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Pilz: 'The 'hoover' of the machine safety market'

29 August 2012

David Collier, business development manager at Pilz Automation Technology, tells FP Express about the company's involvement with the Machinery Safety Alliance (MSA)

Can you define what Pilz Automation Technology is, and what it does?
Pilz Automation Technology UK is one of 26 subsidiaries of German-based Pilz, which is a family-owned company focused on customers, not shareholders. Pilz is a leading, innovative automation technology company. As experts in the safety of human, machine and the environment, it provides worldwide, customer-oriented solutions for all industries. This includes innovative products in the area of sensor, control and drive technology. We're probably best known for safety relays and configurable safety relays, but our safety sensor range is continuing to grow too.

How much business does your company do with the food and beverage industry?
I can't tell you exactly how much since many of our business goes via distributors (many of whom supply MRO to the sector). But we're increasing the amount of direct business we do in the sector (and in the related sector of packaging) on account of the service work (consultancy, engineering and training) we do for large companies such as Coca Cola, Pepsico, Heineken, Diageo and United Biscuits etc. We also supply to many machine builders in this sector, such as Ishida, who were at Appetite for Engineering, and work closely with companies like Festo and Kuka. By the end of this year in the UK alone we'll have conducted c£700k of service work in the sector. Knowing the ratio of our product-service business I'd estimate we do between £1.5-2.5m in the sector.

Detail a case study with the food and beverage industry
Most of what we do in the UK from a services point of view has been services related and as such it is generally subject to non-disclosure agreements. Not many clients want to publicise that they've had a safety issue, even if Pilz fixes it.

What is it about your process that makes you better than your competitors?
In a nutshell, we're the "hoover" of the machine safety market. The name "Pilz" is synonymous with machine safety, because we were the first (in the same way the "hoover" was the first vacuum cleaner). Our reputation stems back to Pilz having a tradition as a family-run company stretching back over 60 years. Our proximity to customers is evident in all areas - Pilz instills confidence through personal consultation, high flexibility and reliable service.

Could you elaborate on the hierarchy of the UK branch of Pilz?
The MD is Steven Farrow who has been with the company since it started in the UK. Reporting into him are Alex Bryce (national sales manager) who is in charge of the internal (including technical support) and external sales team; Richard Tye (service manager) who is in charge of the trainers, consultants and engineers; Vanessa Smith (office manager) who is in charge of the administration team; and David Collier, David Bromme and Jamie Walton (business development managers). I look after strategy and marketing, the other guys specifically look after services.

Could you elaborate on your background.
I've been in Pilz for a year. In that time I've helped the company move forward in its market development into sectors such as F&B, packaging and paper, as well as developing training, especially in the field of machine functional safety. I founded the Machinery Safety Alliance, a collaborative partnership between Pilz, Festo, Werma, Fortress Interlocks, Troax and UK Engineering. I also run two LinkedIn groups focused on machine safety. Prior to Pilz I worked as a Product Marketing Manager at Schneider Electric, responsible for OEM controllers (PLCs, HMIs, motion, software) and machine safety for five years.

Could you elaborate on the Machinery Safety Alliance?
The "Machinery Safety Alliance" is a unique, non-profit collaboration between Festo, Fortress Interlocks, Pilz Automation Technology, Troax, UK Engineering, and Werma - each providing expertise from its own field to help machine-builders and users make sense of safety, and to safeguard their productivity. Collectively, as suppliers of safety components and systems the members of the MSA have committed to providing shared knowledge of these technologies in accordance with what will become the de facto functional safety standard and other relevant standards.

When and by whom was the company founded?
Back in 1948 Hermann Pilz founded the company as a glass-blowing business in Esslingen. Starting with the manufacture of glass apparatus for medical technology and mercury relays for industrial applications, Hermann Pilz moulded his own style of management. Even then, staff were given overall responsibility for a project, independently processing each stage of the job, from soldering and testing through to dispatch.

How has Pilz managed business under very difficult economic conditions?
Pilz remains focused on delivering value to customers through maintaining stable pricing and driving out costs where possible, and has not stopped investing in the development of new products and services to keep ourselves ahead of the competition, to try to remain first choice no matter what state the economy is in.

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