#pAutomator: Ninad Deshpande, B&R Industrial Automation
Today, we have Ninad Deshpande, Head of Marketing-India, B&R Industrial Automation, as the next #pAutomator. Ninad has been a speaker across several events across the globe and strongly believes in defining next-generation automation solutions. In this interview, he speaks about the challenges that an automation engineer goes through while highlighting the driving scope of IoT in the current industry dynamics. Here are some excerpts from the interview…
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What does Process Automation mean to you? How would you define the evolution of this industry?
Machine, factory and process automation are like wheels on the same vehicle. They cannot function without the other. After 10 years in various positions in this industry, I can say with confidence that everything we enjoy in our daily lives today–the luxury and technological advances–is thanks to machine and process automation. It is like the human soul – an inseparable part of progress, which cannot be seen but still exists. Today, automation has evolved from product-centric to software and technology-centric.
Looking back, can you tell us how you started your profession in this industry? Are there any milestones or special achievements you have reached in your career so far?
I started my professional career somewhat ambivalently. I was placed in a software company on campus. They had selected me after conducting a written exam, then a technical interview, followed by a group discussion and an interview with HR. However, thanks to the recession that came exactly as I graduated in 2008, I was left jobless.
My cousin invited me to join his company Durocrete as a trainee, so I could learn something instead of sitting at home looking for a job. I worked with the system admin looking after IT infrastructure. Within two months on this job, my college professor offered me a job as a lecturer in his college to teach control systems to second-year students. I had 40 days to complete their syllabus. To my surprise, the entire class passed their exams with flying colors. I was then offered a permanent position as a lecturer. I turned this down, as a machine builder named Twin Engineers selected me to be an electronics engineer for programming controllers for special purpose machines.
After this, my path developed towards the process, factory and machine automation field. Following my bosses’ footsteps and habits of hard work, dedication and perseverance, I was awarded the best new engineer of 2009 by their Managing Director. Transitioning from a machine builder to an automation vendor in 2010, B&R Industrial Automation was the best opportunity I could have wished for in my life. They sent me to our headquarters in Austria for a five-month training, post which I started working in India as an application engineer. I also had the opportunity to work as a technology marketer during this time.
B&R India presented me with multiple opportunities, which included speaking at the ARC forum and ISA event in front of packed audiences consisting of industry experts and thought leaders. In between, I had a short stint in ABB GISL as a domain engineer where I was in R&D in LV drives. However, the life and education I had at B&R pulled me back and within 12 months of leaving I returned as a specialist of open technologies. During this time, I became a seasoned presenter with B&R, doing over 50 public talks, presentations and panel discussions. I was subsequently also selected as a speaker in the bureau of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC).
Since February 2017, I have been working as the Head of Marketing at B&R India and am responsible for handling marketing activities for India.
Today, people write and speak a lot about the next generation of automation solutions. Do you think the industry is ready to embrace such evolution? How would you address this scenario?
Today, when we speak about next-generation automation solutions, they become those of yesterday in no time. This is due to the rapid change of technology. The industry is not only ready, but also contributing to making technology obsolete within years or even months. We act as enablers to manufacturing units, factories, process plants and machine builders in their quest for preparedness to adopt these next-generation automation solutions.
Can you point out three major challenges that a Process Automation Engineer faces on his working floors? How do you deal with them?
Travel, extended working hours, and pressure are some challenges I can point out. Traveling for weeks or even months away from home can be commonplace for a process and machine automation engineer. A person unwilling to be away from home, or give up a social life with local friends will find it extremely difficult to cope with these travels especially at the start of his career. In addition, these travels could take a severe toll on eating habits. A process and automation engineer usually has to work extended hours, and pressure from clients cannot come close to anything in his life. Delivery times, process uptime, and quality work are part of this sustained pressure from the client. You need to be calm at all times and take things as they come to you, and not rush into decisions.
How was it working with open source protocols like Ethernet POWERLINK and openSAFETY? Can you tell us more about this?
Working with open source protocols was a different experience. It included a bit of everything – sales, marketing, business development, applications and building partnerships. In addition, it involved explaining non-tangible things to customers and convincing them to adopt them for use in their systems. My hard work, perseverance, ability to handle pressure, strategic approach to solving problems and support from superiors and colleagues helped me cruise through this activity. Technology marketing and promotions can be very difficult, even if the technologies come free of cost, which the name “open source” suggests.
Even in the Indian market, where cost is the primary concern in choosing a vendor, device or system, convincing someone to adopt open source technology, with all features enabling quite similar proprietary solutions, was a tough challenge. In doing this, I learned to be patient. However difficult this activity was, I enjoyed the challenges. These challenges kept me going. I built a strong network and partnerships during this time. I was known as a brand ambassador for these technologies in the office, as well as outside. Even our customers and our network started calling me Mr. POWERLINK. Today, I look back at those years and I feel proud of the many things I have done, achieved and learned.
How would you define the scope of IIoT? How do you differentiate it from Industry 4.0 in the current industry dynamics? What are the key trends with regards to the market requirements for driving automation in the upcoming years?
People tend to use the terms Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 at random, with one replacing the other in many instances. These two definitely have a lot of overlap but are not the same.
Industrial automation has moved from a product-centric approach to a software and technology-centric approach. Today, Indian manufacturing focuses on technology as a differentiator over price. This helps them become more competitive in the international market.
Seamless vertical and horizontal connectivity is a very important aspect of this. Open source solutions are helping manufacturing units become vendor independent and break free from the shackles of proprietary solutions.
Lastly, what is your advice for the next generation of engineers?
Today, many engineers graduating from college think of money as a primary reason for work. Of course, everyone works for money, but it should not be the primary focus of work. Learning, understanding new technology, and being willing to take extra steps at all times should be the main intention. They should strive for excellence in their work instead of mere success and achievement. Success is the eventual outcome of their actions, leading to perseverance and determination.