Riding on Innovative Automation Technologies
- AjeyPhatak, Marketing Head, BeckhoffAutomation Pvt Ltd

Beckhoff Automation pioneered the PC based control technology three decades ago. Its products include automation components like Industrial PCs, Fieldbus I/O Modules, Servo Motors, Servo Drives and the all-powerful and futuristic Automation Suite –TwinCAT, says Ajey Phatak, Marketing Head, Beckhoff Automation Pvt Ltd. In an exclusive interaction with Harshal Y Desai, Phatak further reveals details about the company's presence and operations in India and the perspective of Beckhoff on the automation trends .

Beckhoff's Indian operations started in 2007 with its headquarter in Pune. Phatak says that it was a challenge then to make a place in the select club of automation players in India and still standout. Since, Beckhoff’s existence is based on 'technology foundation' and sales oriented positioning has never been its priority, the company could standout, and as Phatak claims, its presence in India is inching upwards with technology focused industries.

Leveraging Technology
"A global brand having local connect and reach is equally important to us to pass on the benefits of hi-tech automation to the industry and consumer world over. EtherCAT technology and its fast acceptance in the global automation industry demonstrate the strength of Beckhoff as a 'technology company'. It has certainly created a lasting impact in the Indian market for Beckhoff," he states.

Beckhoff has opened six branches in eight years and has witnessed double digit growth in its sales by the end of the last fiscal. The company widely caters to pharma, packaging, paper, plastics, steel, rubber and tyre, textile, renewable energy, power transmission and distribution, data acquisition, metal forming, cutting, vison automation, building automation, home automation. Phatak is of the opinion that multi industry presence with acceptanc of open automation technology has benefitted the company a lot.

Beckhoff Technology is advantageous for use in discrete manufacturing, factory automation and batch process automation industry like packaging, plastics and water, etc. Process engineering does not demand such a technology. However, IP20 Remote I/Os, IP67 compliant fieldbus box I/O Modules, Industrial PCs can find the best use in process industry. Phatak elucidates that PC Control technology with open automation platform is best suited for special purpose machine builders, testing and measurement automation, batch process automation and MES systems and other industries. Beckhoff Automation is becoming the preferred control systems where conventional control systems cannot meet the requirements. Beckhoff is achieving its targeted double digit growth year-on-year basis.

There are certainly challenges to overcome. "We envision being a fast growing leading edge Automation Technology company making our manufacturing industry customers more future ready. Obviously traditional benchmarking of the market share is a misfit," Phatak adds further.

Automation Standards
Phatak agrees that the Indian manufacturers are still reluctant to go for advanced automation solutions within their facilities - probably because automation technology is seen as 'cost centre' and not an 'investment.' The mediocre business approach weighs heavily in decision making and the limitations like in-house technical capabilities of the employees might be a few other reasons. "Automation technology can be a leveraging business strategy for visionaries; unfortunately board rooms do not discuss automation technology as a strategy," he criticises. Phatak further elaborates that the technology conscious and export focused multi location manufacturers do have the strength to reinforce their manufacturing and shop floor activity using hi-tech control systems for machine control and become more competitive in their respective markets. However, very few manufacturers have a long term vision and ambition.

"There are talks about manufacturing plant efficiency, role of automation etc in conferences and seminars; however, these topics do not come on the agenda in practice. Average Indian manufacturers are far away from using automation for its obvious benefits," he continues.

Phatak also throws light on the industries that are making the most of available automation solutions and drive technology in India and adds that discrete machine manufacturers, automotive, engineering, power industries use automation technology considerably. Process and chemical industries are automated where the process demands use of automation. However, it is not used as a standard for other auxiliary activities.

Internet of Things: Phatak expresses his views on the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) and emphasise that IoT can help companies in increasing operational, safety, and environmental performance. "IoT or Industry 4.0 certainly supplements the operational performance of manufacturing plant and bring higher efficiency. Further informed decisions by management can optimise cost of operations," he suggests.

Can SME afford Beckhoff's Solutions?
Small or mid-size plant operations are sometimes hesitant to invest in new technologies due to the cost involved. However, Phatak goes into detail and explains, affordability is linked with a vision and Indian SME industry needs a serious relook into their priorities. He further suggests them to compare how world's small and midsize companies have used technology as an investment in manufacturing for global growth. "It can give them the motivation. Case studies of Chinese and Asian SME manufacturers can bring out the facts how technology investments have paid off in long run," he adds . SMEs can certainly afford Beckhoff Automation solutions provided they clearly define their value added objectives and consider their pain areas and decide. If the product life cycle cost and value addition is considered instead of procurement cost, SME can implement hi-tech automation solutions at a justified cost.

Also, scalability of Beckhoff products for all levels of complexities makes the products affordable without compromising on value addition features. Beckhoff offers Embedded PCs and TwinCAT with full in-house software development and provides training to plant engineers to make them less dependent on service provider vendors, he states further. Phatak strongly feels that Indian industry is locked in a cost loop, and according to him, it is important to acknowledge that only value addition adds to business margins and manufacturers should invest in automation in every element of the manufacturing process. Value added proposition from automation vendors should be considered.

IT and Automation technology can catapult the profitability and the top management should make a conscious decision to implement latest automation technology as a strategy to increase profits. Beckhoff Automation technology is an open technology and gives the freedom to develop customised solutions. SME companies providing such solution services can be cost-effective and make it further affordable.

Use of technology requires skills development, training and technical support from the technology provider. Beckhoff focuses on training and technical support. It has been an influencing factor in PC based automation technology acceptance in India.