Outside of Japan, FANUC Robotics UK is the first to run an apprentice and student support programme, something Sumner sees as vital to encourage young engineers.
What do you do?
I’m managing director of the newly-formed FANUC UK and vice president of FANUC Europe. I say newly-formed as FANUC UK comprises three divisions which shall be amalgamated into one; FANUC Robotics, FANUC CNC Business and FANUC Robomachines. I oversee the running of these three divisions in the UK. Plus, I am also responsible for sales and marketing.
As well as running the business, I work as a facilitator, helping people in the UK and Europe devise, build and integrate automated systems. These may be in well-established or emerging markets. Either way, it’s about identifying and developing products that allow them to automate in their chosen sector.
Tell us about your current role?
On a day-to-day basis, I have five managers reporting into me, working in the financial, technical, engineering, applications and service areas. From a customer perspective, there are regular meetings to discuss scheduling, building deliverables, timings and overseeing project execution. I regularly liaise with my counterparts in Japan and Europe and endeavour to head-off any potential issues.
From an internal perspective, I ensure we adopt the same cost-effective principals that we have with our customers, so it’s keeping abreast of the latest business system support tools and deploying them within our company. There’s also a lot of travel; in a typical month I may be in Japan, Finland, Ireland and mainland Europe.
How did you get into the industry? What’s your background?
My career in robotics and automation spans almost 40 years; I started as an apprentice with an electronic firm, gaining an HND in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and then joined BOC Arc Equipment in Milton Keynes as a robotics engineer. This was during the 70s when the first robotic automation systems were introduced and I was a key player in their design, integration and installation across a range of industries.
Roles at Cincinnati Milacron (Europe), Meta Vision (USA) and ESAB (Sweden) followed, which involved working with various sectors and components (from metals to semi-conductors). I also helped with the chassis manufacture of the French TGV high-speed trains and developed structural systems with the European Aerospace Agency for the Ariane rocket nose cone. One of my ‘claims to fame’ is ferrying Neil Armstrong (five years after his moon walk) from Heathrow airport to Birmingham.
I joined FANUC Robotics as a service manager in 1989 and then became engineering manager. I was appointed MD of FANUC Robotics UK over 15 years ago and have held the position of vice president of FANUC Robotics Europe for more than six years.
What do you like most about your job?
Winning new contracts and seeing the difference automation can make to a business. Automation of manufacturing processes not only drives costs down - it improves quality, reduces waste and optimises energy use
What's the hardest thing about your job?
Losing business and spending so much time away from home. It’s a constant juggle of priorities and I’m not convinced I always get them in the right order.
Something that would make my career easier would be timeless travel. Waiting in airport lounges and working my way through hotel meals are not as inviting as they sound.
Is there such a thing as a typical day for you? If so, what does it look like?
A typical day is much longer than the average UK one. Our founding company in Japan and global customer base means I’m often fielding calls and correspondence from 5am through to late in the day, taking in Japan, central Europe and the US. Once the calls and emails etc. have been worked through, there are meetings and often customer visits.
What advice would you give people interested in a job in your field?
Be genuinely interested in the sector you’re looking to work in and not just because you’ve heard there’s a job going. Automation works on so many different levels, so you need to have a passion for technology and all things mechanical, plus an interest in electronics and software. Tenacity and commitment are key attributes, as it’s about helping a project evolve from the early development days – the theory – to seeing it working on the factory floor – the practice.
Also, be prepared to be flexible. Our engineers can work on-site with clients for up to six months at a time. Locations vary, as does the length of the day; it’s not a 9am-5pm role.
Has working in the food industry made you watch your diet more carefully?
My trips to Japan have made me appreciate the benefits of Sushi. Certainly, with travelling I try to avoid the lure of ‘fast-food’. A trip to Japan tends to knock any extra pounds off as the food is so healthy there.
What do you see as the next top trend in five years’ time?
I’d like to see the UK copy its European counterparts and see supermarkets stocking locally-sourced products.
Which country do you see as the next big emerging market? Why?
It’s got to be the UK. We’re strong performers coming out of the recession and could do so much more in relation to embracing automation, in so many sectors.