2022 Thought Leaders: Stephen Armstrong  

Pacific Automation

Thursday, 13 January, 2022

2022 Thought Leaders: Stephen Armstrong  

What opportunities do you predict for the growth of your industry in 2022?

Our industry is industry. As things pick back up across Australia, we’re already seeing a growing demand for intelligent solutions. Our customers are recognising the benefits of technology that upgrades and expands plant and facility capabilities. Across mining and oil and gas — two of our major sectors — there are some significant opportunities ahead for operators to increase efficiency and improve performance. Brownfields projects for upgrades and expansions are areas we’re heavily invested in. What we’re seeing is an increasing movement away from obsolescence. Industry is moving toward solutions that last longer, that offer more value and address more challenges over their lifetime. By using modular technology that integrates with their existing systems, companies can extend the life of equipment.

What are your thoughts about remote working technologies, mandating vaccines and supporting staff?

Adapting to remote working was challenging initially. Being a traditional business model, we did struggle in the beginning to keep our teams engaged across closed borders. I personally found great value in connecting with my team through regular one-on-one calls. We’ve also made significant investments in technology and training, and this has allowed us to keep open lines of communication with our customers. As a company, we’ve always had a huge focus on supporting our people. We’re a family business. We value the community atmosphere that our people create both at work and outside. Flexibility is a given — we don’t compromise on family time: it’s in our core values. We’ve had the overwhelming majority of our staff actively pursue voluntary vaccination ahead of any required mandates. It’s fantastic that most of our team has made that decision, and I praise them for it.

Is your company working on decarbonisation strategies or net-zero goals to mitigate the effects of climate change in 2022?

Since the start of the year, we’ve been working with an Australian Government initiative to roadmap our individual journey toward net zero. It’s a great program, and one that provides us with access to industry networks and expert resources to help us along our journey. This will assess all aspects of our business. We’re currently in the process of calculating our carbon footprint, auditing our supply chain and starting to apply low-carbon solutions across our logistics. Ultimately, we’re aiming toward a full-scale decarbonisation strategy and compliance in line with net zero. We also want to be responsive to changing concerns and demands from our customers. That way, when targets and restrictions do start to affect industry, we’ll be able to clearly showcase our low-carbon technologies on offer, and help move our customers toward a lower footprint, having done it ourselves.

How is your industry preparing for artificial intelligence developments and advanced manufacturing?

It’s safe to say that the majority of our customers have not yet started to utilise advanced tech. However, we’re seeing great interest around AI and advanced manufacturing. Operators are starting to upgrade infrastructure and install next-generation communication devices, and are reconsidering key processes in readiness to integrate advanced technology. Example requests include migrating toward 5G networks and installing satellite communication infrastructure suitable for fleet automation. With regards to advanced manufacturing, the uptake of visual recognition systems and RFID equipment is providing a real clarity of vision for operators, through bringing data directly into their control rooms. This emerging trend is one we’ve been responding to for a few years. Over the last decade, we’ve made conscious steps to partner with brand manufacturers that enhance our industrial IoT capabilities. We’ve made sure our technical support team is fully trained and able to support this technology.

What are the potential challenges and outlook for the electrification of your industry?

A significant challenge ahead for industrial electrification exists around the unproven nature of much electrical equipment suitable for industry. That field data will come as adoption increases, but for now there are still questions around reliability and suitability. Challenges are amplified for smaller companies. As an example, mining operators with small haul truck fleets may not find the same value in a movement toward electrification and automation. Our challenge as service providers is helping our customers prepare for the future of industrial electrification, but at their own pace. Starting on the journey and preparation early will place operators in good stead for the challenges ahead. Electrical costs must continue to decrease significantly before companies can make a complete switch to industrial electrification. As renewables grow over the coming decades, lower electricity prices combined with advances in technology will make industrial electric equipment more attractive and attainable for industry.

Stephen Armstrong is the CEO of Pacific Automation, an industrial automation and electrical solutions provider. He previously held the role of General Manager and has a technical background as an electrical fitter. Stephen holds a BCom in Management and Marketing from Curtin University.

Originally published here.

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