Featured Interview - Ashley Dawson

Ashley Dawson is the General Manager at Crossmuller, a CSIA Certified member headquartered in Glendenning, Australia. Crossmuller is a leader in serving the food & beverage, consumer goods, packaging. and material handling industries and has been in business for more than 20 years. We invited Ashley Dawson to share some background on his company and the industry for this edition of the CSIA Member Spotlight.

Ashley Dawson, Crossmuller Pty Ltd

ADDEDTuesday, April 24, 2018

  • Q
    Without naming names, (unless you want to or are allowed to) tell us about a project that was very challenging and what you did to solve the customer’s problem.
    A
    Our most recent challenging project was for a food manufacturer here in Australia who needed to perform a full upgrade of their automation system from field wiring through to Recipe management and SAP interfacing while 
    We proposed a year-long program of room by room electrical cutovers during planned maintenance windows, with an innovative control strategy of passing the newly upgraded I/O back into the legacy controller to avoid the “it was working just fine last week – you touched it last so it’s your problem”  but allowing sections of I/O to be switched between the old and new PLCs for limited testing.
    We were able to complete the electrical cutover without any significant interruptions to production,
    In order to minimize the risks during commissioning of the new code over Christmas, we made use of an S-88 phase-based architecture in the code which allows each capability of the system to be broken down into individual phases which can be easily unit tested, and pushes the operational logic of the system up in to the recipe layer.
    One of the most challenging aspects of the project was the use of  Wonderware’s Recipe Manager Plus.  This was a new concept for the site, but was quickly embraced once they realized the flexibility of being able to have their quality and operations team make logic changes from a secure, easy to use web interface rather than needing to get a PLC programmer involved.   The biggest hurdle was overcoming a (legitimate) fear that if the servers or network were to experience issues, the entire plant would stop wheras in the past, the system could happily run from the PLC sequences without too much concern about IT issues
    
  • Q
    How should a customer go about choosing a system integrator?
    A
    As difficult as it may be some times, it will always pay in the long run to choose an integrator with proven experience in the technology and the industry.  This will often mean paying a little more, but the cost of a failed project can be astronomical.
  • Q
    What suppliers do you work with? Are you certified or endorsed with any you’d like to mention?
    A
    Our primary partner is Schneider (now Aveva).  Our Endorsed Wonderware status is one of the pillars that has supported our business over the last 10 years. 
  • Q
    Do you specialize in any industry, product, or discipline? Why or why not?
    A
    We have a specialty in Manufacturing Execution Systems and Manufacturing Operations Management Systems, particularly in the Food and Beverage and Building and Construction industries.  
    Recently we have been building on our MES skills to develop a Warehouse Execution platform which we are using internally at Borg as well as selling as part of integrated solutions to our customers.
    
  • Q
    Why do they return?
    A
    This is largely based on our particular skill sets with the Wonder ware products and the investment in maintaining our endorsed integrator status.  We also pride ourselves on our ability to deliver our projects technically despite sometimes needing to do so under difficult conditions. 
  • Q
    How much of your business is repeat?
    A
    Over the years we have had the majority of our work come from repeat customers.
  • Q
    What’s unique about how you approach a project?
    A
    I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but in Australia, there’s been a trend over the last couple of decades for manufacturing companies to cut their in house engineering capability and rely on external consultants for scoping, tendering and managing large projects.    Specifically, we find that often a large construction company is awarded the primary contract, with installation, wiring and commissioning being subcontracted sometimes several layers deep.
    Quite often these contract arrangements fail to deliver a well-integrated and cohesive automation and manufacturing operations system because the scope is usually divided up and parceled out to various turnkey equipment suppliers as a contract risk mitigation. 
    The Crossmuller philosophy is to build manufacturing systems “from the inside out” - beginning with the process and the necessary product and data flows, taking charge of the overall integration of equipment and then designing the building as a wrapper around the process.
    We are strong advocates of “model based” design – making use of common engineering data models from 3D CAD/CAM models of the equipment and buildings, which feed through to the electrical design, PLC, SCADA and the operational systems.
  • Q
    How would you describe to lay people what you do?
    A
    I like Elon Musk’s description of automation as “the machine that builds the machine”  But in all honesty, I usually just tell people I play with robots.
  • Q
    What’s the best advice you could give your younger self, just getting started?
    A
    Just remember that there’s a lot to learn and most people don’t know as much as you think they do so don’t be scared of saying “I don’t know” and don’t settle for something that you can see is less than great just because it’s always been done that way!
  • Q
    What makes Crossmuller optimistic about the future of the automation-control systems industry?
    A
    While manufacturing in Australia can be difficult due to the high cost of labor and our geographical isolation, we strongly believe that it is possible to be successful by applying smart automation.  We are seeing very positive sentiment in our key market segments at the moment.
  • Q
    What is the smartest decision your company has made recently?
    A
    We’ve invested heavily in using Sharepoint to manage our project documents and to provide a central focus for all of our project related processes.  On several projects recently, we’ve opened this up to customers and found that it drastically improves collaboration and communication.
  • Q
    Share the history of how Crossmuller began and how the company has evolved in the automation industry.
    A
    Over the years, Crossmuller developed a specialty in MES – particularly in the Food and Beverage and Timber and Construction industries, and invested heavily in training on the Wonderware products.  This led to us being the first Wonderware endorsed integrator in Australia in 2011.
    
    
    At the same time, John and Michael Borg founded a small Kitchen company in the family garage.  In the 30 years since, Borg Manufacturing has grown dramatically to three sites in New South Wales, Oberon, Charmhaven and Somersby and a site in Mt Gambier in South Australia. 
    The three manufacturing sites are supported by a 15,000m2 engineering workshop, a 25,000m2 national warehouse, and distribution facility in New South Wales  and a network of warehouses around the country.
     
    One of the key pillars of the Borg business is an investment in leading-edge technologies and optimised manufacturing practices.  Early on in the history of both companies, a relationship was developed which eventually lead to Borg's acquisition of Crossmuller in 2016 and the combining of the Crossmuller and Borg engineering teams
    Since the acquisition, we have grown the SI division of the business by approximately 50% and opened two regional offices.
    
  • Q
    What challenges are your customers facing now?
    A
    Should there be “software in the loop” that is critical to plant operations. E.g. Recipe Sequence Execution.  If so, how do we manage this?
    
    How can we take advantage of new product developments in SCADA and MES while balancing a common set of standards across a large install base.
    
  • Q
    In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the automation marketplace today and in the future?
    A
    There is a big challenge for traditional automation hardware and software vendors to re-invent their traditional offerings in the market to compete with startups offering cheaper and more agile alternatives while still maintaining their migration paths and support for legacy systems.  
  • Q
    How has Crossmuller grown or changed in the past year and what do you expect for your company in the next 12 to 24 months?
    A
    Crossmuller has changed dramatically in the past two years – as a company of approximately 25 engineers, we were acquired in 2016 by a local Australian manufacturing company in the timber industry with an cross disciplinary engineering team of about 150 engineers.  
    Our new parent company has seen success through investment in leading-edge technologies and optimized manufacturing practice and is looking to take our CSIA project execution processes and use these as a basis to build a turnkey engineering business in the timber and construction industries.
    
  • Q
    What kinds of trends and challenges are you seeing in industrial automation right now?
    A
    In both MES and SCADA we are seeing a clear trend towards larger and more complex IT environments supporting manufacturing systems.  This has required our systems engineers to make increasing use of their software development and IT skill sets.  Many of our customers are yet to really get their heads around how to integrate these automation systems into the rest of their IT organizations.
    We are also finding challenges related to the pace of technology change – particularly with how to marrying slower moving automation systems to fast-changing IT systems.
    
  • Q
    Tell us how you got started in the business of control system integration.
    A
    Crossmuller initially began in the late 1980s as an electrical contracting company and was just in time to see the birth of mainstream PLC control in Australian industry.  In the late 90’s the System Integration business was spun off from the electrical business to take advantage of the growing need for specialized software solutions for data collection, control and reporting in manufacturing and supply.
  • Q
    What is the biggest benefit of CSIA membership for Crossmuller?
    A
    Access to the best practices guide and going through the process of certification itself has driven improvement in all areas of our business.  It allowed us to fast track our development from a small family owned company to one of Australia’s leading integrators.
  • Q
    Crossmuller is a CSIA Certified control systems integrator. When someone asks, “Why should I hire CSIA Certified?” what would you tell them?
    A
    Delivering successful projects in our industry is deceptively difficult.  The CSIA best practices have distilled the hard-learned lessons from the best system integrators around the world – it doesn’t guarantee that your project will be successful, but it does guarantee that the systems and processes of the integrator will give you the best shot at success.
  • Q
    Why did you choose a career in control system integration?
    A
    I’ve always been fascinated with computers, and in particular, as a young student I managed to get my hands on a book called “Controlling the World with your PC” which 
    I studied Computer Systems Engineering, but didn’t really have an appreciation for systems integration or automation as a field – so I suppose I was lucky when a friend asked if I’d be interested in a job playing with industrial robots.  How could a young graduate possibly say no to that!