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Sunday, July 14, 2024

“The End User Needs to be Convinced”

“The End User Needs to be Convinced”

Industry interview with Frank Petrolli, VP Strategic Market Development at Plasmatreat

Mr. Petrolli, why is OPC UA important for Plasmatreat?
With our CO2-reducing surface treatment technology, we have a strong focus on the plastics industry. With the OPC UA standard, our machines can communicate independently with other machines in a plant. Regardless of which manufacturer they come from. Interoperability and manufacturer independence are the biggest advantages of this standard. Many years ago, we were already involved in working groups on the Euromap interface together with companies from the injection molding sector and automation specialists. The basic idea was already a standardized exchange of information. What was still missing at that time was consistent communication in the various applications.

Which customer sectors in the USA are more skeptical about the use of OPC UA and which are more open to it?
I believe that there is widespread skepticism towards OPC UA, not only in the USA, but also there. This is essentially due to a general skepticism towards anything new. Companies often simply don’t have the time to deal with a new topic. And they don’t know how much staff they need to train for it. As in many parts of the world, there has been a serious shortage of skilled labor in the USA for some time now. In the face of these uncertainties, companies in all parts of the industry prefer to rely on what they have, the tried and tested. If the operator, the automation provider of a plant, for example the traditional OEM, does not explicitly want OPC UA in their plant, it will not be used.

Are the advantages of a global machine standard that you mentioned not convincing?
Many of our customers have simply never heard of it. Some of them have heard of it, but they don’t know exactly what it means. We are making great efforts to publicize the topic and explain the benefits. Because the benefits are the most important thing here in the USA.

Where do you have to start to show the benefits?
Ideally with the production operator, with the end user. They need to be convinced. The fact is that the end customer, i.e. usually the OEM, sometimes also a TIER 1, determines what a new system should look like. They have to assemble the machines and units and then ensure that the system runs. The OEM defines the specification for a new system in advance. However, it is not realized until years later. If we as a supplier demonstrate the advantages of OPC UA to our customer, say to a machine manufacturer within this plant, we are virtually always too late. But if you convince an OEM, then the new standard will be rolled out in all their plants, worldwide. In my opinion, this will give OPC UA the greatest resonance.

Suppliers, for example companies like us that supply process technology, would also be picked up much earlier. They would take much greater care of their connection to OPC UA, i.e. invest money in it, because they would see the added value of being automatically included in the specifications at the very beginning of the planning process. But it’s not just the OEM.

Who else?
The manufacturers of applications and components should also take a close look at the topic of OPC UA. Just like Plasmatreat is doing. They should put aside their concerns that this will make them comparable and therefore replaceable. Because in reality, it is a competitive advantage if you can offer your system in a simple and intuitive way. OPC UA also gives smaller companies, such as Plasmatreat, greater reach among end customers and users.

How should you explain the benefits of OPC UA to an OEM?
As Germans and Europeans, we are very data-focused. We emphasize what can be measured in figures. When we talk to American customers, we have to stop always discussing and promoting everything from the technical side. We have to show the added value for the end customer and companies like Plasmatreat. The American customer always asks: What’s in it for me? It’s not just about the technology. Instead, it’s about the simplicity of integrating and parameterizing a system – regardless of the machine. You have to tell the OEM that they need fewer trained personnel after implementation. You can score points in the USA with simplicity, because it is extremely important for companies. At the end of the day, it’s not our data and facts that count, but the perspective of the person using it. If we bring OPC UA to the OEMs in this way, we will be successful in the long term.

How important are trade fairs such as the NPE for raising awareness of OPC UA?
It’s good to present the standard at trade fairs. NPE 2024 is a great platform in itself. For us as a process supplier, but also for injection molding manufacturers, automation specialists, suppliers and the entire plastics supply chain. Everyone meets potential customers there. We expect visitors to come from the various industries and to be open to everything that has changed. After all, the last NPE was six years ago and many of the North American customers were unable to travel to the K trade fair in Germany due to Covid in order to obtain the relevant information there. But it is also very important to promote OPC UA outside the trade fairs. There needs to be more communication with the relevant industry associations. It would be easier to explain the actual benefits of a common interface. There are cross-sector industry organizations in the USA. It would certainly be useful to present OPC UA more intensively there.


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