Motion Control Roundtable 2016
Motion control leaders discuss the industry’s outlook, market trends and how to implement an IIOT strategy.
DE: According to the Motion Control & Motor Association, 2014 was a record year for the industry while 2015 saw a small contraction globally. From your perspective, how is 2016 shaping up?
Joe Ottenhof, General Manager, Beckhoff Automation Canada: In 2015, Beckhoff had a very robust year globally, clocking in at 22% year-over year growth, which was unexpected. A lot of that business was generated by sales in motion control products. Nationally, we were flat in Canada in 2015, but 2016 is shaping up to be a very good year. We expect the company, both domestically and globally, to grow well into the double digit percentage range. In Canada, that growth has largely been driven by factory projects rather than by machine builder OEMs, and thus end users have been keeping us especially busy. This is particularly so in the automotive sector, which is very contract driven. People say Canadian manufacturing hasn’t seen the benefit of the strong Canadian dollar, yet we’ve seen robust growth year-to-date through July and anticipate a strong second half.
Mike Chen, Engineering Manager, Omron Americas: In the Americas, Omron’s sales went up in 2015, when you specifically look at servos and drives, even though the global market may have contracted slightly. Overall, it’s a bit of a difficult market still in 2016, but we are hoping to see another sales increase for servos and drives, especially factoring in the new servo we debuted this summer. We would credit our increases to the investments we’ve made in people. We’ve been hiring specifically for motion and drives for a while to boost the sales teams’ effectiveness around these products.
Anthony Morielli, Regional Manager – Ontario, Bosch Rexroth Canada: Actually, 2015 was an exceptionally strong growth year for us, mainly due to the automotive sector coming back and the low Canadian dollar. In 2016, we’re seeing moderate growth for the same reasons. It’s enough to off-set the declines we’re seeing in the oil and gas and mining sectors. For the remainder of the year, we’re cautiously optimistic with growth being potentially limited by geo-political issues and the macro-economic environment.
Doug Newton, VP of Marketing, Advanced Motion and Control: We’re just finishing up our fiscal year, and were pleased with the results. Heading into our next fiscal year, we do see potential for growth, new products launches from our vendor base will allow us to take advantage of those potential new opportunities.
DE: Which factor(s) (e.g. performance, cost, efficiency, future-proof tech, or something else) are top most in your customers’ minds lately as opposed to five years ago?
Ottenhof – Beckhoff: Five years ago, our business model leveraged price as an entry point against overwhelming competition. Today, customers want innovative technology, but they don’t want to pay a lot for it. Our business model now promotes our company as embracing great technology, but in a very value-centric way. Cost is always going to be a consideration, but it is no longer the entire basis for product selection. That’s a sweet spot for us. Bottom line: The whole Industry 4.0 concept is becoming more important to customers. They’re not happy with getting just a bare-bones control system. The IIoT concept is an integral part of their mindset now and, increasingly, represents a determining factor in their technology decisions.
Chen – Omron: We mainly focus on automotive, food and beverage packaging, and digital/semi. In those markets, we’re seeing an increased priority toward data and intelligence. People are getting interested in figuring out what they can do with the data they already have, specifically around preventative maintenance measures so they don’t lose any uptime. A lot of customers are also asking about diagnostics and how to implement it: Should they centralize troubleshooting or distribute it; should they run a database or should they log diagnostics locally? We have seen that as a trend.
Morielli – Bosch: I’ve been in the automation business for more than 20 years and customers have consistently asked for innovative technologies, cost reduction and faster lead times. Now that Canadian OEMs are competing in a global marketplace, these factors have become more important than ever; every year the bar is being raised higher. One key difference is that it seems like everyone is running leaner and customers are becoming increasingly dependent on suppliers to provide value-added services and support.
Newton – Advanced Motion: All of those factors have been important although people do want to build a better mousetrap. For customers five years ago, price may have been the driving factor. Today, cost is still important although now performance and quality are also top of mind. Speed is a key factor in that, improving the throughput on their machines. Also, there is a great deal of R&D being done by our vendors to develop more energy efficient components.
DE: To what extent is your company becoming a service-oriented “solutions” engineering business in addition to a component-oriented business?
Ottenhof – Beckhoff: Increasingly, customers need their technology supplier to also serve as an engineering services provider. This is an observation on our part, certainly, but there is a reason for it. Our customers have indicated that they are often reluctant to deal with technologies that are outside their area of expertise. It’s much like your car; 25 years ago, if your car didn’t work, you could fix it yourself. Today, nobody services their own car, given the high level of technological advancement. Often, with control systems, customers say that they don’t have time to keep up with trends and changes in technology. They need their technology supplier to be their eyes and ears for what’s happening with technology, but also be able to apply it for them. For us, it’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of our business, not by design, but because of the growing complexity of the solutions we provide.
Chen – Omron: Given the number of component-level providers out there, especially from the emerging markets with very low-cost components, the only way larger companies stay competitive is by leveraging their size as a full-on solution provider. With Omron, our breadth of product is fairly substantial; everything from relays and limit switches all the way to motion control and robotics with the acquisition of Adept and Delta Tau. Beyond that, our customers want to know how we can help them put it all together. Customers are used to cherry picking brands A, B, C and D for each component. What we are doing is making sure we embed value-added features into our technology so that our products work best with each other and we can also sell them together as a full-on solution.
Morielli – Bosch: We’ve been in the Canadian market since the 1960s and our approach has always been to provide value added services rather than just pushing product. Traditionally, we’ve assisted with mechanical/electrical design, control architecture design, and software development, to name a few. But some of the newer services we’re starting to offer include things like pre-engineered solutions. For example, we now provide simulation software services for designing virtual machines. With the software, you can test the entire machine for the dynamics and energy requirements, and interface with the controller as well. Another area is pre-engineered system configurators that allow customers to design complete systems, such as hydraulic power units or Cartesian pick and place handling systems. In the past, that might have taken hours or days, but now it just takes a few minutes.
Newton – Advanced Motion: We’ve been doing it for many years, our organization has a strong technical engineering core and value-added service is very important. As much as we sell components, we also hear from our customer base that they value our ability to package a solution to save them time and effort. Everyone is looking for efficiency in keeping the lead-times competitive. So we do offer and promote value-added resources to leverage the vendor product that we represent.
DE: For OEMs looking to integrate Industry 4.0 / IIOT technology into their systems, where is a logical place to start?
Ottenhof – Beckhoff: Industry 4.0 is all about data and connectivity, so you need a clearly defined data challenge that you want to solve. A lot of people have this vague idea that they need to connect things together, but there’s no point having implementing enhanced connectivity if you don’t know what you want to do with it. The second thing you need to establish is that if the challenge can be solved, would it lead to substantial business gains? That’s the only way you’re going to generate the necessary energy and tenacity to make the changes needed, as they are often cultural as well as financial. Number three is that top management must understand the challenge and realize it comes with an opportunity. Then they need to accept that this isn’t a task, but an opportunity that needs to be supported accordingly. Number four is to select a partner that understands the issues you’re facing. Partnering with a company that has been there many times, and that understands what you are trying to accomplish, will streamline this venture and prevent a lot of headaches. As a bonus point, stick to mainstream, IT standard technologies, rather than something proprietary; getting a win under your belt breeds confidence, and it’s a great way to begin changing the culture of a company and drive positive change.
Chen – Omron: When customers ask us that, our first question is what are you trying to measure? Are they trying to measure downtime/uptime, reject rates, etc. Once we have that, then we can recommend what data will allow them to attach a metric and how to measure it. From there, it becomes a question of who controls the data; are you an OEM who gets to choose how this data is supplied to the end user, or are you an end user who already has an established infrastructure? Omron has come up with products that allow data to be passed from controls technology all the way up to the enterprise level systems, which bypasses many points of failure in software or PC-based systems.
Morielli – Bosch: A key aspect of Industry 4.0 is related to big data and analytics. OEMs really need to understand their customers’ business objectives to determine how to most effectively use the data. One area that should be very attractive is the idea of predictive maintenance. Traditionally, we’ve had reactive maintenance, which can be costly due to unplanned downtime, and preventative, which can increase costs because you’re replacing components more often. With predictive, we can determine the optimal time to service a machine by predicting failures before they occur. Along the same lines, collecting machine data can help customers improve quality, boost productivity or reduce waste.
Most process monitoring systems are based on a binary view, where quality is either good or bad. By collecting process data and applying analytics, you can look at trends in quality over time and react before a quality issue occurs. In both these cases, the data collecting technology can be applied to new machines and retrofitted onto existing machines in the field.
Newton – Advanced Motion: As a distributor, we leverage what our supplier base is developing and eventually will bring to market; in essence, they will be leading the way for us. At the centre of this will be sensor technology and the ability for feedback within a given framework, with the goal that end users will have visibility into all aspects of their production processes. It will be interesting to see how North America takes to this concept, you’re either on the bus or off it and if you’re off, you might have a problem in five years.