Digital control is one area that is growing, although more slowly than expected.
“We do work with digital power control loops, and looking at new controllers all the time. Prices have become more attractive in that area and there are a number of manufacturers with the right scale and expertise – it becomes expensive to do that yourself, for us it wouldn’t make sense so the supply chain is definitely very important,” he said.
The next wave of industrial automation – also called Industry 4.0 – is a key driver for this, he says, and digital communications such as the PMBus is an important element to be able to actively monitor the performance of the power supplies in industrial equipment.
“In some products we do PMBus for hot swap redundant products but other parts of the market are not so keen,” he said. “That could change in the industrial market with Industry 4.0 where more customers want to understand what the power supply is doing than before and up time becomes more important. It’s still early days with Industry 4.0 for what shape and form it actually takes. Today we are launching products with a PM bus option so you don’t have to pay for it if you don’t want to. Given the uptake that could be embedded going forward if the demand is high enough.”
“You could have intelligent power within a machine but the data will still be within the machine reporting its performance. We don’t see this being outside the machine, it’s part of the health checks. Everybody want reliable power supplies but they are increasingly important in an industry 4.0 environment with robotics and additive manufacturing where you can’t having these going down.”
The move to robotics is a benefit both form the manufacturing of supplies and driving greater demand for the supplies them elves.
“In my view robotics will be a major, major change in industry over the next few years. We are working with robots in our Japanese and one of our Malaysian factories where the payback can be a year or less. It’s a collaborative way forwards, with robots assisting humans rather than replacing them and taking care of some of the more repetitive tasks. I see that uptake as huge. The UK is way behind 40 other nations in the adoption of robots and the government needs to get on that. We’ve been doing some work assessing areas at Ilfracombe so it’s on our radar,” he said.
Southam sees the Internet of Things (IoT) as different from Industry 4.0. “It’s very much about low power sensors and energy harvesting so there’s not the opportunity, it’s a slightly different area,” he said. “IoT and automotive will see a massive explosion of sensors and they all need power for testing so there’s opportunities there. TDK have acquired several sensor companies over the last year or so and see great opportunities there. A lot of industrial supplies are testing something or other, a lot of it is related to test but then we are talking to the test equipment maker rather than the end customer.”