The Total take on Industry 4.0

Construction companies that understand the requirements of industrial automation are few and far between. We talk to Total Construction’s James Bolton and Rob Blythman to discuss how the company’s expertise extends across the advanced industrial sector.

Industry 4.0 – it is the concept on every manufacturer’s lips. The potential of advanced technologies and techniques to boost efficiencies, eliminate waste, reduce downtime, to enable flexibility and responsiveness in competitive domestic and global markets is tempting companies across Australia to revamp their systems.

Small-to-medium-sized (SME) manufacturers, also, are noticing that the Industry 4.0 cost-curve, which once made it prohibitive and only affordable by large companies, has greatly reduced in recent years. This, along with the prospect of government grants for adopting productivity-enhancing technology, is enabling smaller players to get involved.

But getting on board with the Industry 4.0 wave also frequently requires more than just purchasing sensors or advanced robotics. Facilities and plant, too, need to be able to deliver the automated solutions that their operators require.

Total Construction has for many years been a name associated with the food and beverage and energy sectors. But, according to James Bolton, Total Construction’s Energy & Infrastructure Division National Manager, the company is keen to put out the message that they have the experience and skills to build the facilities SMEs require to join the fourth industrial revolution.

“At Total Construction, we are able to deliver projects from concept to completion – from start to finish. Industry 4.0 is all about integrated solutions. We develop solutions that take into account the whole process,” Bolton said.

Total Construction is developing an Engineering Construction Group, or ECG. The ECG will consolidate the company’s engineering expertise that it has developed in the food and beverage and energy sectors and offer its solution to the broader industrial market. “We’re not just going to put a shed over your operations – we’re providing a more total solution with the knowledge we have derived from working with industries that require highly detailed, highly engineered design specifications,” said Bolton.

“The ECG will focus on highly bespoke, heavily designed engineering solutions. What sets us apart is that we’re working in areas that require specialist skill sets.”

Indeed, firms requiring advanced automation processes, require highly technical and customised solutions to make sure they work effectively. “You need to be able to deal with a lot of unknowns. Industry 4.0 is a pioneering space, and construction companies,
working with clients that are advancing into this space, need to think outside the norm,” said Bolton.

Branching out

While Total Construction has had vast experience in the food and beverage manufacturing sector, and the renewable energy sector, the company has never really been constrained within these sectors, possessing skills that are applicable to all industrial construction work that involves highly specialised, heavily engineered projects.

“Automation is a highly specialised language, which is not always easily communicated in the construction space. We not only have an understanding of that language and, if you like, its different dialects, but we also possess the practical skills to carry out building projects. What we’re about is translating the language of automation into a feasible and implementable solution to a client’s needs,” said Bolton.

Rob Blythman, business development manager at Total Construction, agreed. “If you look at the projects we have worked on – the Central Thermal Plant, for instance, at Central Park in Broadway Sydney – and if you look at our entire list of projects, they are all heavily engineered projects. And that, really, is our target market. We don’t want to just build boxes, we are focussed on the bespoke industrial engineering space,” said Blythman.

“We’re often known as a builder of food and beverage manufacturing facilities, or of energy facilities. But our capabilities in these areas, because they are already projects involving highly designed and highly specialised engineering works, actually mean we have the capabilities to design and build projects across the advanced industrial sector,” said Blythman.

In other words, with the ECG, Total Construction is providing the knowhow of Industry 4.0 and how it integrates into building projects, providing clients with their specialised requirements, offering them the ability to translate those requirements into a practical construction project that is achievable and understandable.

“That ability is really important to have within the construction industry. It makes us different. A tradesman will look at you and say, ‘Industry 4.0? What is that? It’s not on the drawings,’” Blythman explained. “They might be able to install the cabling, but they might not be able to comprehend what impacts it will have on an operation if attention is not given to the precise location and installation practices used.”

The importance of being upfront

Also, on the other hand, a company that goes to specialised engineering consultants can end up with costs blowing out. “The more detail you need, the more it costs. You can end up with engineering builds that are not fully designed because companies can only spend so much with costly design engineering firms. It used to be the case that you would have 80-90 per cent of the project designed before costing takes place. These days, it is down to 50-70 per cent. If something is missing in the design at costing time, the client ends up paying more, as the builder will simply say it was not outlined in the design specifications,” said Blythman.

“A manufacturer just wants to have their building built so that it works and is completed to its specifications without have their costs blowing out. By ensuring the remaining 30-40 design is captured prior to costing, we provide the client the confidence that their project is priced correctly and meets their operational requirements as intended.”

Working closely with clients, Total Construction provides provisional sums in its pricings. “We say, ‘Look, we don’t know if you need to upgrade your power yet until the design is completed – it is a known unknown – but we’ll include an estimated provisional sum for the power upgrade so that the client understands what they are getting into from a holistic position. It is important to be upfront. A lot of builders won’t do that – they will just exclude those costings, as they are not on the scope of works, allowing projects to frequently blow out beyond budget when they are well advanced.”

Getting it right

For those looking towards innovation, as well, Total Construction won’t leave them without making sure the basics are in working order. For instance, a large printing business that is implementing a full Industry 4.0 solution across its operations to track material wastage and boost efficiencies will frequently require other work to be done in their facilities to accommodate those changes. “We’re the right company to not only provide them with the building solutions that may be required to implement Industry 4.0, but to incorporate other changes as well – extending the storage area, changing the wall placements for cabling & new equipment, and taking the opportunity to change the process flows,” said Bolton.

Integration is precisely what is needed when it comes to Industry 4.0. A client who wants to install a monitoring system into their facility might also need to upgrade other aspects to bring their factory up to a modern standard.

“The client needs a solution and we can provide the plan to get them there. And that’s what Total has done in the past. It is important for us to have people who have operational experience as well. That’s where Tony Tate, our general manager, came from. And that is the kind of skill sets, understanding and competence that we provide. We know what works and what doesn’t work,” said Blythman.

“We’ll do the design work, we’ll do the costings, and then we’ll do the build. A lot of builders will just do the costing and the building and go to an expensive engineering consultancy company for the design work. But if you don’t want to spend half a million dollars on design, come to us. If you have specialised, engineering requirements, focussed on automation, we’re your go to company.

“Companies who are involved in heavily process-oriented operations want to be able to talk to someone who understands the process flows
and the bespoke services that are required to make their facility function properly. That’s what our experience gives us – that knowledge to provide the total solution.”