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EXCLUSIVE Interview with WAGO UK

09 November 2012

Paul Witherington, WAGO’s UK marketing manager, tells FP Express how the company’s products are used in food and beverage plants.

What does WAGO UK do?
WAGO offers a range of over 25,000 interconnection technology products including rail mounted terminals and connectors, PCBs, interfaces, relays, electronic modules and advanced I/O systems. The company also works closely with its customers to devise total engineering solutions tailored to suit individual applications. Industries served include factory automation, food processing, energy, water treatment, railways and building services.

When was the company found and by whom?
WAGO's parent company, WAGO Kontakttechnik GmbH, was originally formed in Germany in 1951 by the Hohorst family who are still the owners today. The group employs more than 6,500 people in over 40 countries and has a turnover in excess of half a billion pounds. Its mould-breaking PushWire and Cage Clamp spring pressure termination concepts are renowned for providing faster, simpler, safer connections largely independent of operator skill. Although other companies have since developed similar products, WAGO remains the world leader in the field and offers an unrivalled range of systems in interconnection technology.

When was the UK branch founded and by whom?
WAGO was set up in 1990. Gordon Smith was appointed General Manager and continues to run the company as MD. He has in-depth engineering expertise and previously held senior positions in sales and marketing in a number of leading companies. At WAGO he has helped the company achieve rapid growth both in turnover and number of markets served.

What is it about your process that gives you a competitive edge?
The ability to combine an extensive product range with a truly flexible approach to customer requirements is certainly one of our key selling points. We can devise innovative and extremely cost effective solutions for any size of installation - from a signal monitoring device for a single motor right through to a complete plant monitoring and maintenance system. Unlike some other product providers who typically offer more ‘hybrid’ solutions, WAGO believes its modular, scalable products and systems offer unique benefits, particularly in 'niche' applications.

How would your equipment be used in a food and beverage factory?
Our products for process industry applications include modular I/O systems for decentralised control, advanced telecontrol systems, compact and flexible cabinet-free automation units, signal processors and EX-approved DIN rail mounted terminals. They are used for a wide range of condition-based maintenance functions in systems including motors, sensors and conveyors in bottling, packaging and other applications.

Could you elaborate on a case study.
In Unilever's ice cream plant in Heppenheim, Germany, the chocolate temperature control system was recently retrofitted with WAGO I/O controllers as well as WAGO Perspecto web panels. Digital and analogue input/output modules were installed to replace the old hardware switching devices, still leaving sufficient space for further expansion. With Ethernet interfaces integrated into the controller, the tempering device could be easily installed into the mixing department's overall system making process data easily available and enabling alarm management to be incorporated. System performance was substantially improved and energy usage monitored more effectively. What's more, the cost of the WAGO system was around 1/3 that of comparable systems from other manufacturers.

How has the economic recession affected sales, if at all?
WAGO has managed to maintain steady growth and over the past two years we’ve achieved an average per annum growth of more than 8%. The food and beverage sector is an increasingly important priority for the company and while in the past it tended to concentrate on supplying products on a third party basis to OEMs, it is now primarily providing total systems solutions directly to process plants. We believe our proven ability to help customers improve efficiency and drive down costs is a key factor in helping maintain growth.

What are your thoughts on lean manufacturing?
Lean manufacturing as a concept fits neatly with WAGO's general approach to innovative technology. Our focus has always been on developing products and systems which help improve efficiency, minimise waste and reduce downtime in our customers’ production processes. We are increasingly applying this flexible approach to developing new scalable material handling and production process solutions for the food and beverage sector, providing plant operators with an important competitive edge.

Could you provide your professional background?
Paul Witherington is WAGO’s UK marketing manager. He has more than 25 years experience within the electrical engineering sector and has worked on major projects in technical, sales and marketing capacities both at WAGO and previously with other leading companies. He is also an important player in WAGO's drive to expand further into food processing and related industries.

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