CEO Insights 2019: Chris Hoey, Bürkert Australia
What key trends do you predict will have an impact on the growth of your industry in 2019?
Much of the industry is hoping that intelligent manufacturing will drive growth; however, we need to have innovative manufacturing first. We have seen an increase in activity levels in Australian manufacturing in recent years, as we seek to carve a unique market where we are globally competitive. To maintain this level of activity, the industry sector has been encouraged to “innovate or perish”. The companies that embrace technology in a customer-centric way will be the survivors in this new economy. Strong manufacturing growth will deliver strong automation industry growth.
We may also see mining investment returning, as they too must remain competitive and up to date with the latest technologies. Whilst I don’t see this becoming as strong as the boom years, I predict a slow but sustainable progress in technology implementation in this area.
How is your industry preparing for advanced manufacturing capabilities?
With all the hype of the Internet of Things, it is a great time to be in the market of the ‘Things’. Over the last five years or so, we have seen companies launching products and software designed for the smart factory. During this same period, work was underway to improve standards and new communication protocols in order to connect the puzzle pieces into workable systems. 2019 will see many implementation trials assessing how (or if) these tools will create tangible value.
I hope these trials will release the hype bubble so we can then focus on applying appropriate technologies. When I say appropriate technologies, I refer to the use of new technologies to create value. Not only for those implementing, but their customers and suppliers as well. It is this value chain concept that should be our long-term vision.
How is your industry preparing for technology developments such as artificial intelligence (AI)?
It is great that AI poses no risk to the automation industry, which cannot be said for many others. The output of any system using AI will be naturally limited to the amount of data it can process via its computing algorithms, as well as how fast it can develop that data into valuable information and instructions. In this industry, that equates to technology-enhanced sensors and final control elements. If AI is driven by quality information, I see a strong move towards choosing superior equipment and reliable suppliers, as buyers’ decisions will be based more heavily on life-cycle costs. Ask yourself: where would be the value in having predictive maintenance telling you the same valve will fail again? This will still bring your process to a halt and in turn cost you money.
I hear that there will be so much data, we will have no choice but to use AI eventually. As an example, one smart modulating valve could generate as much as three terabytes of data per year, and your site might have a hundred of them. But what data makes sense to read, analyse and store and how often? These questions will first sit with the engineers commissioning the systems. In time such decisions will become commonplace, and perhaps even be pre-empted in the diagnostic software. This will be a learning process for us all in the coming years.
What is your industry doing to attract, upskill and retain talent?
We are currently in a period of extreme workforce transition. It’s predicted in 2020, just two years from now, globally 50% of the workforce will be millennials, responsible for one in every three dollars spent. At the same time we are seeing the mass retirement of the baby boomers, which is changing many of the senior positions and opening organisations to a fresh way of thinking.
These two factors combined make a strong statement that we must start to proactively embrace this movement, and seek to address the latest industry needs with the newly graduated technology experts, who will be integral to future product and solution development.
Our industry is finally defined as ‘operational technology’ (OT); however, we’re immediately being merged into information technology (IT). Along with the trend towards smart factories, IIoT/i4.0 and AI, I don’t see this direction slowing. The industry should embrace this change instead of fighting against it.
In response, Bürkert’s looking to enhance the engineering teams by employing young and innovative staff who are educated in computer science, networking and information systems and who are engaged and excited by this new landscape.
Those businesses left hanging onto old ideas, or seeking minimal disruption at the management level, will eventually fall short and drift to irrelevance in their market segments. The companies that embrace change, bringing young innovators onboard with fresh ideas, will be securing a foundation of success moving forward.
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