Food & beverage manufacturing is the future

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With a heritage approaching 60 years, SMC Australia is already looking to the next 60. Food & Beverage Industry News spoke to the company’s Managing Director Wayne Driver about the challenges his company will be facing.

It’s never easy saying goodbye to a good client. This year, SMC Australia is set to say goodbye to Toyota and Holden as both companies shut down their Australian manufacturing plants. At the same time, the company is seeing many of its mining clients slow down, with the buzz in this space dwindling.

For a company with six decades of experience, and subsidiaries in more than 55 countries, this changing of the tides is nothing new.

As Managing Director Wayne Driver told Food & Beverage Industry News, this shift presents an exciting opportunity to dedicate its resources at tackling challenges in the food processing industry.

“Historically, we have been strong in the mining industry but obviously with the mining boom over, the area that is growing is food and packaging,” said Driver. “We’re able to focus more energy and resources in supporting the food and packaging industry and that’s certainly an area we’re very much focused on.”

While there are a number of new innovations on the horizon, according to Driver, the Australian arm of the company will be very much at the forefront when it comes to new developments.

“SMC’s R&D centre in Japan is focused on product that is lightweight, has a much smaller footprint and is focused on energy saving along with a number of other innovations,” said Driver.

He noted that the company’s plans include the pursuit of food and packaging industry robotics; seeing more OEMs integrating robots into their machinery; setting up R&D centres in China, the US, UK and Germany; and extending its electric actuator range.

“Although historically we are a pneumatics company, over the years we have been known more for electronics, serial communications and various protocols,” he said.

“So it’s a very dynamic industry in which we operate and it’s good to have the backing of the R&D centres as well as engineers in Sydney and Auckland to be able to keep up with demands in the market place.”

Companies like SMC are very much on the frontline in terms of coping with the disruption that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will bring. When asked how it will affect SMC, Driver was upbeat.

“It is definitely the way of the future,” he said. “While some companies are focusing on the IIoT industry mainly at an academic and university level, SMC is concentrating on it at a practical level, the product level and how it can be integrated and used with our customers.”

Wayne and Peter Driver
Managing Director of SMC Australia, Wayne Driver (left) and his father, the company’s founding Managing Director, Peter Driver.

 

Another area for growth for the company is protein – the red meat and white meat areas – where, he said, “automating a number of processes from manual brings more throughput for the meat company and obviously more work for us”.

Asked whether food and beverage manufacturing will be the next mining industry, Driver said: “I think certainly mining will always be there. It’s going through a cyclical phase at the moment. There will be projects that will come online again in the future. I think the beauty of SMC is that, because we have such a diverse customer base, we’re well positioned for when the mining picks up again. We can be very responsive to that while also growing in the food packaging industry.

“Food and packaging will continue to grow, because let’s face it, we all have to eat and while Australia only has a small domestic market, the majority of OEMs in ANZ can only grow their businesses by exporting.”

Driver noted that it’s important that the company has a competitive advantage. He said innovation in ANZ is paramount, and that SMC wants to help companies be more efficient and reduce their costs and improve energy efficiency.

“I think mining will always be there and it will bounce back, but at the same time, it’s good to be in both markets,” he said.

As to whether there was one industry that currently SMC was not involved with but would like to expand into, Driver said that it’s not so much about particular markets but more about overall opportunities.

“SMC is always looking at other opportunities in the market and it’s important that if we do look at that, we weigh up what is involved before entering certain markets,” he said.

“There are some markets we will decide that are not strategically appropriate and given the company’s growth at this time, there is nothing on the immediate horizon that we are looking at expanding into. But if we do find something of interest, it will be at the appropriate time and with the right resources.”