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The solution revolution

Sarah Falson speaks with Phoenix Contact’s MD about the importance the company places on solutions over products in an evolving industrial climate.

Many companies working in the Australian industrial space might not be familiar with Phoenix Contact, but the company develops some of the most important control and surge protection devices working behind the scenes at any process or manufacturing plant.

Peter Mellino, managing director of the company’s Australia & New Zealand operations since 2007, has been setting the direction for the company’s local operations ever since, and is vying for a slice of the rapidly-growing local power and energy management market.

Though Mellino is actively interested in motivating and leading his staff on a day-to-day basis, he is also the company’s figure-head on it the field and spends approximately 50 per cent of his time out of the office building relationships with the company’s customers and channel partners.

“I set the direction for the executive team, and through a matrix-type structure they implement the strategic plan with the state-based business units. My time is split 50 per cent office in the office and 50 per cent out in the field with customers, channel partners, and our employees,” he told PACE.

Phoenix Contact is a global developer and manufacturer of electrical connection, electronic interface and industrial automation technologies. Founded more than 80 years ago in Germany, the company now provides a diverse product range including components and system solutions for industrial and device connection, automation, electronic interface, and surge protection.

The company is broken into five core product business units: Industrial Connection Technology — terminals, marking and mounting materials, and tools; Device Connection Technology — PCB connectors; Trabtech — surge voltage protection; Interface — relays, motor controls, power supplies, cabling, serial and wireless; and Automation — ethernet switches and I/O systems control.

This focussed group of business units employs more than 10,200 people worldwide in 40 subsidiaries; the company also utilises the services of sales representatives in another 30 nations.

Solutions vs. components

Phoenix Contact’s biggest markets are the electrical and industrial manufacturing, automation and process control, energy, water, mining, and petrochemical industries — of which are technical environments requiring a high degree of expertise and face-to-face support.

The company’s local operations span seven locations in Australia and New Zealand, and the company’s focus — not just locally but around the world too — is on innovation and partnerships with customers, Mellino says.

“Phoenix Contact has been providing our customers with inspiring innovations and local support since 1996. We have a total of 10 production sites around the globe (four in Germany, and one each in USA, China, Poland, Brazil, India and Greece), and the local subsidiary sources its products from these manufacturing plants. We have close contact with the technical support and product development teams in Germany, as well as corporate marketing support,” Mellino said.

According to Mellino, the best part of being managing director for Phoenix Contact Australia & New Zealand is being able to spend time out of the office visiting customers, learning about their requirements, and helping them to come up with solutions to make their businesses run more safely and smoothly and to become more productive.

“We create progress with innovative and inspiring solutions,” Mellino said. “[My favourite part of my job is] to go and see the customer, and work on business opportunities with them.”

For Mellino and his local staff, the biggest challenge the company will face in the year ahead is to keep up with customer requirements for solutions, rather than simply components.

“Altering the mindset of our sales teams to go from a components-seller to a solutions-seller [will be a challenge]. This will demonstrate to customers that we can provide a complete solutions package for an industry segment,” Mellino said.

According to Mellino, the company’s customers in Australia and New Zealand have increasingly been demanding complete protection systems for their plants, which is an important element to safeguard them from production and therefore money loss.

“Customers are demanding suppliers who can provide complete solutions and technical expertise, such as Ex-rated terminal boxes for hazardous areas using Rittal enclosures and Phoenix Contact Ex-rated terminals, surge protection, and interface devices,” he said.

Constant development

Phoenix Contact will be releasing a whole slew of new products during 2010, including a new Axioline I/O system, 10-gigabit high-speed ethernet connectors, a range of PSR — TRISAFE modular safety relays, and a new CONTACTRON hybrid motor starter.

“Every year Phoenix Contact releases worldwide a series of 10 to 20 innovations,” Mellino said. “These will be the key products we focus on in 2010 so that we continue to bring new technologies to our customers.

Mellino promises that Phoenix Contact will keep innovating in 2010 and beyond, and points out some exciting new industrial technologies to watch out for in the future.

“There are many exciting technologies developing, but the one we find most transformative to industry, and society as a whole, is wireless. Our Industrial Modem Line, used for all interfaces (I/O signals, serial interfaces, and ethernet networks), connects you worldwide with your machines and systems, for efficient remote monitoring, permanent data acquisition, and automatic advanced warning,” he said.

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