#pAutomator: Dr Hermann Straub, Endress+Hauser Conducta
Today, we feature Dr. Hermann Straub as the next #pAutomator. Dr Straub serves as an Application Manager with Endress+Hauser Conducta GmbH+Co.KG. He has also been a Product and Complaint Manager with Conducta for 26 years and is quite keen to share his experience and knowledge of the industry. His mission is to transfer technical and applied know-how. Read on to find out more…
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How did you shape your career in the Process Automation industry? Can you walk us through your experiences in this industry?
My PhD thesis was in Chemistry. During that time, I started working with Chromatography, an analytic technique. By the end of university, I started my career selling chromatography or similar instrumentation to companies in the life science and chemical industry, especially scientific labs.
Since the cost of such instruments is quite high, it’s important to have a good relationship with your customers so you can find the right solutions to their problems. I am experienced in addressing such customer bottlenecks. Currently, my team is working to build better customer relations and confidence.
For the next 10 years, I worked as a Product Manager for pH, conductivity, turbidity and dissolved oxygen. After that, I was an area manager in several mid-European countries supporting people who sell Conducta products.
At that time, I started several applications (eg: automatic pH measurement in life sciences) that helped to create a turnover of about 10-15 million euros just for the installation of the measuring points. This was, in turn, a turnover for us as a supplier. My next role was in the service department as a Complaint Manager, where I was responsible for addressing customer challenges.
Complaint Manager must have been an interesting position for you. Can you share some of the experiences you had in this role?
Yes, certainly! Once we had a problem with the production of sensors along with the pH sensors. For us, it was important to find out whether it was a customer’s fault or was it a technical issue. In the end, we had to change the production of sensors because of that complaint.
Many times, incorrect installations cause sensor breakdowns suddenly. For example, once there was a breakdown in a waste treatment section that burned waste material. As such, we needed to clean the scrap. While cleaning, we found out that the customer burnt Teflon, which in turn produced hydrofluoric acid, destroying the glass membrane of the pH sensor. This shows how sensor breakdowns are not always due to the poor quality of sensors. Rather, it can be due to a customer’s lack of awareness. So educating the customer is pivotal here.
This was certainly an interesting and challenging job for me. One should always remember that every complaint points to the fact that either the product does not work correctly, or doesn’t have a proper description in the given manual to prevent mistaken use. As such, we should take complaints from customers seriously.
Are there any career milestones that you would like to share with us?
The big moment for me has been the development of the memosens technology. In the past, moisture at the sensor plug head or in the connection between the plug head and cable was the biggest problem with pH sensors. This is because moisture directly impacts a change in the measurement value. I am a part of this Memosens patent by E+H. With our memosens technology, one can install and connect even under water. So, there will be no issues concerning moisture. This can store and improve the reliability of process data. This is a revolution in the pH sensor technology.
According to recent market reports, the liquid analytical instruments market has witnessed remarkable growth. This is due to the development of better-performing reagents and devices. What is your take on this?
Today, it is clear that automatization will continue to increase. But this needs to be proportionate to well-educated people in the industry. As those are too often unavailable, the product must become simpler to handle and better-performing.
In terms of performing reagents and devices, we definitely need people, but more for quality than quantity. They need to be trained with one parameter. Instrumentation is a critical zone and the support it requires should be provided by a well-equipped and educated team.
Which areas do you think are most significant for growth in the near future?
Confidence in the supplier is the most important criteria. Also, you do not need the newest instrumentation, but that which is reliable and points out correct measurements. The finest example of this is the instrumentation used in nuclear power plants-old, yet reliable!
What are the latest technology trends you witnessed in this sector?
Today, we have been using simpler instrumentation for direct applications. In terms of transmitters, there are many possibilities. However, customers tend to use only 5% of them. This means that specific instrumentation should be used for a specific purpose. A transmitter today is more like a PC, with the possibility of using it for many different purposes. The customer probably doesn’t need or want this. Besides, the control function has taken over more and more on PLCs. As such, they need more, smaller devices just to translate sensors to values.
Can you share your insights on data security models during the development of cloud-based applications?
I see a lot of problems with cloud deployment. It can compromise the safety of the process, and there may be constant regulations of your process. Industries like Life Science and Chemistry follow a set of legal rules and avoid cloud supervision. Rather, they prefer to use an internal system.
What is your advice to the next generation of engineers?
Don’t forget about the people who are behind the applications. The job of an instrumentation engineer is to develop instrumentation, but you should remember that this work should eventually make life better and easier. Today, social skills are necessary. Don’t just sit in your office and work, put yourself in the customer’s shoes and start making decisions.
And finally, as per my personal experience, I would say that selling is based on personal relationships. So you must be confident in your skill set and communicate well!