When people think of VEGA, they look at it as the BMW of instrumentation – quality, but at a price. But VEGA can also develop Hyundai’s. We also develop ranges that are cost-effective, entry level products.”
So said John Leadbetter, senior managing director of VEGA Australia, when talking about the VEGAPOINT range of point level switches aimed at the food and beverage markets. VEGA has a reputation as a producer of high-quality instrumentation, so for one of its products to have a starting price of $240 is not what some would expect, but there are several reasons for this according to Leadbetter.
“When we surveyed our customers, when they think of VEGA, they look at us as a higher end manufacturer of instrumentation,” he said. “However, we also develop ranges that are cost-effective, entry level products.
“The other thing that we are mindful of is that the Asian market is developing products at 1/10th of the price of the US and European markets.
“That is why when we sat down three years ago to develop new products, we decided to aim them at the cost-conscious industry. And the food and beverage industry is cost conscious and one we didn’t have a big presence in. We needed to change that.”
Even Leadbetter’s own sales team asked him how VEGA could make a product so cheaply.
“I said, ‘go back to the year 2000, how much did you pay for a television?’,” he said. “Back then big plasmas and LEDs could be up $15,000. Today, you’d pay less than $1,000. The more we get advanced the cheaper the product becomes.
“When we look at a lot of products these days, like a mobile phone, the technologies get better and better. The prices come down because of the competitive nature of those things. It is a natural progression. I won’t say we were tunnel visioned, but we were caught up in part of the market that we do very well in. We kept walking past other markets and wishing we had something for that. Now we have. What it has done for us around the world, it has given our guys a new lease of life, because we now have new customers to visit.”
However, just because something is cost effective does not mean build has been compromised. Leadbetter knows that even though VEGA is aiming its products at a new market, quality is still king.
“The VEGAPOINT’s body is 316 stainless steel,” he said. “When you look at it, you see VEGA quality. We’re not talking about something that weighs 50g, we are talking about a decent amount of weight because of the metal in there.”
One of the industries that VEGA is targeting within food and beverage is microbreweries, an industry that has ramped up its footprint in the beverage space over the past decade.
VEGAPOINT’s key feature is to see through the viscosity and grime that can cover a switch when it is in a vat, to give process managers accurate information when it is needed, such as the level of product – something that microbreweries would know all about. Leadbetter illustrates how it works.
“I’ll use the example of honey,” said Leadbetter. “When you dip something in honey and you pull it back out there is a coating of honey on it. The way these switches work traditionally is you put it in, it switches, then you pull it out but it remains switched because the front of the switch is covered in honey residue. As far as it is concerned it is still immersed in the honey. With VEGAPOINT, we have given it a feature where you can push another button on your iPad and say, ‘that is called build-up’ and once it churns that out, your switch goes back to off again.
“In a real life situation, when you are dealing with sticky or adhesive type products, build-up on the face of your probe is a natural occurrence. We can take away that annoying switch problem that most switch probes have.”
Another feature of these switches is that they have I/O link capability, which is important when it comes to process workers wanting to communicate with the device.
“The I/O link is giving them information constantly so their system’s re-evaluating and monitoring, everything,” said Leadbetter. “It’ll give information like, ‘ok, bin 101 looks like it has a deterioration in performance,’ or, ‘looks like we have more build up in that product than we normally have. Do we have a blend mixture problem?’
“A plant manager can access the information via their mobile phone. They can look at the performance, change the settings without ever interrupting the cycle. I didn’t think five years ago I’d be programming something with a mobile phone. What we have done is taken the simplistic, overcome a problem, and made it futuristic.”
Customer reaction has been great, said Leadbetter, but there has been an issue outside the control of VEGA – something that is affecting most businesses.
“Feedback has been brilliant. However, we released it in late January and early February. We sent demonstration back packs to all the sales reps around the world, which had the VEGAPOINT with batteries and all the other gear to show customers. Then, on the March 13 the world shut down, so we were fighting COVID,” he said.
Like a lot of companies, a little bit of a lateral thinking has gone a long way. Early on, when COVID-19 first hit, the VEGA team came up with the VEGAPOINT challenge, whereby the company’s sales reps around the world were challenged to upload a one-minute video on LinkedIn that showed an array of applications for the device.
“With restrictions, they were not able to go to different sites, so a lot of it has been done on the kitchen table or bathroom or laundry or whatever,” said Leadbetter. “What this exercise highlighted was that we’ve got a little bit of sleeping giant with this product.”
As well as having FDA approval, there are also a lot of adaptors that can be fitted to the device so they can be used in a variety of applications within the food and beverage industry. Leadbetter said the VEGA team is looking forward to offering problem-solving solutions to the food and beverage industry.
“At the end of the day, we were saying to people that they were wanting to get rid of a certain problem, but they don’t want to spend $5,000 doing it,” he said. “Now they have something that is $240, that with a little bit of self-tuning, you have got rid of any annoying issue.”