Peter Sherwin / Eurotherm
Peter you have had a rather interesting work career which includes working on three continents if memory serves me correctly-could you give us a bit of background?
“Thanks Gord, just before we start, quick legal statement, these are my personal comments and not necessarily endorsed by Eurotherm. Ok, with that said, yes, I have been lucky enough to live and work in a variety of places around the world; I started my career in the UK and ran Heat Treat operations for both Captive and Commercial Heat Treaters, I then worked at in India for nearly a couple of years before finally moving to Colorado, US 8 years ago.”
So how did you end up with Eurotherm and what are your job responsibilities?
“I have a colleague to thank for joining Eurotherm – Kevin Robinson (our Heat Treat Business Manager in the UK). Kevin knew I was commuting between India and the US because of work and family. He mentioned a job opportunity for Eurotherm in Heat Treat in the US and I jumped at the chance to be based out of one place. That was nearly 8 years ago. Since then I have had a few roles in Eurotherm; I moved out of the initial Heat Treat role to cover Marketing for the US team and then moved into a Global marketing role for the entire Eurotherm business. Very recently (literally a few weeks ago) I moved into my current role, I am back with a Heat Treat focus and leading business development activities worldwide.”
Does this involve a lot of travelling?
“Yes, I now travel about 50% of the time and split my time between the US, Europe and Asia.”
Please tell us what Eurotherm has to offer to the heat treating market.
“Historically we have provided Power, Furnace Control and Data Acquisition products and focused on providing solutions to address Aerospace and Automotive Heat Treat standards/regulations.”
How do you sell your products into the industry-through reps? Direct Sales People? Distributors?
“We have a mix of all and it really depends on the size of the region. For example, in Europe we have more of a direct sales team in certain key countries because of the manageable country size. In the US we have Territory Managers who work with Partners who are local to our customers – we have well over 100 partners in the US.”
Without even thinking about it I can name at least six companies whose controls can be found in the heat treating industry-do you feel that it has become an overcrowded market?
“Competition fuels innovation and that’s good for the end customer . I think the crowd becomes smaller when you look at the companies that are committed to ongoing innovation – we always strive to invest at least 5% of our revenues back into R&D and this gives us a healthy product roadmap.”
I’m dating myself but I can remember the days of the Barber Colman AC controller designed to control the carbon level in a furnace. If I remember correctly the exact same instrument was sold for over 25 years without any changes. Now of course instruments can become obsolete in just 2 or 3 years which is a bone of contention with many users. How do you respond to criticism that instrumentation changes too quickly?
“Great question Gord! The Heat Treating Industry is pretty conservative as a whole, and demands support for controls that match the life of furnaces (which can be 25 years+). We tend to have some of the longest life products within the Industry and don’t take decisions lightly when products need to go into what we term an obsolescence (or end of life) program. Typically these decisions are forced because of electronic components in the supply chain are no longer available or a requirement to meet the ever increasing environmental regulations on electronic component usage and disposal. A newer trend is the ability to enhance instruments already in the field rather than have the short lifetimes you mentioned – we demonstrated this when we launched the nanodac controller/recorder nearly 5 years ago and continued to roll out new features and functions over a 2 year time period.”
What is your path to a new design of controller or a new product? Do you and your team take an existing product and figure out how to improve it? Or do you have a mandate to come up with new products or systems on a regular basis?
“We are constantly gathering customer feedback on our products and applications in order for us to develop new innovations. We also have input from our Parent group (Schneider Electric) with all the technology developments they bring to the Industrial market. At Eurotherm we have an open idea forum where anyone in the company can create an idea, and this then goes through a variety of stage gates before it’s considered for inclusion in the ultimate product roadmap. This is a very comprehensive process and has created products like the innovative nanodac (1/4DIN recorder/controller), the new E+PLC platform and our newest offer due to launch in May – Eurotherm Online Services (EOS) – this brand new offer provides a digital Compliance/Calibration platform as well as an ECat Calibration tablet app.”
Most people in this industry recognize that it is not a glamor business and consequently it is very hard to find experienced heat treaters. This has lead to a number of companies trying to automate the heat treat process as much as possible so unskilled labor can be used. To what extent does Eurotherm plan around this?
“We continue to develop full automation solutions (not just instruments, but full panels and enterprise solutions) as well as now offering support to operators through what we term ‘Augmented Operator’ solutions. Examples of this include Augmented reality apps for use in Maintenance troubleshooting – this technology is currently in its infancy but soon will be commonplace in industrial sites aiding operators and maintenance technicians troubleshoot problems quickly through leveraging mobile technology solutions.”
Do you see much demand for “wireless” installations? In other words getting away from running conduits?
“We believe in control and data capture at source (as close to the operation as possible) – this provides a better control situation and reduces the potential loss of data. We also have ‘store-and-forward’ technology that can electronically report this information up-to SCADA type solutions either via wires or wireless (a break in Wi-Fi communications will buffer the information at the machine controller/data logger until the communication is restored in order to protect from any data loss). There are also some very interesting applications for wireless thermocouples – this is a topic I will save for our next interview.”
Whats the next logical step in the evolution of furnace instrumentation?
“Similar to the smartphone principle of getting a device to do more than one thing (a smartphone is a phone, camera, personal organizer etc.) newer instruments have multiple uses. For example new control platforms incorporate Programmable Logic Control (PLC), Precision Control, Data Logging and Visualization all in a single device (the E+PLC100 is an example). The ability to also take algorithms designed in the classroom and port into hardware control systems is now much easier than ever before – certainly advanced algorithms will help facilitate better control in Heat Treatment over the next few years.”
What technologies really excite you these days? Anything on the horizon that will truly change the industry?
“I spent quite a bit of time with the Schneider Electric IIoT team last year (IIoT – Industrial Internet of Things). This truly is a fascinating area and this type of technology is set to have a real impact on the Heat Treat Industry over the next 5 years. There is a trend to capture more and more data today but we don’t generally have the time to really analyze this data to give us actionable insights. A term you will start to hear in Heat Treatment in the coming months will be Machine Learning to aid Predictive Maintenance – the outcome of this technology will be to reduce the time and cost of expensive equipment downtime.”
Can you share with us any new products which we can expect to see from Eurotherm?
“Yes, we are launching EOS – Eurotherm Online Services – at the end of May along with the ECat digital calibration app.”
Thanks for your time Peter.
“Many thanks Gord, I appreciate you taking time to ask these important questions. Fueled by technology, the next 5-10 years are going to transform the way we all look at and think about Heat Treat operations – a very exciting time! I look forward to catching up with you at various events around the world.”