Automation Today Issue 61: News and Events

News and Events

Rockwell Automation Australia & New Zealand have a new regional director, Anthony Wong

Recently appointed as Australia & New Zealand regional director of Rockwell Automation, Anthony has big shoes to fill in departing MD Scott Wooldridge. Not that he’ll have to look far if he needs the odd bit of advice – Wooldridge is now the company’s regional vice-president for Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia.

Anthony, an electrical engineering major, brings experience from both the software and hardware streams of automation. With more than 24 years in the industry, he started out as customer support with Citect, before graduating to sales engineer, then account manager through to sales director. In 2006, Schneider Electric purchased Citect, which opened up new opportunities to Wong, including a five-year sojourn at the company’s headquarters in Paris, France, where he had several roles mainly in the strategy, merger and integration sectors. Just under three years ago, he decided to come home where he worked for Schneider until taking up the Rockwell Automation position in July this year.

As well as the usual challenges of the role, there are several other reasons the new job was attractive.

“What attracted to me to the role is that Rockwell Automation is one of the most respected companies in the automation space,” he said. “I have always been in the industrial automation space, and with Rockwell Automation being purely a player in that space, that was definitely one of the things that attracted me to join the company.”

He said another reason was that Rockwell Automation has moved into addressing the digital space. For him that was signalled when the company took an 8.4 per cent stake in Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality (AR) specialist PTC.

That showed Wong that there was going to be complementary technology for smart factories between two companies, which in his eyes, made for a unique value proposition.

“With my strong background in software, that was one of the things that really excited me because it meant we could really allay a lot of the concerns and challenges customers have as they move on their digital journey,” he said.

The third reason he was attracted to the opportunity was that Rockwell Automation is admired for its ecosystems – how they work with partners in Australia & New Zealand, and how they work with customers, whether that’s distributors, system integrators, OEMs, and other technology partners.

“Rockwell Automation tries not to do everything, but it is good at partnering with other companies that are best in class,” he said. “That ecosystem and going to the customer with a strong solution is also something new to me in terms of how they manage these business models that go to market.”

“There seems to be a lot of hype in the market that everyone needs to transform their whole business, and the magnitude of it sounds huge,” said Wong. “It’s a matter of just being practical about what needs to be done with plant, and companies need to prioritise.

“My vision of the future is to accelerate our offerings along with the technology of our partners,” he said. “Our brand promise is
‘Expanding Human Possibility’ – it really is about taking human intelligence and supplementing it with augmented reality with digital technologies. If you look at what we are doing with augmented, it’s almost like a heads-up display for your plant. It shows you the consequences of not taking safety seriously, without putting anybody at risk.”

Then there is the issue of finding not only enough but the right type, of people to take up the mantle that the previous, one-job-for-the-rest-of-my-life generation had. This brings its own set of problems as that generation starts retiring.

“Our industry is quite mature and there is a lot of people with 20 or 30 years’ experience who can listen to a machine and tell you whether it is sick or not,” he said. “As we start to attract younger people into our industry, they are not going to wait 30 years. They’ll be lucky to wait five. It will be the millennial economy and we need to ignite them.

“The only problem is: can we get them up to speed in terms of experience? That’s where I think the technology starts to bring in simulators – an environment almost like a flight simulator to accelerate their learning so they don’t have to wait for an actual incident to learn from.

“This is why digital twin is getting a lot of air play from a simulation point of view – to try things to see how that would work into a digital environment before you make it in a production environment. You can save a lot of money if you redesign a piece of plant in an efficient way before you start to construct it.”

At the end of the day, Wong is an optimist even as the industry is in a state of flux.

“I think a lot of it is coming together and working out what the next best step is for you and your company,” he said. “Whether it is around putting some basic infrastructure in the automation to get the data in a way that can be readily and moved up into the information space. It could be if that you’ve already got it centralised and all the data is already there. The question becomes: What is the next step to utilising that data? Is it around better Asset Utilisation, is it about predictive maintenance, is it about ways to present that data with analytics, is it about improving your OEE and downtime? Every customer will have a specifically different challenge at a different point of time.

Speed key to IoT usage

Rockwell Automation is one of the big players in the Internet of Things (IoT) space in Australia. Newly appointed regional vice president, Scott Wooldridge, talks about the IoT and why it’s important to Australia’s food processing industry.

Scott Wooldridge has spent most of his career in the automation space, and he knows that now more than ever, automation’s time has come. Over the past 40 years many factories have implemented automation in all its various forms. However, over that time, the main driver was saving on labour costs. And if companies didn’t automate, they took their manufacturing business where labour was not only abundant, but cheap.

And while automation hasn’t always worked – the Australian car industry being one example – the industrialised world is now entering a new phase, which is being headed by the IoT and Industry 4.0.

As the regional vice-president of Rockwell Automation, Wooldridge’s brief covers Australasia, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia. Rockwell Automation has always been one of the big players in the Australasian market, but now it’s time for the American-based automation giant to spread it wings into the ever-increasing lucrative market to Australia’s north. A challenge that Wooldridge, and the company, are up for.

“When it comes to our traditional controller space – motion control, PLCs, HDMI, networking – we have large market share, particularly in Australia,” he said. “Less so in the other countries in Asia Pacific. We see huge opportunities for us in these other countries when it comes to our core business. We would be the market leader in Australia and New Zealand, but we have much different competition in Asia. There, we’ve got some home-grown Asia Pacific manufacturers like Omron, Yokogawa and Mitsubishi that have grown up in the region. However, we have differentiated offers in those markets, which is very important.

“Asia is a region that we are looking at working closely with and collaborating together to be able to exchange resources and best practices across those countries. Particularly on some of our newer product solutions and offerings that are emerging quickly, we can work with agility and share those areas of expertise.”

According to Wooldridge, there is a misnomer that Asia, as a whole, is an emerging market.

“You look at China, and some people call it an emerging market, but it is the second largest in the world now. It’s definitely emerged,” he said. “We do see other markets in the region – Vietnam for example – that are coming from a low base. It is quickly developing a manufacturing base.”

He thinks quality is an issue in the food and beverage industry when it comes to products from China, which has been to Australia’s advantage. He said Australia is seen has a high-quality food bowl into China and its emerged middle class has created a huge demand.

“We can see it in wine exports for example. We can see it in the dairy products and baby powder, where they have confidence in our quality and they see Australian products as a luxury brand, which is a good thing,” he said. “That’s where we want to be positioned. We don’t want to be a mass market provider. We can tap into the top 10 per cent in China, which is still 150 million people – seven times our population and they are happy to pay a premium for a luxury brand. That is a good reputation for Australia to have.”

As well as increasing the company’s presence in Asia, Wooldridge is charged with consolidating its leadership role within Australasia. He’s sees plenty of opportunities available where Rockwell Automation can expand, especially in the IoT space. While new manufacturing and processing facilities will have automation as part of their build, it is the SMEs and companies that should refurbish that should to look at implementing the IoT products.

Some CEOs and CFOs hear the term IoT and all they can see is capital expenditure and dollar signs. While spending is necessary, there are a couple of positive outputs they should be thinking about.

Wooldridge advises against going like a bull at a gate, and replacing all the plant and machinery at once. Stakeholders should take their time when starting on the IoT journey. There are several plus sides to this. First, it allows those running the factory so see how even little implementations can save on time and other efficiencies. Second, if it is done gradually, companies can fund it via their operational budget because they are saving money on maintenance. Then there is the scenario of, “what if you don’t implement IoT strategies?”

“We suggest a five-year plan. Manufacturers will find it more expensive every year to keep the old equipment running,” said Wooldridge. “A lot of the time we speak to people and they are already spending operationally on old equipment, or old automation gear they might have running, which only does a tenth of what their equipment should do. For a start, they can divert some of that maintenance spend into the new equipment, which will have less maintenance requirement because it is new.”

He is also quick to point out that a plant manager’s expectation that the new digital manufacturing solutions will start providing insights and outcomes quickly is a fair one.

“One of the overarching premises of IoT initiatives is that applications should be quick to deploy and quick to deliver success,” he said. “There shouldn’t be a roll out of technology for technology’s sake. It should be agile technologies that you should be able to get a benefit from within three months of being installed.”

And don’t think that all older equipment needs to be replaced or is redundant, he said. Automation and IoT-enabled equipment can run in conjunction with gear already onsite.

“It is meant to run parallel with existing systems – your control system, your MES system or ERP system, traditional layer one, two, three, or four systems,” said Wooldridge. “An IoT platform should be able to pull data out of any of those systems easily, mash it together, and give you reporting and analytics quickly.”

The company works with the traditional manufacturing sectors, including oil and gas, mining and the food and beverage sectors. Wooldridge said there is good investment at the moment in adopting new technology across these segments including looking higher levels of traditional automation.

“The reason is, if you are doing a greenfield factory, quite often we hear the term ‘lights out’,” he said. “In other words, how can we get it to the point where it is so automated that it is basically running itself? I don’t think that is practical or possible for all scenarios, but I think we can get far closer. I think if you have global competition, then you need to continue to evolve and invest in automation at a local level.”

Over the next few years Rockwell expects to a step change in the IoT space and the process markets, such as the more traditional heavy process markets including oil, gas and chemical.

“We are making heavy investments in R&D and partnerships, and to Rockwell they are alike markets,” said Wooldridge. “Very close to automation and factory businesses. But they are new markets, so there is a lot of upside potential for us where we have a lot of customers that have historically used our equipment on a lot of the periphery of their processes – including food and beverage – but not at the core of it, particularly in the heavy industry space. We have ambition to the take the core, as well as protecting our factory and automation space and gaining growth in the IoT platforms space.”

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