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Locked & Loaded for Automation

Investments in people, products and applications expertise, along with a focus on customer needs, are key elements in Schneider Electric’s strategy for the U.S. automation and controls market, says executive Andy Gravitt.

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Andy J. Gravitt was named Senior Vice President, Automation & Control, for Schneider Electric’s North American Operating Division, in November last year. In this position, Gravitt leads the company’s automation and control activities on this continent, reporting to Chris Curtis, President of Schneider Electric USA. During a recent Schneider Electric users group conference in Orlando, Gravitt spoke with Automation World Managing Editor Wes Iversen.

Automation World: We’ve heard a lot at this conference about Schneider Electric’s new awareness campaign, “The New World of Electricity,” but not as much about automation. How does automation fit into the picture going forward at Schneider?

Gravitt: If there’s one message that we want to get out to the world, it’s that we’re very committed to the automation and control business. We’re making some aggressive acquisitions in the automation and control arena. We recently bought Citect, so we have a whole new SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) offering, and we acquired Berger Lahr from a motion standpoint. We also have a lot of new people on the street. Just in the United States, we’ve hired in the range of 40 to 50 new people within the last year around automation and control support.

We also have seven application centers, or competency centers, here in the United States, and we have 132 application centers globally, to support our products. So we’re very committed to this business. We spent $3 million in marketing last year, domestically, just on automation. That doesn’t include what we’ve spent on things like the Telemecanique advertising campaign or what we spend on this Schneider awareness advertising campaign.

 

AW: How are Schneider Electric automation products sold and distributed?

Gravitt: We have our traditional electrical distribution channel. And there are distributors within that channel that are more automation-and-control-focused than others. So we have a network of those distributors for whom we have specialized programs that reward them for their investment, and that help them develop their competencies. They’re the distributors that we point leads to on the automation and control side of the business.

 

AW: How many distributors does Schneider Electric have in total, and how many of those have an automation focus?

Gravitt: There are about 35 that I’d say have a significant automation focus, out of about 1,100 distributors total in the United States. And we have probably 300 or 400 great control distributors too. A lot of our distributors are electrically focused, and also do a great job of control. But the automation side is more narrowly focused. Beyond that, a big part of our strategy is around leveraging our system integrator community. There’s somewhere between 30 and 100 that we work with very closely that have strong automation and control capabilities, depending on the application.

 

AW: In PLCs, or programmable logic controllers, Modicon used to be the name to beat, but things have kind of deteriorated on that front. And there seems to be confusion in the market over Schneider’s automation brands. What is your branding strategy for Modicon and other automation products?

Gravitt: I’ll give you my 20-second branding explanation. Telemecanique is our automation and control brand. Everything will be Telemecanique that’s automation and control. We have sub-brands, or ranges, underneath that. So for instance, our PLCs will be
Modicon PLCs. Early next year, we’re bringing out a brand new Modicon PLC, on the mid-range side. It’s called the Modicon M340. We also have Modicon Quantum, and we have Modicon Premium. So we will use the Modicon name as the identifier for a range of products in the PLC arena. And then when you look at all our other offerings, they’ll all be Telemecanique. And depending upon what they are, we’ll have different names underneath for those other offerings. But they’ll all be range names. So it’s Schneider for
everything, Telemecanique for automation and control, and then range names below that. 

 

AW: Besides the new mid-range Modicon M340 PLC, what other new products are in the works, and what are the biggest areas of emphasis?

Gravitt: A lot of people think of automation and they think PLCs, but we think about a pretty broad range of products. For us, automation is about motion, SCADA, drives, HMI (human-machine interface) and touch screens, as well as safety. So we have new products coming in every single one of those areas. And on the PLC side, besides the mid-range PLC that I mentioned, we also have a new safety PLC that we’ve introduced, and we’ll have a SIL 2 (for safety integrity level 2) PLC that will be offered for the oil and gas
arena this year.

 

AW: Are these new PLCs Schneider’s initial entry into the safety marketplace?

Gravitt: We’ve always had safety products. We make light curtains and a lot of other things for safety on the plant floor. So I wouldn’t say it’s new. But safety PLCs are pretty new for everybody, and this is our entrée into the safety PLC market, which we think is going to be big.

 

AW: In addition to safety, what else do you see as hot areas for growth in automation?

Gravitt: On the automation side, we’re focused on material handling, for one. We do significant business with the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and the end-users on material handling. We also do significant business in the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) side, not so much on the automation piece, but a lot of drives, obviously. So from the automation drives standpoint, that’s one of our target sectors.
In water/wastewater, we’re certainly very heavily invested. We have a competency center in Nashville, with roughly 50 or 60 people who are focused on the water/wastewater arena. We
also think that there’s a lot of opportunity on the motion side. We have a partnership with Berger Lahr, and we own a company called Elau, which also supplies us with best practices on the motion side. And then, in SCADA, we also think that there’s opportunity with Citect, above that PLC level.

And in each one of these areas, we have application centers around people who are specifically devoted to those applications, that can go into a customer, sit down with a customer, and actually work with the customer’s engineers to design a solution. These are application people, not sales people. So the sales person would come in to a customer site, and they’d call the applications person and say, “Hey, can you come down here and work with the machine builder or the end user to apply the solution?”

 

AW: Do you have some specific goals for the U.S. automation and controls business?

Gravitt: We’re looking for 5 percent to 10 percent annual growth over the next two or three years. We certainly want to continue to grow through acquisitions. We think that the acquisition piece is important and we want to leverage those acquisitions, through the people that we’ve brought in from Citect and Berger Lahr, for instance, and also through these competency centers that we’ve invested in pretty heavily.

AW: In terms of the 5 percent to 10 percent growth goal, how would that compare to what you expect the overall market growth to be?

Gravitt: We think the overall market for automation and controls is going to grow pretty conservatively next year, in the 2 percent to 5 percent range. So we look to be above that. We have great products. We have great solutions. And we’ve got good people out there, and with the new application centers, that’s how were going to win market share.

 

AW: In terms of acquisitions on the automation side, what has Schneider Electric got its eye on?

Gravitt: I’m not at liberty to talk about that. But generally speaking, we have a pretty broad product portfolio in automation. So I don’t see us making any huge acquisitions on the automation side. But we might fill in some product gaps.

 

AW: Dave Petratis, President and Chief Executive Officer of the North American Operating Division, said that Schneider surveys 1,000 customers every quarter. Does that include many automation customers?

Gravitt: Sure. Whatever the mix is, we talk to automation customers. We talk to end users, OEMs, electrical contractors, and system integrators. We also have something called customer listening posts, where we have around 100 customers that we’ve identified, and we’ve put together teams that are not just sales teams, but there’s a manufacturing person on there, there might be a finance person on the team, there might be a legal person on the team. And these people actually go out and interview customers, and talk to customers about what their needs and their issues are. So one of the goals is that we want to have our whole company own the customer, not just the sales person or the marketing person. And these customer listening posts are one way to do that. We measure customer satisfaction religiously. We measure quality religiously. So it’s a big effort for us.

 

AW: Are there some things that you’ve heard through the customer listening posts and the surveys of customers that have made you move in one direction or another?

Gravitt: Well, one thing that our customers tell us is that we’ve got the best people. So, we certainly are investing heavily in the competency development of our people. I personally believe that training our sales people, our channel partners and our integrators is a key differentiator for us. So we’re investing very heavily in that.

 

 

Profile: 

Andy J. Gravitt, Senior Vice President, Automation & Control, for Schneider Electric’s North American Operating Division, is a 14-year Schneider Electric veteran. Since joining the company in 1992, Gravitt has held leadership roles in Schneider’s Retail Products and Residential Divisions, and has also served as Vice President of the OEM sales segment, where he was responsible for all Schneider Electric products sold through distributors and direct. Under his leadership, the OEM segment grew annually by 15 percent to 20 percent. Before being named to his current position last November, Gravitt served as Vice President of Customer Operations and Process Improvement.

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