Yokogawa to broaden solutions

Russell Palmer has been with Yokogawa Australia for 18 years and held roles from front line engineering sales to Sales & Marketing Director for Yokogawa Australia and New Zealand – a position he has held for 10 years. 

Palmer has replaced John Hewitt who has been appointed as Managing Director of Yokogawa Engineering Asia. Hewitt was previously Managing Director for Yokogawa Australia from 2005-2015. 

Palmer talks to PACE Editor, Kevin Gomez about the strategic direction for his company.

Coming into this role, what do you see as the main challenges for yourself and for Yokogawa?

The main challenges, not particular to Yokogawa, is how do we maintain and grow and develop our core capabilities during this quieter period in the automation industry. 

As well as the delivery of solutions for mega projects like Chevron Gorgon, Chevron Wheatstone, INPEX Ichthys and the APLNG projects as they move into the commissioning phase, we're broadening our offering in each of our key verticals.

In power we've brought on Forney and we're the exclusive distributor in Australia and New Zealand of burner management systems (BMS) for industries from power generation to dried milk production. 

In mining, we're partnering with CiDRA so we can broaden into more industry solutions, whether it's their technology for cyclones or slurry flow metering that is not part of our core offering, so that customers can still come to us. 

In New Zealand, we partner a lot with multinational company, Hamilton, which provides lots of food and beverage type sensors that are arguably industry best practice for food and beverage. 

So while we're still focused on Yokogawa, we're broadening our solutions beyond just our traditional industrial automation control systems.

What are some unique solutions that Yokogawa has developed for the Australian market?

I'm going two quote to different examples. 

The first one is subsea. Traditionally, those subsea control systems have always come as a black box or MCS, (master control system) which means then the DCS can only just read, so it's a very rudimentary connection between the subsea and the top sites. 

We've been developing an integrated solution on the Wheatstone project and on the INPEX Ichthys project using the Yokogawa system as the MCS for the subsea on those projects. 

That means there's a much tighter integration between the data coming from the sea floor up to the top sites and then right through to the control system, and then going up into the information level, whereas traditionally it's been lots of individual packages which are just tied together and every one of those interfaces is a potential problem. 

We are now looking at potential work with some of those OEMs like the GEs and the FMCs on rolling out our integrated subsea model, which we developed in our Perth office. 

On the East Coast we've got three huge jobs being developed simultaneously – the GLNG Santos led project, the QCLNG being lead by the BG Group, and APLNG being lead by Origin and its partner, Conoco Phillips. 

The APLNG project, has seen some of the largest SCADA system roll-outs globally, because of the nature of the geographic spread of those wells across the Bowen Basin which involves some real cutting edge network design. It's almost like a mini national broadband type network to pull all the data from those wells. 

Obviously the cost of every well, if there is any manual intervention, is going to be extraordinarily expensive because of just the remoteness of it. 

So by having a much higher level of automation and oversight of what's going on at each of those wells, we've been able to dramatically bring the down the lifetime costs of large scale automation projects such the APLNG example which has been developed by Yokogawa here in Brisbane.

A few years back it was difficult to find control engineers. What's the situation now and how is Yokogawa managing? 

In the last 12 months we've seen a huge downturn in the industry affecting a lot of the big EPCs and the large oil & gas and mining companies. So the experiences of five years ago compared to today are radically different. 

There's now obviously a much bigger pool of people here in Australia to call on in the first instance and the quality of the people in that pool have gone up because they've had experience on some of flagship projects for those large companies. 

We were in a fortunate position since a lot of those large projects utilised Yokogawa control systems. 

We're not looking at the challenge of finding people anymore, we're looking at the challenge of making sure we've got the very best people in the correct roles. 

It's now more about being an employer of choice. We are very focused on providing opportunities here in Australia. 

We are very proud that our management team is based in Australia and we have a very high level of autonomy and are active supporters of the Australian Industry Participation scheme where we develop and transfer skills to our customers, our suppliers and our contractors. 

As a result of that, we are now a global centre of excellence for power. 

By adapting to providing our solutions to mining, we have also become a centre of excellence for the delivery of mining and metals projects, which takes in anything that needs a high level of processing such as gold, zinc, lead and copper. 

We are now providing Australian expertise to help our overseas cousins in South America, Canada and South Africa develop their markets, which again goes back to why we can attract and retain some good people. 

To be able to offer the opportunity to work on some of the world's biggest projects obviously makes it easier for us to attract people.

You mentioned food as a focus in New Zealand. Are you going to do that in Australia as well? 

New Zealand has developed a massive dairy industry and nearly all of it is spray dried. So it's not milk, it's infant formulas and powdered products that are being exported to China where it commands very high prices. 

We will certainly use expertise from New Zealand here in Australia where it makes sense, but I wouldn't expect to see the same level of investment in spray driers Australia as we do in New Zealand. Similarly, I wouldn't expect to see the same amount of level of LNG activities going on in Australia replicated in New Zealand either.

What does Yokogawa do in renewable energy in Australia? 

There is a lot of "packaging" by renewables suppliers. So if you buy a solar plant or a wind farm or even a waste-to-energy plant, typically what happens is a lot of that technology comes from Europe, and the control solution is already embedded. 

Where the OEMs are based here, such as the solar companies like NEP Solar, or the Big Dish developed at the Australian National University in Canberra, we have been successful in providing solutions whether it's a PLC SCADA system or a packaged solution like our HSX10 which combines the best of Yokogawa's measurement and control technologies in a compact, simple and affordable package. 

We're seeing a lot of that happening with some energy companies as well. So where you have got renewables around the country, where we may not be the control solution at the site, we may well provide enterprise level integration of those sites into a business system. That's an area that we're looking at developing further in the future.

Lastly, can you tell us you came to be where you are sitting today? 

Originally I'm from the UK and I was fortunate to get a scholarship from Emerson Electric when I first left school, which allowed me to both study for my degree at the same time as work at Emerson. 

Being such a big global company, one of the benefits of that was they were able to ask me where I'd like to go. 

So after I finished my studies I went to Fisher-Rosemount in Melbourne for a year before travelling and working across Australia and South East Asia, ending up in Hong Kong for a time before eventually returning back to the UK a few years later. 

When I got back to the UK, I wanted to broaden my horizons, so I worked for WIKA Alexander Weigand out of Frankfurt, based in their London office for about five years before eventually returning to Australia in the late '90s. 

I approached Yokogawa for a position and I've been here ever since. This is my 18th year at Yokogawa, so I feel I've had a reasonable apprenticeship after that time, and for the last 10 years, I have been part of the executive team at Yokogawa Australia, heading up the sales and marketing group since 2005. 

That's allowed me to learn a lot about the industry internationally – how things are done in US companies, how things are done in German companies, and now how things are done in Japanese companies. They're all radically different with their internal cultures. 

I think Yokogawa in Australia is a great blend of Australian entrepreneurship with a Japanese long-term view. I think that has really helped Yokogawa develop a very strong local market presence as one of the key players in our space. 

We're very focused on meeting the needs of the local industry first and partnering with the customer with a long-term view to provide better customised solutions. 

My reporting lines have remained very similar because I reported to John Hewitt as the managing director here and I still report to John who is the new CEO of the Asia Pacific area.

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