While businesses have been considering for several years how industrial automation might alter the future of work, South Africa’s leading industrial systems integrator, PCMP, believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this imperative.
Black swan events like the COVID-19 pandemic may be unpredictable, but do leave a long-lasting impact. Through the turmoil, there is pressing need and much opportunity to reassess, reconfigure and rebuild in more future-proof ways. While the conversation around industrial automation has taken centre stage for some time, COVID-19 has caused a rapid change in how organisations approach and manage their operations.
From sending employees home in droves to limiting in-person professional interactions, COVID-19 is fundamentally changing the way we work. Workforce automation, for example, which has been ramping up in recent years, appears poised to accelerate as a result. This is the view of Christo Potgieter, Director at PCMP, a leading industrial system integrator.
PCMP is an industrial automation supplier that provides turnkey automation solutions, from instrumentation all the way up to MES and ERP integration. The company designs, manufactures and installs the complete electrical systems, including the automation, power, energy and configured software components.
Key industries of focus include Automotive, Packaging, Food and Beverage, Mining, Chemical, Water and Waste. All these industries include high levels of automation from the start of design phase. Food and Beverage, says Potgieter, has taken up the most of the new initiatives and technologies in this space, followed by the mining industry, which is really driving the adoption of state-of-the-art tech to bring itself up to date with new realities.
Compelling case for industrial automation
Commenting on how COVID-19 has compelled businesses to drive industrial automation, Potgieter says never before have automation technologies been adopted as quickly. “More and more business decision makers are learning the advantages of automation. Many of these decision makers were not aware of the possibilities of automation before the pandemic,” he says.
“Now they know that employees can work from home and you can control a facility or machine remotely – this is only a small part of what we offer. We have also noted that the amount of companies that play in the same space as us has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic. This also indicates the health of our (what is still a niche) market,” he adds.
As a population, adds Potgieter, the whole world did not expect to see a pandemic of this nature and magnitude, or at least not in this generation. “It has inflicted a lot of damage and also made ‘diamonds’ out of some. Many opportunities have been grabbed by the resilient and creative, while many business have also closed down due to the pressure. It is clear to me that for a business to survive the uncertain future, it has to be agile and quick to adopt new technology. This is even true for a business like PCMP that specialises in the implementation of cutting-edge solutions,” he says.
State of the business
While many businesses have struggled as a result of the pandemic, Potgieter says PCMP, as a well-established industrial system integrator, has been in a fortunate position. “We have long-standing relationships with many big businesses. The only sort of negative impact we felt was due to the alcohol sales ban, given that SAB ABInBev is one of our VIP clients. It has, however, been interesting to see the focus shifting towards Industry 4.0 and IIoT,” says Potgieter.
Commenting on flagship projects recently executed, Potgieter says the company installed a turnkey solution on a new blending facility to produce flavoured alcoholic beverages at one of its VIP clients in South Africa right in the middle of the lockdown. The project was delivered well ahead of time and within budget. PCMP utilised its flexible engineering approach to help the customer pull back software development time by four weeks.
“This was a major accomplishment given that the original development duration was nine months and was reduced to six months before we cut back another month. This was during 2020, right in the middle of the lockdown. On the same project we completed site installation in another record time. Size of the project was about R9-million just for the EC&I scope,” concludes Potgieter.