Building the innards to the cabinets that control automation processes are the lifeblood of Weidmuller, a company that was founded in Germany in 1850.
The Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 are starting to become mainstream manufacturing technology trends that are being implemented within the food processing industry – something that Weidmuller is well placed to take advantage of due to its expertise in the arena. The company has three divisions. There is the aforementioned cabinet products, then there is device and field connectivity, as well as automation products and solutions. All three have relevance in the food sector, especially the latter where automation has had impacts on productivity and other efficiencies.
Rafael Koenig is the managing director of Weidmuller Australia and has extensive knowledge of automation, connectivity and electronics within a variety of industrial applications including food and beverage. He said having knowledge is one thing, but building partnerships is just as important.
“In today’s technical world it is not just enough to sell components,” said Koenig. “We try more to partner up with customers. We want to give them the value-add component of our business. They want the product, but it has to be fit for purpose. We have many areas that we are looking to build. One is comprehensiveness of the connectivity program, which spans the portfolio by starting with the different types of DIN terminal blocks. You’ve got the spring cage, you’ve got the traditional screw cage, and now the push-in blocks series.
“Then we have the components and stainless-steel cabinets that are designed for the food industry,” he said. “The beauty of automation is that it has broad applications that you can adapt products and solutions into any type of factory setting. Most of our components are not specifically designed for food. They are designed for automation, but can be used in many industries including food.”
Most manufacturing and processing enterprises are coming onboard with the digitalisation that is taking place in the industrial sector. Weidmuller is one company that sees itself as part of the equation, not just in terms of hardware, but also the important, peripheral non-tangible aspects of the technology, which helps companies with the maintenance aspect of their business.
“We have this automation and digitalisation side of the business – and then there is management of data and data analytics,” said Koenig. “For example, we have a highly regarded department for analytics that we use to optimise manufacturing processes. We manage to collect data, then analyse and interpret that data with some complex formula and algorithms to make sure we go towards predictive maintenance rather than preventative or scheduled maintenance.
“Then there is product development, or solution development, which is a lot more about self than it is about the products,” said Koenig. “You will find that a lot of products from different vendors are very similar. So, I think, ‘who can you partner up with who has the specific knowledge of that industry to develop your solution and really fit in that industry?’ This is why I think partnerships are an important part of doing business.
“We currently have a joint venture with a WA company that is probably one of the market leaders globally in the power substation communications. We like what they are doing and the way I want them to use my product is to make sure that the right software is being used. I see this as an offering to the market that is beyond the product. If you want to be in the market and exist in five years’ time you must have something that others don’t. The differentiator these days is the intelligence offering and the way you solve the customer’s problems – not, ‘how good is your component or product compared to the others’.
“One of the things that we are trying to develop is a cloud solution specific to what the customer wants. Some use different clouds. You have the common cloud, Microsoft cloud, Amazon cloud and others. Really, the trick is to have the connectivity you need.”
Along with that connectivity comes communication, according to Koenig, which is also an important component of digitisation. However, along with these aspects of automation, comes security risk. Something that Koenig knows needs addressing.
“Security is one of the big issues at the moment. You have to look at it from both sides,” he said. “One of the keys to being successful in the utilisation of digitialisation in Industry 4.0 is standardising the communication. What that also means is that you should use common communication tools so that your office will only have a residual security risk. The question is how you deal with the issue of security. There is no one-type-fits-all solution.”
There are not a lot of companies that have an individual solution for every company, or can come up with a complete security solution. When it comes to a security solution, Koenig believes it is necessary to have multi layers of protection – and that includes physical protection as well as firewalls.
With that in mind, Weidmuller knows there is strength in numbers and doesn’t only believe in partnering with its clients, but with the bigger players in the market, too.
“We are constantly developing problem-solving competency which I am really proud of,” he said. “I mean, in the big scheme of things we are a relatively small player. However, if you see the German market, where one company has about 85 per cent of the share in control systems, the strength of the industry at large comes from collaborating with German “Mittelstand”, small to medium-sized companies that are technology leaders in their field. Our desire as a company is to be independent. So, we offer solutions that work in tune with those of the big players. The openness of our systems is what is really important to us.”
With automation ramping up in the manufacturing sector, connectivity is going to be an important part of the equation over the next decade. Koenig believes that Weidmuller is one company that can not only provide the products to help run plant and machinery, but has the expertise to give the best advice possible.
Apart from the connectivity solutions, Weidmuller has in recent years vastly expanded its Automation Technology portfolio and has identified digitalisation as a critical strategic area.
“The future direction of companies like Weidmuller will see a significant build up in expertise for digitalisation, communication technologies as well as software capabilities,” said Koenig. “Our activities in industrial analytics is one example that demonstrates the progress of our business towards becoming a technology partner not just for connectivity.
“Our strong relationship and proximity to our customers is key to our success in Australia and we take particular pride in the quality of the distribution partner network we are part of. This network allows us to work shoulder to shoulder with other leading global brands.
“We see our role in supporting our channel partners through our Weidmuller experts and together with them make our customer more competitive in a world that sees massive changes in our industry.”