‘The possibilities are endless’

Phoenix Contact president Jack Nehlig seeing the pieces come together.
By CFE Media September 6, 2016

As president of Phoenix Contact USA, Jack Nehlig is responsible for managing the company’s domestic manufacturing and sales interests and was named in 2016 to the Phoenix Contact Group Executive Committee.As president of Phoenix Contact USA, Jack Nehlig is responsible for managing the company’s domestic manufacturing and sales interests and was named in 2016 to the Phoenix Contact Group Executive Committee. Prior to joining Phoenix Contact, Nehlig spent 19 years at Honeywell in various sales, marketing, and executive positions. Phoenix Contact USA also was named Plant Engineering’s 2015 Top Plant recipient. The 2016 GAMS keynote speaker, Nehlig discussed his vision of Phoenix Contact as both a U.S. and global company, and his views on how the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will change his business as a manufacturer and as an industrial supplier.

CFE Media: We’ve been actively talking about IIoT for the past 2 years, and it’s been looming on the horizon for years before that. Assess where manufacturing is today in both its understanding of and implementation of IIoT.

Nehlig: Manufacturing has been entering the IIoT world in an organic way. Networking entered decades ago through fieldbus networks, and smart devices have been growing in availability and utilization. The advent of the Internet and popularity of cloud-based functionality have somewhat acted as missing puzzle pieces to create the final image of what IIoT can become.

CFE Media: As an industry supplier, how do you approach manufacturers on the hows and whys of IIoT? What are their primary questions about implementation and value that your sales and marketing teams are trying to answer?

Nehlig: First and foremost we reinforce the importance of a utilizing only the highest quality manufacturers of infrastructure components. For a system to operate autonomously and be accessible remotely through the Internet, the owner/operator must have the highest level of trust in the system integrity. Secondly, having secure remote access through utilization of industrially hardened security software and appliances is a must. Unsecured access to an IIoT system can invalidate the intent of the IIoT concept altogether. Lastly, understanding the particular customers’ goals and challenges provides the framework for designing the right IIoT-based system.

The possibilities are endless with diversity of technologies and suppliers at their disposal, so putting boundaries around the conversation is critical to providing true value instead of simply engaging in "technology tourism."

CFE Media: As a major manufacturer, how would you assess your own implementation of IIoT?

Nehlig: We have made great strides internally embracing IIoT/Industry 4.0 theory. We have our own in-house machine solutions department that builds machines and systems that today embrace and operate in this new realm. The nature of our diverse product portfolio from connectivity to control enables us to quickly implement it in our own factories.

CFE Media: Even though U.S. manufacturing’s growth continues to be fairly steady, it’s also not explosive. How do you make the business case for investment in any technology today?

Nehlig: I think U.S. manufacturers have to first and foremost think longer term on their investment strategies. One-year paybacks on investments force bad decisions. Think of your own 401(k). You do not day-trade your retirement, so you shouldn’t day-trade your company’s future.

Investment in highly autonomous IIoT-based manufacturing can provide the lowest cost, long-term return on investment. But the total supply chain and lifecycle management costs must be taken into account, and the investment payback scenarios have to be lengthened. If done in this way, the U.S. could once again become a leader in manufacturing.

CFE Media: Globalization has been a hot political topic this summer. You’re a global company. Talk about the value of global manufacturing, and how it has impacted your business and your employees.

Nehlig: Phoenix Contact’s approach to globalization manufacturing is simple. We have strived more and more to manufacture close to our customer. But we hold ourselves to global design and manufacturing standards no matter where we build a product. In that way a Phoenix Contact customer has universal trust in our entire product portfolio. This approach has helped our business grow significantly, and our employees enjoy part of our local success from our global footprint.