New Rockwell Automation regional vp looks to spread wings in Asia

Scott Wooldridge has spent most of his career in the automation space, and he knows that now more than ever, automation’s time has come. Over the past 40 years many factories have implemented automation in all its various forms. However, over that time, the main driver was saving on labour costs. And if companies didn’t automate, they took their manufacturing business where labour was not only abundant, but cheap.

And while automation hasn’t always worked – the Australian car industry being one example – the industrialised world is now entering a new phase, which is being headed by the IoT and Industry 4.0.

As the regional vice-president of Rockwell Automation, Wooldridge’s brief covers Australasia, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia. Rockwell Automation has always been one of the big players in the Australasian market, but now it’s time for the American-based automation giant to spread it wings into the ever-increasing lucrative market to Australia’s north. This is a challenge that Wooldridge, and the company, are up for.

“When it comes to our traditional controller space – motion control, PLCs, HDMI, networking – we have large market share, particularly in Australia,” he said. “Less so in the other countries in Asia Pacific. We see huge opportunities for us in these other countries when it comes to our core business. We would be the market leader in Australia and New Zealand, but we have much different competition in Asia. There, we’ve got some home-grown Asia Pacific manufacturers like Omron, Yokogawa and Mitsubishi that have grown up in the region. However, we have differentiated offers in those markets, which is very important.

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“Asia is a region that we are looking at working closely with and collaborating together to be able to exchange resources and best practices across those countries. Particularly on some of our newer product solutions and offerings that are emerging quickly, we can work with agility and share those areas of expertise.”

According to Wooldridge, there is a misnomer that Asia, as a whole, is an emerging market.
“You look at China, and some people call it an emerging market, but it is the second largest in the world now. It’s definitely emerged,” he said. “We do see other markets in the region – Vietnam for example – that are coming from a low base. It is quickly developing a manufacturing base.”

He thinks quality is an issue in the food and beverage industry when it comes to products from China, which has been to Australia’s advantage. He said Australia is seen as a high-quality food bowl into China and its emerged middle class has created a huge demand.
“We can see it in wine exports, for example. We can see it in the dairy products and baby powder, where they have confidence in our quality and they see Australian products as a luxury brand, which is a good thing,” he said. “That’s where we want to be positioned. We don’t want to be a mass market provider. We can tap into the top 10 per cent in China, which is still 150 million people – seven times our population and they are happy to pay a premium for a luxury brand. That is a good reputation for Australia to have.”

As well as increasing the company’s presence in Asia, Wooldridge is charged with consolidating its leadership role within Australasia. He’s sees plenty of opportunities available where Rockwell Automation can expand, especially in the IoT space. While new manufacturing and processing facilities will have automation as part of their build, it is the SMEs and companies that should refurbish that should to look at implementing the IoT products.

Some CEOs and CFOs may think of the IoT as an unnecessary capital expenditure cost. While spending is necessary, there are a couple of positive outputs they should be thinking about, said Wooldridge.

He advises against going like a bull at a gate, and replacing all the plant and machinery at once. Stakeholders should take their time when starting on the IoT journey. There are several plus sides to this. First, it allows those running the factory to see how even little implementations can save on time and other efficiencies. Second, if it is done gradually, companies can fund it via their operational budget because they are saving money on maintenance. Then, there is the scenario of, “what if you don’t implement IoT strategies?”

“We suggest having a five-year plan. Manufacturers will find it more expensive every year to keep the old equipment running,” said Wooldridge. “A lot of the time, we speak to people and they are already spending operationally on old equipment, or old automation gear they might have running, which only does a tenth of what their equipment should do. For a start, they can divert some of that maintenance spend into the new equipment, which will have less maintenance requirement because it is new.”

He is also quick to point out that a plant manager’s expectation that the new digital manufacturing solutions will start providing insights and outcomes quickly is a fair one.

“One of the overarching premises of IoT initiatives is that applications should be quick to deploy and deliver success,” he said. “There shouldn’t be a roll out of technology for technology’s sake. It should be agile technologies that you should be able to get a benefit from within three months of being installed.”

And don’t think that all older equipment needs to be replaced or is redundant, he said. Automation and IoT-enabled equipment can run in conjunction with gear already onsite.

“It is meant to run parallel with existing systems – your control system, your MES system or ERP system, traditional layer one, two, three, or four systems,” said Wooldridge. “An IoT platform should be able to pull data out of any of those systems easily, mash it together, and give you reporting and analytics quickly.”

The company works with the traditional manufacturing sectors, including oil and gas, mining and the food and beverage sectors. Wooldridge said there is good investment at the moment in adopting new technology across these segments including looking at higher levels of traditional automation.

“The reason is, if you are doing a greenfield factory, quite often we hear the term ‘lights out’,” he said. “In other words, how can we get it to the point where it is so automated that it is basically running itself? I don’t think that is practical or possible for all scenarios, but I think we can get far closer. I think if you have global competition, then you need to continue to evolve and invest in automation at a local level.”

Over the next few years, Rockwell expects to a step change in the IoT space and the process markets, such as the more traditional heavy process markets including oil, gas and chemical.

“We are making heavy investments in R&D and partnerships, and to Rockwell these markets are alike,” said Wooldridge. “Very close to automation and factory businesses. But they are new markets, so there is a lot of upside potential for us where we have a lot of customers that have historically used our equipment on a lot of the periphery of their processes – including food and beverage – but not at the core of it, particularly in the heavy industry space. We have ambition to the take the core, as well as protecting our factory and automation space and gaining growth in the IoT platforms space.”