Accelerating innovation and growth strategies

Accelerating innovation and growth strategies with Beckhoff

Beckhoff Automation’s global managing owner, Hans Beckhoff, and Nick Psahoulias, managing director of Beckhoff Automation, Australia, speak exclusively with Manufacturers’ Monthly about the company’s growing global presence, and the human touch needed in automation technology.

Hans Beckhoff, founder, owner and managing director of German giant Beckhoff Automation, has seen a lot in the past 40 years of steering the family-owned business.

Currently one of the top three PC control technology companies in the world, Beckhoff tells Manufacturers’ Monthly how that level of experience has helped the company navigate the latest COVID-19 crisis. While the nature of the pandemic took many by surprise, Hans Beckhoff said that the company saw some kind of crisis as inevitable. And like with every crisis, it’s being prepared that’s critical in seeing it through successfully.

“In the Western world, capitalism rules the business and it’s typical for capitalism that you have cyclic business,” he said. “This means every five to ten years you would have a crisis that would go on for a few years, something like this. As a company you should foresee such a crisis and you should be able to go through it in terms of financial stability.”

In a globalised economy, Hans Beckhoff was particularly aware of how a crisis can affect supply chains. The company had anticipated the Euro crisis and had learned to prepare for the effects of the disruption.

“What we learned is that you need have your own warehouse filled up with material,” he added. “One of our business philosophies is that we should have at least between four to six months of raw material in stock physically in our own warehouse.”

Despite the interruptions, Hans Beckhoff noted he was happy to be in a position to support his customers as business continued strong. All that was needed was to have the supply. The challenge came with the international shipping crisis, so the company has had to adapt to longer delivery times.

“We are doing our very best and have invested a lot of money in this,” he noted.

The result is a company that has continued to see growth and is well placed to see even more growth in the future. With a total worldwide result of 1.182 billion euros, the company increased its sales in 2021 by around 28 per cent in comparison to 2020. “This is a great result that we are incredibly proud of,” Beckhoff noted.

“In the end, we managed to go through the crisis without any serious implications to the business,” he said. “There was a small slowdown that had already started in 2019, before COVID-19 hit, and which is now ending. We will see a big boom coming.”

Hans Beckhoff is preparing for major growth in the automation technology market.

The XTS linear transport system enables individual product transport with continuous material flow.

“We have a lot of incoming orders this year,” he said. “And my prediction is that this ‘boom’ will go on – we are seeing it in all parts of the world – so it’s not only China, but also America and Europe.” “Every year we introduce evolutionary technology into the market and every 5-7 years we try to introduce revolutionary technology. The intelligent transport systems XTS and XPlanar are revolutionary. They are really changing the way machines are built,” says Hans Beckhoff, who also highlights the new MX-System as such an innovation, which was introduced late 2021.

“The MX-System offers a flexible, space-optimised and intelligent system solution and sets a new level in industrial automation by completely replacing the conventional control cabinet. In June 2022, we presented ATRO as another innovation. Our new concept for robotics applications is a modular system from which the right robot kinematics can be put together extremely flexibly for any application. Furthermore, we will introduce our new vision hardware this fall. Our product range will be extended by cameras, lenses and illumination. We have already introduced the TwinCAT Vision software in 2017.”

Automation Down Under

Hans Beckhoff, managing owner of Beckhoff Automation GmbH &Co. KG

Australia, naturally, fits well within Hans Beckhoff’s vision for growth. Australia is in the middle of embracing a manufacturing transformation, with increased automation, which has been viewed by the government and the business community as critical to its future.

In Australia, Beckhoff Automation is headquartered in Melbourne, operating under the leadership of managing director Nick Psahoulias. The warehouse and main sales team are based in the south-eastern suburb of Oakleigh.

Psahoulias is confident of the market strategies the company has adopted locally. After seeing the results of the past year, he is already making moves to expand into other states.

“We grew by 25 per cent in 2020,” Psahoulias told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“We saw this as an opportunity not to play cautious, but actually to reinvest in ourselves and make sure we had the best sales and best support team we could.

“This has proven to be the right decision, as it’s been a good year. Going forward our next location will probably be Perth once we find the right person for the opposite side of the country.”

From family start-up to powering the world’s fastest machines

This expansion in Australia represents a fraction of the success Beckhoff Automation has experienced worldwide. Founded in 1980, the company built it success on powerful PC-based control technology. Since then, Beckhoff Automation has risen to become one of the world’s foremost specialists in electronic and software-based automation of machines, processes, buildings, and devices, using the features of a PC, and combining it with automation technology, IT with OT.

Hans Beckhoff explained that the company’s philosophy is centred on PC-based control, where certain types of high-tech components are required to facilitate machine control with reactions speeds below a millisecond.

“If it comes down to controlling a very fast packaging machine or measuring a fast data rate, or if you need a faster reaction time, then Beckhoff Automation is a safe bet to go with,” he said. “Its PC-based technology can perform up to one 100th millisecond of real reaction time, which is normally not possible with most standard machine controls that run around a millisecond or longer.”

The EtherCAT Terminal system provides a comprehensive range of products for all signals in the world of automation

Industrial PCs are the base for machine intelligence, and Beckhoff’s engineers and other specialists develop the motherboards to optimise the operating systems. Beckhoff Automation specialises in applications in all areas related to PC control, from packaging, to wind and solar power, even battery production.

The company also specialises in automation functions like the sequential logic of a machine project, as well as algorithms for robotics, CNC application for standard motion applications, point- to-point movements, measurement technologies and artificial intelligence for vision.

“It’s about high tech on a big level and application know-how on the customer level,” Hans Beckhoff added. “Our customers can rely on this know-how chain and it’s very important to me – as the managing director and owner of the company – that this know-how chain is always improving, covering more fields and, most importantly, is stable. Our engineers stay with Beckhoff for a long time.”

All this expertise is combined in one automation suite software package, TwinCAT (The Windows Control and Automation Technology) – and Hans Beckhoff’s passion for the project is clear. It turns almost any PC-based system into a real-time control with multiple PLC, NC, CNC and/or robotics runtime systems. Whether it is communication to the cloud or to a linear PC system, everything found within TwinCAT can be used on standard PCs – which makes a powerful system easy to use.

“TwinCAT is a connection system between the different parts of the IO technology, drive technology and PC technology,” Hans Beckhoff explained. “From the smallest control to the biggest and most advanced, everything is proven with TwinCAT. Our customers have a good, powerful base for all different types of applications.”

Beckhoff Automation also offers a multitude of technologies to the market, which are available in Australia. This includes their input output (IO) products, such as their IO box modules, which are IP67 protected. The company is one of the main global producers of IO products.

“What is now typical for all our friends in general automation technology, there is an IO in the form of an electronical component that looks a little bit like a terminal and electrical formula,” Hans Beckhoff said.

“This idea, brought to market in 1995 by Beckhoff at the Hannover Messe trade event, proved to be viable. The basic idea was to develop it at Beckhoff through industrial mechanics and housings. We were a strong hardware and software company then, but we were still relatively small-medium. Unfortunately, we did not get a patent for it then, and so, of course, all automation manufacturers copied the idea three years later. Today, bus terminals have been developed as a standard component with our automation technology.”

The importance of supporting the customers

In terms of acquired growth, Hans Beckhoff said they are always looking to expand, buying up smaller companies with great ideas, and are looking to be at the forefront of technology leadership.

Most of the business is based in Europe, 25 per cent in Asia, 10 per cent in North America. With 40 subsidiaries (including Australia) as well as partners in more than 75 countries, Beckhoff Automation is able to provide the customers with complete and optimal support.

With such a global presence, maintaining a strong team has been key for Hans Beckhoff. He said that it’s the trust in his staff to deliver for customers that is essential to the management of his business across the globe. For him, because automation technology is complex, it is important to be supported by good people. He puts great emphasis on the importance of customer service and why he wants that to be present in the Australian market with Beckhoff customers.

“Beckhoff Automation is a high-tech company with traditional values and I as the manager of the company have placed a great focus on making sure the specialist engineers and are the best in the business at what they do. Now, I want to make sure our customers have access to them, and this results in building on getting new customers who trust us. We are winning customers, not losing customers and I am proud to say that the ones we started with in the 1980s, they’re still with us,” he said.

“We’re not only selling hardware and software, but also inspiring trust because a machine builder has to trust the control supplier – they both depend on each other. Our customers can talk to all our engineers and our engineers in most countries are available locally, we have good specialists in Australia as well.

“On one side we like to be a worldwide high-tech company, which is driving technology, which is of the utmost quality available. On the other side, we want to be – and we are – the local, friendly neighbour and engineer, who is available just around the corner.”

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