Thought Leaders 2021: Chris Hoey
What opportunities do you predict for the growth of your industry in 2021?
2021 will be an exciting year for the process automation industry. This past 12 months we’ve seen how businesses with technology enabled strategies showed flexibility and resilience, and delivered innovative responses, through what many found to be a turbulent time. The next 12 months will distinguish even further those who adopt a resilience mentality over disaster recovery exercises. Being prepared is no longer enough, you need to be wired effectively throughout all your process areas.
Locally we’ve experienced a push towards digitisation in recent months. Fast-tracked installations by many companies, as they’ve seen how technology can support them to be more competitive at home and in the global market. Added to this the financial stimulus offered to Australian businesses and the promise of continued support for local manufacturing growth, I anticipate 2021 to be a year of opportunity for those who are ready to embrace digital connectivity.
What are the three biggest challenges or threats facing your industry in 2021?
Firstly, I fear that due to the vast uncertainty we have faced in 2020, that there may be a lack of confidence toward investment by Australian manufacturers. It won’t be good enough to try and defend our position, I believe we need to take the opportunity to meet this challenge head on: develop new products, engage new markets and develop new ideas.
Secondly, we should not forget what this pandemic has taught us. In Australia, we need to be more self-reliant, innovative and competitive. We need to use our resources and add value. Our manufacturing industry should be flexible — for growth and downturn, or new innovative product production to meet demand. Remote access and maintenance through new technologies offers greater control and analytics, 24/7 providing peace of mind and industry edge over more manual workplaces.
Finally, the threat of fallout from our largest trading partner cannot be ignored. For me, this proves the need to implement the points I mentioned above. We need to generate new markets and most importantly, add value to our plentiful resources with our plentiful (hopefully better-priced) energy.
What impacts has the COVID-19 global pandemic had on your industry, and how does this affect your business strategies for 2021?
Those within our industry who adapted quickly from the beginning I think have fared well. In embracing digital communication tools, staying connected with customers and continuing to provide essential equipment to essential services, has enabled us to continue our high level of service and high-quality product to existing, evolving and new clients. What we implemented will now remain part of Bürkert in the future, further cementing our innovative nature.
Many of our customers have learnt that things can happen beyond their control and the “status-quo” can change fast. Those who have flourished have been able to pivot. Those who will continue to grow and succeed will not stand still — they’ll continue to innovate, evolve and adapt where necessary to keep ahead of their competition and their market needs. That’s the key difference.
Our 2021 strategy is to continue to innovate. Digital technology, like connectivity, diagnostics, asset management, simplification and speed in project delivery will set us apart in the industry. We’re on board here to support Australian manufacturing where needed; it’s imperative to be working at the same pace as these industry leaders, so that’s what we’re going to do.
What sustainability strategies will be at the forefront for your business in 2021?
Globally and locally Bürkert has firm policies to support short- and long-term sustainability. Through continued support of our customers to implement better, more efficient equipment and process architecture.
Swimming in front of this wave is hard work, riding it would be ideal. I fear however that Australian Government is swimming behind it, which is equally as hard, and we risk not being able to catch up. In the meantime, we will continue to support our customers to implement better and more efficient projects and hope that once again, business leads government in implementing a sustainable future.
Bürkert has been at the forefront of product development in aligning sustainable production value through smart management of raw materials all the way to end user energy efficient processes. We achieve this by an integrated approach with all our new product developments. With this, we can provide a more resilient and flexible range of products for the market, that they can be assured have been produced to the highest standards, resulting in less waste impacting the environment and positively affecting the end user’s bottom line in using energy efficient, cost saving equipment.
How is your industry preparing for artificial intelligence (Al) developments and/or advanced manufacturing?
AI functionality is already here; however, you cannot generate real value from it until you have the data to empower it. This is not coming from more powerful PLCs, Edge devices or better communication networks. Whilst these all play their part, the real power is from smarter sensors and final control elements in the field. This is where the IT touches the real world. This is therefore where the most value is created.
At Bürkert, we are at the forefront of digital connectivity with a wide range of smart valves, sensors and network devices that provide advanced diagnostics and asset management. These field devices are ready for direct connection to data acquisition and AI systems via cyclic or acyclic data streams.
There is a long way to go for many customers to start implementing AI and deriving value from it, but one thing is for sure, there is no better time to start. Implementing IIOT-ready field devices in today’s projects ensures industry is ready for that next step in intelligence control.
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