Steven Sischy has been with Beckhoff Automation since its inception in 2006. During his time at the company, Sischy has seen a lot of changes develop within the automation and control space.
Beckhoff has been at the cutting edge of automation technology including PC-based control and open automation technologies. In 2003, Beckhoff introduced the well-known EtherCAT technology at Hannover Fair. The EtherCAT Technology group is the world’s largest industrial Ethernet organisation, with current membership at 4,965 member companies.
Fifteen years later, while the industrial landscape has changed, many challenges still lie ahead. EtherCAT is now a well-accepted technology in many market sectors.
Speed is one key ingredient that has been noticeable over the past decade. As new products and services – along with the internet – have become a mainstay in business life, so too has the expectation that things will be done immediately. Data ownership and security will play a bigger part in the foreseeable future with cloud based computing. There will be more reliance on IT specialists in order to adopt these emerging technologies.
“Recently, we have found that decisions seem to be left to the last minute,” he said. “There’s a common trend that engineering time has been reduced, which means that we all have to work smarter.”
Another issue is not so much the technologies available, but convincing a conservative industry that they need to come on board, with emerging products and services.
“We have two sides of the spectrum when it comes to new technologies,” said Sischy. “The first is that we are in contact with customers who have relatively old production facilities. They go overseas to international trade shows and see the latest technology and want to implement it. Unfortunately, with a lot of these instances, a decent budget hasn’t been allocated, which affects expectations. In some cases, these budgets are not realistic.”
On the flip side, there are also a lot of companies that have a high degree of know-how, or technical competence and are more inclined to take on the technology.
“This is provided they have IT professionals that are willing to assist them,” said Sischy. “As long as they have core disciplines available they can pretty much get the applications up and running without too much drama.”
Industry 4.0 and the IoT are also playing a role in how companies, including Beckhoff, are developing their strategies going forward. However, people need to realise that the IoT and all the connectivity it entails is not necessarily the answer to a company’s IT or production issues.
“The internet of things definitely helps us develop our processes and get to market far quicker,” said Sischy. “However, if I was to say to you, ‘what does the internet of things mean to you?’ you would get different perspectives from different people what it actually means to the customer and how the customer can benefit. What you’ll find is that it’s not just a solution for all problems.”
And what about the process industry, how do they react to all the new technologies that have been released over the past decade?
“They are traditional, very conservative and they utilise the same technology they have always done,” said Sischy. “They are not always willing to take a gamble on emerging technologies, even though they can see there are benefits in going down that path. The emerging technologies can, and will, provide better visibility with real-time data into the cloud.”
Like any business, Sischy said that this bottom line way of thinking is always at the fore with decision makers. And with implementing IoT-driven initiatives, along with Industry 4.0 or any type of automation or control solution, there has to be a pay-off. What’s in it for the customer? Sometimes, it is hard to define, as they cannot see the benefits unless they are highlighted. Also, pitching to the right person in the company is also important.
“We find that once the gap or potential bottleneck is identified, then it is relatively easy for the customer to come on board,” said Sischy. “We need to find the right person in the organisation responsible for IoT. Particularly, if you are looking at Industry 4.0 or IoT, often the decision makers are not the automation or process-based engineers but the CFO. They are able to see tangible facts and ask the right questions. For example, ‘Can I see what my costs are?’ or ‘Can I see it in real time?’ or ‘Can you show me a more accurate representation of exactly what is going on?’”
Sischy would like to see the Australian market adopt some practices and be more innovative in order to grow the export market.
“The New Zealand market is very small market but is outward facing. Their growth does not come from the local market, it has to come from exports,” said Sischy. “Their uptake of technology is massive and that they have to be innovative and one step ahead of their competitors. Often, New Zealand customers are far more innovative and will willing to take a risk to get an added advantage over their competitor.
New Zealand-based customers are quick to make decisions and adapt to new technologies, said Sischy.