Unexpected plant shutdowns often result in serious productivity loss, expensive downtime and high costs of repair and replacement. Low staff engagement can have a similar effect – lessening your workforce’s voluntary effort, reducing levels of collaboration and sometimes causing staff to actively undermine the business.
Fortunately however, a single solution exists that can help to cover against both issues, and much more. Industrial communication network technology such as PROFIBUS and PROFINET ensures the chances of shutdowns are far lower by making preventative maintenance a reality.
At the same time it allows a business to reduce input costs and increase output quality, to ramp up productivity and better understand (and therefore plan for) business growth and changes in strategy and, most powerfully, it attracts talent into the business. After all, a state-of-the-art plant provides exciting opportunities for graduates and engineers who are looking to the future for career advancement and inspired innovation.
“The younger generation of engineers grew up with this digital technology in every part of their lives. They want it, they need it and they understand it,” says Fritz Woller, Executive Officer Engineering with IS Systems. “They are used to having all of the relevant information in one place and in a digital form.”
“We once had instrumentation technicians, but they no longer exist in a lot of plants. They are no longer relevant because you can now have access to your instruments and your assets from anywhere. Asset management can be centralized and you can have access to all diagnostics from the comfort of your office.”
A modern, hi-tech workplace is one in which people can work on the business rather than in it. They confidently control their domain rather than struggling to manage it. Staff are extended and advanced to new levels of knowledge, particularly through certified training courses such as those provided by PROFIBUS and PROFINET Australia.
Plants that are introducing digital management technologies, and training their people to perform in the new, data-rich environment that it creates, are discovering entirely new and unexpected advantages over their competitors.
“The relevance of what this industry is doing and what it is capable of, and the influence that it has on new megatrends, is very exciting,” says Rafael Koenig, Managing Director of Weidmuller and Chairman, PI Australia.
“There are a number of things that are vital in today’s competitive market. First of all it is the input and output of your production, but it is also about the health of your equipment, so the predictive maintenance offered to you by a digital network is very important. Networks are becoming one of the most important assets of a lot of companies, and those networks are inspiring the people who work in those businesses.”
Small steps are vital, Koenig says, rather than attempting an entire plant makeover or, at the other end of the spectrum, taking a wait-and-see approach as your competitors increase performance through digitization. Begin with a small part of your plant, perhaps one that is not running efficiently, and work with a supplier to implement a network in order to solve a specific issue as well as experience a taste of the benefits that it offers a business.
At the same time, bring staff on board through certified training courses, mentoring programs (upwards as well as downwards) and through industry association membership that can lead to networking opportunities. As a business transitions gradually, powerfully and safely into the data-rich environment of Industry 4.0, its staff will likely be engaged in the journey and excited by the many opportunities on offer.
“I would rather work on something that is state-of-the-art and be able to apply what I have learned in a certified training course than work with legacy equipment as industry moves on,” Koenig says. “Along the same lines, I’d rather work with a computer than a sledgehammer. It means you’re moving towards the future and away from the past, and that is exciting.”