2020 CEO Insights: Tim Keech

SMC Australia | New Zealand

Tuesday, 04 February, 2020

2020 CEO Insights: Tim Keech

What key trends will have an impact on the growth of your industry in 2020?

The implementation of Industry 4.0 in manufacturing can have a major positive impact on the growth of our industry in 2020.

Manufacturing continues to be fiercely competitive. Not only are manufacturers competing locally, we are also competing on an international stage where many manufacturers are already advanced in the implementation of IoT solutions. Australia needs to continue to leverage the benefits of implementing Industry 4.0 solutions in order to remain competitive.

We will always have the challenge of reducing costs, maintaining high levels of safety, ensuring we comply with environmental initiatives and effective supply chain management. Industry 4.0 can help address these issues.

The more recent challenges being addressed by Industry 4.0 solutions are the evolving expectations of consumers, and smart manufacturing is helping to meet this demand.

What are the three biggest challenges facing your industry in 2020?

Access to skills remain a major challenge. Not only is production having to keep pace with the evolving technology, but so are the people in the business. We need people who can interpret and utilise the data that this new technology will bring, and this is not just a case of simply injecting STEM graduates into the workforce. This skill can only come through on-the-job experience, making it critical for our STEM undergraduates to be closely aligned and integrated with industry to achieve this.

Cybersecurity threats are the second major challenge. We have seen that no one company or even government is immune from attacks. Such risks may hamper the appetite for investing in Industry 4.0 technology. It is, however, a matter of educating customers with industry-proven solutions and processes that are available to limit exposure and protect their business.

A third challenge is access to reliable and low-cost infrastructure. In the face of increasing climate change, shrinking resources and the escalating cost of electricity, access to power and water can’t be overlooked. Unplanned power outages have a real impact on business, and we are now finding that reduced access to reliable water is having impacts in the mining and manufacturing industries.

In terms of infrastructure, we have at times found it difficult to employ people of specific skills because of distance. Travelling from one side of the city to another may no longer be practical when having to manage the consistent congestion of roads and motorways.

What difficulties has your business faced when implementing advanced manufacturing capabilities?

Initial uptake on new technology is slower in the local economy, and Australia cannot afford a slow uptake! Compared to the international market, we are slower at implementing integrated automation, robotic technology and Industry 4.0 data analytics. There is often a fear of automation because of how it would influence the local workforce. The reality is that automation brings more productivity, more output, more profits and this in turn results in the opportunity to create more jobs!

What is your industry doing to attract, upskill and retain talent?

SMC has developed a Cadet Program to attract and retain talent. We are taking in technical people and training them in sales, operations, logistics and administration to ensure they have a good overview of the business. These cadets are earmarked for future roles in the business and highly adaptable to changing economies.

We are moving with the times and the changing technology by, for example, placing more engineers in the field of energy-saving solutions, setting up digital transformation departments etc. We train and upskill these people to assist us in delivering not only value but real knowledge on these subjects.

SMC is continuing to invest in R&D on many applications, ranging from vacuum pads for robotics through to wireless applications in harsh environments. This requires high-calibre people that have both the technical ability to develop the technology and people who know how the technology needs to be applied across varying industries.

How is your business planning to help Australia meet the 2030 climate change targets?

SMC has been very active in the area of reducing energy consumption, specifically targeting inefficient use of compressed air. Manufacturers are beginning to realise the hidden costs of compressors running inefficiently throughout their plants. The recent success of SMC with several multinational manufacturers demonstrated real savings at the compressor.

We are employing engineers who take a very structured approach. They spend time onsite to understand the baseline of the current situation and then install measuring devices around the plant to measure air pressure and flow. Our engineers have the ability to identify areas of savings, from something as simple as identifying excessive leakage through to optimising the pressure and flow.

The benefits of this can vary. In addition to reducing the energy bill, benefits have been the deferring of capital equipment by fully utilising existing equipment to achieve the overall corporate target of reducing carbon footprint.

Tim Keech has worked for prominent industry brands throughout his career with extensive experience in industrial automation across various industries both locally and internationally. Skilled in process automation and control, drive systems application engineering, control systems design and SCADA, Tim combines a background in sales with an engineering degree from Sydney’s University of Technology.

Image: ©stock.adobe.com/au/freshidea

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