We recently had an interview with Nathan Hedrick, National Product Manager – Flow at Endress+Hauser Group in the U.S.  We discussed Hedrick’s views on the evolution of the process automation industry so far. He also talked about how digital practices affect working dynamics today. Today’s post has excerpts from the interview.

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Our Interview with Nathan Hedrick about Process Automation

What has your experience in the process automation industry been like and how has the industry evolved over the years?

I’ve been in the process automation industry for nearly 10 years.  I spent my entire career with Endress+Hauser, but I had the opportunity to be in several roles in service, sales, and most recently, marketing.  

There are many ways in which the industry has evolved over time, but what stands out most to me is the digitalization and connectivity of instrumentation. Digital protocols like HART have been around for decades, but many users limited the use of such communication to point-to-point configuration rather than process control and monitoring.  

Now, it’s much more frequent that customers are using these protocols for process control and monitoring, which I think correlates to the rise of instruments which are smarter (e.g., providing more diagnostic and process information) and Industrial Ethernet networks such as EtherNet/IP.  

On connectivity, we continue to see technologies which we see in our personal lives adopted for our professional lives.  For example, most of us have some sort of portable device (cell phone, tablet, etc.) which we carry with us much of the time, so we implemented WLAN capability as an option within our flow meters.  When I started in 2009, I don’t think that would have even been a consideration within the process industry.

process automation

As a part of your current role, what activities do you engage in?  Any special milestone that you can share with us?

My current role is National Product Manager for our flow products within the United States.  My primary responsibility is the success of our core flow technologies, which are Coriolis, Electromagnetic, Thermal mass, Ultrasonic, and Vortex.  In order to accomplish this, I work with a broad range of customers, channel partners, and internal Endress+Hauser colleagues, both domestic and foreign.  

My favorite part of the role is collaborating with customers to find solutions to their business challenges. If there is a particular milestone that I’m proud of, it was the launch of our Promag and Promass 300/500 products in January 2017.  

What made it so exciting for me was the collaboration and cooperation which occurred within our entire organization to make it successful. Without everyone doing their part, it could have been a poor result.

Recent reports suggest competitive dynamics in the Coriolis market.  In your opinion, what are the market drivers?

By the very nature of the word “dynamics,” we expect that the market is always changing.  Customer requirements change based on a number of factors, which can be taking advantage of technological innovations, changing regulatory requirements, and/or any number of influences which drive the customer to look to reduce risk or gain operational efficiency.

Similarly, we know the competitive landscape will always be changing.  There will be new entrants into the Coriolis market, and existing Coriolis competitors will continue to make adjustments to their current portfolios.  While I do try to be aware of our competitors, that’s not my primary focus.  When interacting with our customers, I want to focus on the improvements they want to make to their processes, the challenges they face in doing so, and how Endress+Hauser can help them achieve their objectives.

Neither we nor our competitors do customers any favors if our primary focus is tearing each other down rather than supporting customers to the best of our abilities with what we bring to the table.

What I appreciate very much in working for Endress+Hauser is that we significantly reinvest in R&D so that we can respond quickly to these changing dynamics and also bring new innovations to instrumentation that bring great value to our customers.

How do you keep up with customer demands and successfully launch new products?

First and foremost, it comes from engaging with and listening to our customers.  As I highlighted earlier, my favorite part of the job is collaborating with our customers to understand their challenges and how we can help.  One of my favorite things to ask every customer is, “If there is one thing you could change about our flow meters, what would it be?”

It’s amazing to hear the creativity and insight I get in response.  It’s part of my responsibility then to communicate that within our organization and ensure the feedback is considered for implementation into our devices.

The other part that I’ll highlight is that we try to be forward thinking. Going back to the addition of WLAN connectivity in our flow meters, we knew that customers wanted more simplicity and user-friendliness from instrumentation, but I had personally never had a customer specifically request WLAN connectivity until we brought the option to market.  

We have a great team at Endress+Hauser always looking to create better customer experiences with our products.

What considerations should one keep in mind while choosing the right instrument for the right application?

For me, the three key elements to consider are safety, quality, and reliability.  Most importantly, is the product I’m selecting going to maintain optimal safety for personnel, equipment, and any consumers of the product?

Safety is a rich topic on which I could speak at length, but this can be related to hazardous area approvals, meeting hygienic requirements in life sciences and food and beverages, functional parameters for SIS systems, and the list goes on.  

Next for me is quality.  Here you are looking at process requirements such as measurement performance and balancing uncertainty with cost.  It can also be considering the device’s ability to produce additional measurements relevant to the process beyond flow, such as temperature, density, and viscosity, as provided by some Coriolis meters, or conductivity from an electromagnetic meter.

Another aspect to consider is the manufacturer of the device and the quality management systems which they have in place, such as ISO 17025 when it comes to calibration and traceability.

Finally, reliability should always be considered.  We continue to see a growing interest in modern flow technologies like Coriolis specifically for this reason.  With no moving parts, you can have higher confidence in the long-term stability of the measurement. We’ve done studies over the years tracking the performance of our meters after recalibration, and we consistently see meters well over a decade old still well within their original tolerance.  Reliability also speaks to preventing an unplanned shutdown.

The elimination of moving parts is certainly part of that, but it’s also the diagnostics and monitoring capabilities of smart instruments which help customers predict problems in advance or get back up and running more quickly should an unpredicted event occur.

Today the growing role of digital concepts like Industry 4.0 is appearing in every area.  Do you think these concepts contribute to the business model of a company, or are they just selling propositions for customers?

There is certainly a lot of buzz in the area of IIoT and Industry 4.0, but there is also the real value which can be delivered here.  It’s on us as manufacturers to collaborate with our customers to realize these benefits. I’ve personally seen applications in which we’ve used remote monitoring parameters from our smart instruments to enable predictive maintenance.

I’ve seen us integrate our instruments into a remote monitoring system to help customers with wide geographic responsibilities maintain their installation points. We’ve delivered real practical benefits in this area. I’d highly recommend reaching out to your local Endress+Hauser representative to learn more about how we can help make the promise of Industry 4.0 a reality.

How do you foresee the process automation industry changing in the coming years? Any advice for the next generation of engineers?

Moving forward, I think we’ll continue to see a trend of more adoption of connectivity.  There is still a lot of untapped potentials there, and I think we are only just beginning to unlock it.  

As to the next generation of engineers, I’d recommend fostering a sense of creativity, curiosity, and collaboration. Our biggest challenges aren’t going to be solved by doing things the same way we’ve been doing them today, and they aren’t going to be solved alone.

To know more about products in the industry,  get in touch with our engineers!

If you liked our interview with Nathan Hedrick about process automation and would like to read more, take a look at our articles.

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