thing that is being more and more talked about. It will have an impact on our product lines.” Kuiper is cautiously optimistic about the next 12 months, too.

“With business confidence, I wouldn’t say it is exceptional but there is still confidence there that the whole market will increase. There is no slowdown predicted as far as I can see.”

Dirk Kuiper has been in the instrumentation industry for almost 50 years and has seen many changes. He has been CEO of AMS for 20 years and has seen it grow from four people to nearly 30. AMS has offices throughout the country.