Centre stage: Calvin Wallace, Beckhoff Automation

Wednesday October 10, 2018
Written by Kristina Urquhart
October 10, 2018 – We chat to Calvin Wallace, Beckhoff Automation’s new managing director for Canada, about how he plans to expand on the success of his predecessor.

MA: Congratulations on your new appointment as managing director. How have you settled into your new role?
CW: I started my new role on May 1 of this year. The first two or three months, I was working closely with Joe Ottenhof, who is the past managing director of Beckhoff Canada. At this point, I’m pretty much independent and Joe has been stepping back and cutting down his hours. 

The Mississauga location is the Canadian headquarters and I’m based [there]. We have our training centre, our application specialists there as well, a complete customer service team, warehouse. It’s a fully transactional facility. Right now, we’re primarily focusing on Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. 

MA: How has the Canadian market been for Beckhoff, and how do you plan on building on Joe’s success over the next couple of years?
CW: Certainly the Canadian market has been strong over the last three or four years. We’ve had a lot of success building business in Quebec primarily over the last two or three years – a lot of our growth has been coming out of there. [Ed: As of press time, Beckhoff had just opened an office in Laval, Que., to better serve the region. Click here for more information on the new location.] Our focus moving forward would be expanding geographically west as well, and building our focus in B.C. and Alberta with our new process automation products. 

MA: You’ve been working at Beckhoff for about 12 years. How did you get into the industry before that?
CW: I went to college for robotics and electronics control back in the ’80s. Before Beckhoff Automation, I was the vice-president of a local distributor in the London area for the automation market, focusing on control and mechanical products at Axiom Technologies. I was there for 14 years, and then was looking for more of a technical challenge. And Beckhoff attracted me because of the technical story and the innovative products. 

MA: How have you seen the company shift over the past decade?
CW: We’ve grown from a reasonably small, privately held automation company to really a force now – getting close to one billion euros. Certainly in the industry, customers recognize the Beckhoff name and they recognize what Beckhoff can do for their company and their machines. We continue to release more and more products, and it seems like we are releasing more innovative products at a faster rate than say, 10 years ago. That’s been the main change. The geographic or global coverage continues to improve and be strong. Where our customers ship machines, we have support for them.

MA: How have you seen the overall automation industry change?
CW: The machines continue to become more and more complex and users are expecting more from the machines they purchase. They are looking for, generally, very flexible machines that can run many different SKUs or products through. That comes back to smart factory or Industry 4.0 concepts where they need to have the machine adjust to a customized product that’s being fed through it, or a customized product that they need to manufacture for a customer. Motion control is a big part of that, to be able to have many more actions of motion control on a machine to be flexible and adjust to the parts. That’s a big part of what we do in Canada. 

An important part of our business over the last two years is one of our new products, the eXtended Transport System, or XTS [a mechatronic system that combines a linear motor with power electronics and position measurement], which is part of smart factory concepts. We’re seeing that product being used a lot in packaging and even more in assembly applications. 

MA: What’s a common challenge that Canadian customers have when they come to you for a solution?
CW: Data is really important. The end users are expecting more and more data from the equipment, like how the machine is running, and where they can focus on improvements. Like I mentioned, they’re looking for more and more flexibility on the number of products that can run through the machine. And machine footprint – the size of the equipment – continues to be really important. Square footage within a facility is extremely expensive. The XTS is another example where using that product allows our customers to really reduce their footprint and still have the flexibility that they need. Of course, traditional high performance and precision is demanded and expected. With our high-performance technology, we can provide that. But the real trends are data, flexibility and the physical size of the equipment.

MA: In your opinion, what’s one best practice that all manufacturers should implement if possible? 
CW: Having machines that run efficiently. That’s not a new story, especially in the automotive industry. I’ve been to some meetings and sessions with business leaders, and one of the concerns they have is with the corporate tax structure changing in the United States, now their competitors who are manufacturing products have a much lower tax rate than they did a year ago. They have to revisit and double-back on efficiencies across the board, because we had almost a 20 per cent tax benefit in Canada. And now that’s gone. I would say that’s probably the most urgent [for manufacturers], is to revisit their efficiencies and their cost structures because they’re going to have difficulties winning future contracts without relying on that cost advantage that they had before. That’s the biggest problem I see when I talk to business owners and end users.

MA: What are some future goals for Beckhoff?
CW: IoT is something we are focusing on. And machine vision is going to be a big deal for Beckhoff. I’m happy with the discussions I’m having with customers already. It’s still in the process of being released globally, so it’s not something that we are shipping at this point. But there is great demand on machine vision, and that comes back to quality and efficiencies. We’ll have a complete system with the XTS, with vision – it’s a really, really tight, fully integrated system. We’re entering the HMI world as well and it will be another important category for us. It’s worth noting process automation as well. It’s a whole new market for us as we’ve been focusing on traditional factory or discrete automation. 

From a global perspective, Hans [Beckhoff, managing director for Beckhoff Automation GmbH] talks about getting as close as we can to our customers, both expanding our facilities so we can be closer to our customers for relationships and training and support. Certainly I see a trend that we will continue to do that. There will be continued investment in facilities in Canada and globally as end users use more and more Beckhoff.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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