Innovation abounds at a record-breaking SPS event

13 December 2010

Politicians and bankers may be wringing their hands over economic difficulties in Europe, but at least they can console themselves in knowing that one sector - factory automation -won’t need a bailout. It is booming, and there are plenty of engineers and engineering firms ready to tell their story.

Anton S. Huber, CEO Siemens Industry Automation Division
Anton S. Huber, CEO Siemens Industry Automation Division

The year 2009 was a difficult one for business, in all sectors, across the globe. Automation companies did not escape this downturn, but they are making a brilliant comeback. Why are they doing so well now?

Even through 2009 was difficult financially, Germany’s most advanced automation companies refused to stop innovating - instead they poured millions into research and development and are now releasing a fresh supply of new products to stir the imaginations of automation engineers. The SPS/IPC/Drives exhibition has become the main platform for new product launches and this year, the record-breaking number of visitors - 52,000 - should not have been disappointed.

Here are just a few examples (there will be more published in the February issue of CEE!): sales at Beckhoff Automation, which were at an all time high at €278m in 2008, dropped to €236m in the disastrous year of 2009. “Not to worry,” said Hans Beckhoff, managing director of the company, speaking at a press conference at this year’s SPS/IPC/Drives. “This year’s sales are expected to be €340m for 2010, an increase of 40%!” Few companies ever experience such breathtaking increases, but for Germany’s medium size, privately owned companies (Mittelständisches Unternehmen), it is the norm this year. His confidence in the future well established, Mr. Beckhoff has put in motion plans to build servomotors in a new group called Fertig Motors, a joint venture headed up by Erwin Fetig, who founded another servomotor company Elau, which is now owned by Schneider Electric.

Mr. Beckhoff announced his company had built a 3,000 sq. m production facility for embedded PCs and motor drives, investing €10 million in five new production lines.

(For more details about this:

Siemens and the TIA Portal
Likewise, Anton S. Huber, of Siemens Industry Automation Division, says his company is coming out of the economic downturn with full momentum and will carry that on into the next year. The entire company reported €76 billion in sales and net profits of €7.8 billion, of which €310 million is earmarked as a one-time payment to the company’s 400,000 employees to thank them for their loyalty during the difficult times.

Mr. Huber’s announcement centred around a new software construct called the ‘TIA Portal’ where TIA stands for Totally Integrated Automation, which the company launched in 1996. The TIA Portal will eventually host all of the company’s automation software, from product design through production, and even MRO (maintenance, repair and operations). This year, the TIA Portal hosts its first three software packages: STEP 7, WinCC, and StartDrive, all at V11.

Phoenix Contact: Topping a billion for the first time
Phoenix Contact, for the first time with over 1 billion euros in annual sales and 10,000 employees worldwide, may be too large to be considered a medium size company but it still is a privately owned business (familiengeführtes Unternehmen) well controlled by people like Executive Vice President, Roland Bent. Mr. Bent said his company will end 2010 with a 35% increase, finally bringing the company to €1,250 billion in sales, an increase of €300 over 2009.

As did Siemens, Phoenix Contact has rewarded its loyal staff with praise. “Our decision to retain all staff during the crisis has proved to be the right move,” said Bent.

“The increase in orders was greeted by a highly motivated staff, ready to return from a sometimes three-day week to full-time hours at short notice, even with overtime and weekend hours. During the first half of the year, most of the contracts for temporary workers were reinstated. Compared to 2009, the number of salaried employees at our German sites increased by 800. Compared to 2008, the year before the crisis, the core workforce will have increased by 400 employees by the end of this year,” he said.

Bent said that Phoenix Contact has opened over 44,000 square metres of new production facilities- two plants in Germany and one in Poland - to meet the rising demand for its products.

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