Oct. 11, 2016 – President and CEO of Festo Canada, Roger Hallett, shares his views on the impact of globalization on the manufacturing landscape.
MA: You’ve been in the automation business since the early 1990s. How have you seen it evolve over the years?
RH: From a technology point of view, I’ve seen huge changes from the days when automation used to be 100 relays in a cabinet with lamps flashing on and off and you pressed big pushbuttons the size of your thumb to make things work, through to all the phases of the PLC and automation, and now the big data world. The recent manifestation of that is what you can do with all the data you can now gather, and not just gather but process in a sensible amount of time. The technology shift has been huge, but the way business is actually done has also changed a lot, [thanks to] globalization. The fact that you used to do business within a couple of hundred miles of your base or in your country at least and now, a lot of business is done online through an e-business platform. It’s changed the whole landscape, and whole industries have moved from one country, or even one continent, to another; everyone’s working in a much more competitive environment. But people are looking at manufacturing now in a more positive sense and looking at improving productivity and keeping them onshore. In terms of Industry 4.0, I think this is probably the first time anyone has looked around and said maybe we’re going through one of these shifts now. In previous changes, I think it was always through looking back that these things were noticed.
MA: How would you describe the manufacturing landscape in Canada right now?
RH: I’ve got high hopes for it. I think we’re behind, I [recently] came back from a week in Germany and when you see the scope of manufacturing and the technology level there, it makes you think we’ve got a long way to go. Having said that, it used to be that we were very much built around automotive, and I think that’s changed. We’re starting to see some new technologies and Canada is right in the beginning of them. We just need to help them develop and keep them onshore. So it’s not all bad news — a lot of opportunity is the way we see it. What I’m also seeing is a growing awareness in the political world that manufacturing is something to be encouraged and supported.
MA: What do you see as the biggest challenge for Canadian manufacturers?
RH: I think it’s that globalization topic. They have to compete on a worldwide platform and they all have competitors coming into Canada to compete with them. Maintaining your position, keeping up with technology, and keeping ahead of your competition is much harder than it used to be. You have to be much quicker in all your development and engineering cycles to stay ahead and I think that’s a challenge for everybody. I don’t think we are any worse in that position, we’ve got some great universities — some really fantastically skilled people — but it’s a race.
MA: During a media open house in June, you mentioned the new advanced manufacturing and logistics facilities in Ohio. How will this benefit Canadian customers?
RH: The advantage is fast access to a very wide range of products. When we had our own facility in Canada, we didn’t have the volume in our business or market to be able to maintain the same lead time and quality of products. Right now, we can typically deliver something in 24 or 48 hours which we could never have done before. [As a result,] we’ve transformed our activities in Canada away from stocking and handling components and towards value-added engineering and some assembly work. If you visit our facility now, we’ll see we are building customer-specific solutions — little handling solutions for other machine makers — and trying to give them access to that technology. I think while it’s in Mason, Ohio, and not Canada, it’s actually proving to be really positive for us. It’s that globalization topic again. Some things shouldn’t be done here and are better done somewhere else; it’s the right thing to do in the big picture. I don’t think at this point we need to do something like this in Canada, the logistics are so smooth and fast that it really wouldn’t make any sense to do that.
MA: What’s next for Festo Canada?
RH: We’ve had a good run, and we continue to have a good run. I think we’ve achieved that by pushing technology and the idea of increasing productivity, and not by selling components out of the catalogue but by getting close to our customers and understanding what they need and showing them options. We’re [invested in] helping manufacturing develop in Canada because it helps the future market. I’m also doing it because I have a young son growing up and I would like him to have options to be in that field without having to leave the country.
This profile was originally published in the September 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.