Rail Industry Focus

09.11.17

Testing tomorrow's technology today

David Brazier, site manager and area sales manager for the UK & Ireland at OMICRON electronics, tells RTM’s Luana Salles about the major testing benefits the company’s new training academy will bring to the rail industry.

Inside OMICRON’s new state-of-the-art training academy hangs a frame adorning a quote conceived by the company’s Austrian founder, Rainer Aberer, which has since been adopted as its official mission statement: “Create an environment with no artificial limits where a team of excellent members can reach an excellent performance and enjoy working, having fun at the same time. This team should get its recognition for providing the best solutions to the customer.”

This vision has helped shape everything the company represents since its UK arm, OMICRON Electronics, was established in 1999, and is certainly well-encapsulated by the new purpose-built building that now houses its workforce.

Conceptually developed by David Brazier, the company’s site manager and area sales manager for UK & Ireland, the academy is wrapped in OMICRON’s famous brand colours – a trio of blue, red and yellow – making up what has since been informally described as a large-scale Rubik’s Cube – not a particularly outlandish nickname for such a colourful building, and certainly an accurate metaphor for OMICRON’s thirst for innovative problem-solving.

Inside, the training facility comprises everything from a 100m2 hands-on workshop to a 64m2 classroom where customers can learn the theory behind the products they want to test.

There are kitchens on both floors, a room wallpapered with nature scenes to resemble a forest, and breakout areas offering staff and guests the opportunity to unwind with some table football.

The premise behind building the training academy, which will open its doors in November, was simple: create an environment where customers can live-test electrical equipment and determine first-hand what kind of modules they require. This is a key tenet of OMICRON’s vision – the company is not setting out to profit at the customer’s expense, but to help them identify how to best spend money “on what they need, rather than what they believe they need,” as Brazier told me.

“Sometimes people buy things because they think they want them – like the latest iPhone. And certainly, some of the devices get purchased because somebody else has said that is the one you should have,” he explained. “But that means they may be purchasing something that is completely over-specked for what their activities are.

“In my first year with the company, I set about trying to educate myself and my customers in how the devices actually fulfil needs, rather than going for all the bells and whistles and only actually using a tenth of what it offered. So out of that, we started getting places filled quite dramatically on our training courses – because as people became more proficient in what the test set could do, they realised they didn’t need to buy any other equipment.

“In fact, all our training courses are full until December. We’re consistently filling our courses six or seven months in advance.”

Testing capabilities

OMICRON Electronics tests anything from protection relays, circuit breakers, transformers and rotating machines to all of the associated pieces of equipment like CTs and VTs – covering everything from generation through to transmission and distribution. And, as Brazier said, “when you purchase something, it’s almost like joining a team”: there is free after-sales application support available 24/7, offered by trained engineers rather than a generic call centre.

Much of the company’s reputation was also built on face-to-face discussions; instead of sending customers newsletters every week, it sets out to speak to them directly. “Once you have a relationship, you have trust,” said the site manager. “Everybody tries to do that, but we really believe in it.”

A crucial goal of the training academy is to prepare today’s engineers for tomorrow. In practice, that means offering them responsive and demand-led training courses staffed by engineers associated to both primary and secondary products, and backed by a motivated sales team committed to providing reliable solutions.

There’s a lot of technology coming out in IEC 61850, for example, which is a standard designed for electrical substation automation systems to be able to communicate with each other. “We have the capability of training people in this new protocol so that when it does come, and it is coming slowly, they will not be afraid to go out and test it,” explained Brazier. “There is also a technique using a product called RelaySimTest, a software that bolts onto our CMC device (a universal relay test set and commissioning tool) that allows you to synchronise the CMC with other CMCs in a network, and then co-ordinate the testing from one location. It allows accurate and seamless  end-to-end testing..

“Now, if a manufacturer is looking to do end-to-end testing between two substations, they can make our workshop one of the substations with the switchboard, and then co-ordinate between the two.”

Enhancing knowledge exchange

OMICRON is already an established name in the UK and is heavily involved in major infrastructure projects, such as the Great Western Electrification Programme. A lot of its involvement also comes from supporting engineers associated with Network Rail and its contractors.

But now, with its brand-new academy situated in Stafford – the heart of the West Midlands and just a short drive from most UK cities – the company aims to achieve much more. “What the academy will mean to the industry is that there is now a go-to facility that allows the training of engineers with the latest testing technology,” Brazier told me.

“As IEC 61850 comes along, we will have the ability to train these people in how to fully test the system and the protective devices so that they go away with all the necessary knowledge.

“One of OMICRON’s main levers is knowledge exchange. We don’t want to be the ones doing service tests; we want to be the ones empowering the end user so that he or she understands their asset and how to test it, and they can also do the diagnostics on the results to make sure they’re confident that the asset is fit for purpose.

“That’s where it comes back to our values as a company: create long-term relationships. That’s what we’re about. The main goal is to create trust between sales and the customers, and after that, become a reliable provider of the solutions for electrical testing.”

When you deal with OMICRON, you deal with people

As well as being one of the few companies to have received a Network Rail product acceptance certificate for its test equipment, OMICRON is also keen to work with companies both large and small. “There’s no difference between a big conglomerate and a ‘one man in a van’ – we need to make sure that whatever the customer buys is what they need to do the job,” Brazier explained.

Put simply, when you deal with OMICRON, you deal with people – people who will try to give you the best solution for your job. “If we don’t have the device, we won’t try and sell you something you don’t need,” he promised. “I’d rather understand how something is not working for you so we can actually change it.

“What OMICRON does is listen to the industry, and try and provide customers with the best technical solutions for testing their applications or assets. We have developed a structure that will support the industry in providing the right solution. OMICRON is involved with a number of projects from Scotland all the way down to Cornwall, and in doing so, the main message from our side is: we want to provide engineers with the ability of testing tomorrow’s technology, today.”

Sponsored Interview

For more information

E: david.brazier@omicronenergy.com

W: www.omicronenergy.com

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