ifm efector has growth at the heart of its operations – growth as a company, but also of its customers. IO-Link enables ifm customers to see the value in digitisation. But the company says don’t take its word for it, start small – grow as you know.
ifm efector is a family-owned German-based company that has established itself as industry leading sensor specialists.
In the 50 years of the company, ifm has formed invaluable relationships with customers that have shaped its growth and helped it evolve into more than just a sensor-based business.
The company now has solutions in equipment management, process optimisation and material handling, exploring more pillars than it was originally known for.
ifm efector industrial networking and controls product sales manager Kannan Kathiresan said the company could offer customers both the hardware and software sides of the processes.
“ifm has transformed itself from just a hardware-based company into more of a system solution-based company,” he said.
“Companies are looking to adopt new technologies to give them the competitive edge, and for this to be done you really need to have a scalable network as a backbone to be able to collect all this information from the field level.
“Gathering quality information from the sensors and actuators in the field and creating actionable machine insights based on that is what ifm can help with.”
ifm is known for the quality of its products, which is why they are all backed with a five-year warranty.
The products are tried and tested by the research and development team in Germany to ensure they can withstand harsh mining conditions and receive all of the necessary approvals before being released to the market.
“Being able to provide really good-quality products is something I think we’ve been able to differentiate ourselves from the other vendors out there,” Kathiresan said.
“Mines are harsh on products and we make sure our products are tested in that environment, giving us the confidence to say we definitely believe in the quality, as it has gone through all the rigorous testing processes.
“They are designed for the robust environment and we’ve seen that.”
In an ever-changing industry there are constantly new technologies being brought to market, which can be overwhelming and stressful to understand, let alone implement.
It makes it even harder when there are multiple companies selling similar products and services that all claim to be the best.
ifm efector’s unique culture takes customers’ problems and needs on-board to provide entire solutions rather than just a technology which, without context and proper training, will not have its potential realised.
“Sometimes companies forget to address the three Cs – cost, complexity and change – when it comes to introducing a new technology,” Kathiresan said.
When it comes to cost, customers are required to think about how expensive the technology will be to implement, how quickly they will get the return on investment, whether they can justify the costs to management, and so on.
For complexity, the customer will ask how difficult the technology is to integrate on-site. Will the new technology be able to integrate into the current systems for ease of use? Does it comprise safety and security on-site?
Finally, with change, it’s human nature to show slight resistance to new technologies until a full understanding of the product is established and the customer knows what’s in it for them.
“They might say the current system works seamlessly, why do we need to change? But undertaking change future-proofs your business, bringing a higher level of efficient and effective production and a higher level of product and brand security,” Kathiresan told Australian Mining.
“For the customer it’s understandable that the fear kicks in because there’s a lot of uncertainty around technology because it’s something new.
“They haven’t used it and they have all these questions that cloud their thinking at that point in time, but this is where ifm can help them with the three Cs.”
IO-Link is a digital communication protocol that is able to collect qualified information from the sensors and actuators out on the field.
It is able to break down the three Cs, and help customers move away from conventional systems into digital systems by being able to understand how these three Cs can be easily met with IO-Link as the backbone.
IO-Link is capable of processing switching signals of binary sensors, process values of analogue sensors and their parameters in a purely digital form based on a 24 V signal.
This eliminates measuring value errors associated with the transmission and conversion of analogue signals.
It can be used to transfer several process values or parameters of a device simultaneously via one unscreened standard cable.
With that in place, all of the information can be analysed and from there it’s all about customised solutions as per the customer’s needs.
“The data sensors are your eyes and ears of what you see out in the field. IO-Link is a gateway enabling you to bring all that information in a digital way,” Kathiresan said.
“It then opens up different possibilities of taking it into software platforms for further analytics where it can be processed or where it can be used to gather those actionable insights.”
Change management has been a key area of focus for mining industry companies in recent times, with miners attempting to establish competitive advantages to separate themselves from everyone else.
It has become mandatory, in a sense, to be able to continuously innovate the solutions, products and services provided, because failing to do so can see a company behind in the race.
“We’ve heard of several stories in the market where even big companies have been left behind because they weren’t quick enough to recognise threats in the market,” Kathiresan said.
“When you don’t look hard for those threats, you could miss out on opportunities. This is where, in order to differentiate your service or product, you need to be able to provide that additional value.”
IO-Link acts as a backbone and it can retrieve all the trapped information from the sensors. It is then up to the user to decide how they make use of that data, and whether they recruit ifm’s help with that process as well.
“Every time a new change is imposed, it might be scary at the beginning, but over time, once you understand what’s in it for you, and how it is going to help you add value to your product and services, that’s when you’re really going to be able to take the next step,” Kathiresan said.
“We at ifm really believe in being able to do all of this at a small scale, and that is what we’ve been preaching to all our customers.
“You need not digitise your entire plant to really understand what this technology is all about. You can start at a very small scale – even less than $1000 you should be able to put together a small system and see how much of an impact it has on a small area of your process.”
This feature also appears in the March edition of Australian Mining.