The Titan Atrato ultrasonic flowmeter

The new Titan Atrato ultrasonic flowmeter results from many years of co-operative research and development between Cranfield University and industry, and represents a real innovation in its field.

There are not that many innovations, or companies, that manage to stay the long course between identifying the concept and proving the final product. Indeed, the whole idea of a five-year development would seem to make the project impossible, particularly in the UK, where accountants rule the roost.

However, the Process Systems Engineering Group, based in Cranfield’s School of Engineering, has a particular brief to offer research, development and consultancy help to government and industry in the spheres of the oil and gas, water, process and energy industries. The original concept of the flowmeter, using low frequency ultrasound and advanced signal processing, came from the work of Mike Sanderson, Emeritus Professor of Fluid Instrumentation, and his group at Cranfield, and has been the focus of this development project championed by Titan. The Atrato is a good example of industrial co-operation bearing fruit and shows how vital universities and knowledge capital are to our industry – particularly ironic in a period when funding for universities is under heavy threat from government accountants.

The new Titan Atrato uses the well established time-of-flight principle; the main innovation is in the patented sensor arrangement, using two piezo-electric sensors separated along a straight flowtube, meaning that there is an unobstructed straight flow path for the liquid. The ultrasonic crystals are cut into an annular form, and excited across the radius. Effectively the ultrasound travels as a plane wave along the flowing fluid: it does not rely on the normal angled paths across the tube used in conventional ultrasonic flowmeters, or on any reflections from the pipe walls. The meter is therefore able to operate even in small diameter pipes. The plane waves also eliminate any major effects from changes between laminar and turbulent flow in the liquid, making the meter viscosity independent, and capable of a wide dynamic range.

What will be really interesting is to see the new applications that take advantage for the Titan Atrato meter, which might extend to medical and drink dispensing duties, as well as industrial applications and water meters. Prof Sanderson believes that the technology developed for the Atrato has the flexibility to provide the basis of a family of flowmeters suitable for a wide range of flows and applications. First public showing will be at the 2010 MTEC exhibition, at the NEC in April.

News from UK easyFairs Maintec 2010

The format of the Maintec exhibition has been expanded by easyFairs, into a set of similar trade shows across Europe. This year, events have been held in February in Zurich and Dortmund, then in March at the NEC in Birmingham, to be followed by Brussels at the end of the month. With a standard package starting from a 12m2 shell scheme, carpet and furniture, maybe the UK visitor is accustomed to the small space and narrow aisles: but this is possibly a novelty to the European visitor, since the quoted visitor comments praised the compactness and ease of covering all the stands in one visit! However because of the size, the stand costs for the exhibitor are kept reasonable, at around Euro3500 for 2 days: maybe because of the three day event at the NEC the costs there increased to GBP4260.

Maintec at the NEC did have some larger stand presentations, notably from Schaeffler, Flir Systems and Fluke. It also had the relatively continuous learnShop sessions within the exhibition hall, where the exhibitors had 30 minutes to give their latest sales presentation. Overall the main objective, of enabling new introductions between suppliers and users seeking product or service answers was met, which has to be the objective of shows these days. Most of the product news and launch information is very quickly available, through websites like Processingtalk, so the era of major product launches at trade shows is over.

The products that attracted me, as something new compared to last year, included the on-site calibration trailer from Endress+Hauser, typically equipped with two sizes of Coriolis meter. Delivered to site with fittings that can accept any existing site flowmeter, or can interface to plant pipework, this portable calibration rig can provide the on-site validation of plant instrumentation now regularly required, minimising plant downtime and disruption. More than that, the operators are fully qualified engineers, who can actually diagnose and solve many identified faults on the spot. After calibration, the meter system can be flushed clean with the chemicals preferred by the site operators, under their supervision, and the meter returned to service. Endress+Hauser also showed their systems designed for energy monitoring and targeting, a major new business area in plant efficiency monitoring

Many of the other new products seen involved laser tools and aids for belt, pulley and roll alignment. Typical of these were the units from Seiffert Industrial, supplied by C-Cubed in the UK, which are claimed to offer single person roll alignment between 4inch rolls up to 1 metre apart. While PCB Piezotronics announced the imminent launch of the European version of their wireless machine vibration analysis sensors, Holroyd Instruments prefer Bluetooth communications direct to a PC, claiming up to 100m range for their AE (acoustic emission) sensors. The Holroyd MHC (Machine Health Checker) is a simple hand-held portable unit, using several standard magnetic sensors, plus an airborne noise sensor which can be used for compressed air or vacuum leak detection.

Check your website!

Don’t you really appreciate your accountants and financial directors? Or am I the only person who thinks they take all the glory when the company results are good, but are nowhere to be seen when they have forgotten to pay a bill and production of that vital order has stopped! You can believe that sometimes this happens, as cash constraints mean that cheque payments are delayed. Or maybe someone in the post-room forgot to send the letters, and possibly it was not the accountants fault at all? I don’t think so.

Well imagine the scenario. Years of work for the engineers and product manager to develop and establish production of the latest line: an agreed product launch at a big press event, and an agreed marketing strategy to support the product and potential overseas agents, including a rebrand and redesign of the website. The press launch goes well, 30 editors in attendance, and there were no hassles with overhead projectors, snow on the roads, or the hand-outs.

The editors go away, to write their stories. The sales department is all trained up to take the new enquiries, this is just the inevitable calm before the rush. One of the editors tries to write his story, but being lazy, or maybe even thorough, he checks the data against what he imagines will be presented on the website. After a little bit of confusion here, and after checking the web address, he phones the relevant PR agency to ask if there is another part of the group that does actually run holiday apartments and a hotel in Cancun?

How often do you check your own website, to make sure that it still says what you think it ought to say? If you are running the website on a server hosted by a third party provider of webspace, these providers do tend to switch off all your website content quite quickly, if you do not pay the bill for the service. Suddenly your domain name is hosting holiday adverts, or whatever else will provide income from click-throughs.

This did actually happen: maybe you should check with accounts that payments to your webspace provider are highlighted for priority payment? To be fair even the accountants will tend to notice that there is a problem, if the email system runs through the same provider. However, if the website is on a separate system, when did you last think to check to see if it is still there? While doing that, look for it using a different browser, like Firefox, Opera, Safari: habitually using Firefox I have found that some links and images are not shown in this different format.

Keep up-to-date with Technology

Much of the equipment currently described as laboratory analytical instrumentation will be developed and adapted, to become the process analytical instrumentation of the future. So a recent seminar organized by Cambridge based PR agency Phoenix Marcom for nine suppliers in this area gave some interesting ideas from the current lab equipment market that might be seen later in the process area.

Inevitably one of the product ranges discussed covered spectrometry, using optical emission or X-ray fluorescence (XRF). The thought that this is still just a laboratory technique is quickly eliminated, when Spectro Analytical mention they have supplied 30,000 systems, with over 6000 of these used for metals analysis in the steel industry, including battery powered hand-held units for on-site work, testing incoming bar stock and even scrap materials. Widely used for chemical analysis, XRF is also significant in monitoring oils, both to quantify the level of sulphur in imported diesel fuels, and to identify wear metals in lubricating oils or trace metals in fuels. While such condition monitoring techniques used to be considered as tribology work, only suitable for the laboratory, this has also moved into the field, providing instant analysis of samples taken from the gearboxes of military helicopters, or the engine oil in a racing car for that matter! Spectroscopy news and applications are covered in more detail in the special section on Processingtalk

A similar product development route was demonstrated by Camlab, with their Pecod analyser, used for chemical oxygen demand (COD) measurement in effluent streams, covering most liquid sample matrices, including sea water The Pecod analyser exhaustively oxidises all organics from the sample, using a sensor which consists of a UV-activated, nano-particulate TiO2 (titanium dioxide) photocatalyst, counting the electrons that are liberated. This is a different principle from standard laboratory analyses, but still is effectively a lab procedure on a sample. But the latest device is automated, to be used at-line, ie by being plumbed in to the required flow stream, and taking a regular automated sample. For factory effluent monitoring, it allows the plant engineer to divert flows to treatment, or turn up the aeration supply, so that what goes into the sewer does not conflict with discharge consents, or cost him excessive amounts of money. Camlab expect to be able to produce some excellent application stories for these new units very shortly.

With capital expenditure approvals difficult recently, QSI, Quality Systems International, had a major barrier to the supply of their WinLims laboratory information management software (LIMS). This was particularly difficult in the case of small companies, say with maybe five users in the laboratory area, and little IT support. Definitely a hard sell at £30k, the product was only justified by trying to prove their claims that the system would improve productivity and efficiency. Borrowing the concept from a salesforce management software company, QSI offered the software system on a low monthly rental basis, with minimal up-front costs. Suddenly the WinLims could be trialled with no major commitment, with support services available as required, and even with tax benefits for the accountant. QSI now claim WinLims as the leading LIMS software supplied to the UK market, and are expanding overseas. Maybe this rental approach will soon be applied to software supplies to the process industry, maybe for energy management or plant efficiency monitoring?

The Emerson Smart Wireless application story,, shows how a Californian power station is using the advantages available now with wireless transmitters to improve the detail of their plant control in several areas. These feed extra data into the Ovation control system to improve plant efficiency: they knew they could do it, they just needed the data input. It really does show what can be done by harnessing the latest developments into existing plants, and surely it could even persuade reticent accountants why the plant engineers should be given the resources to investigate new techniques….maybe you too can quote it!

Wireless committees get their wires crossed

The long running saga of the ISA 100.11a wireless standard took a further intriguing turn in Orlando, Florida last month when a number of related sub-committees met alongside the ARC forum. Perhaps the most significant meeting was that considering the results of the “Nice Use Case Analysis Project”, so called because it originated at a meeting in Nice, France in 2008 (pleasant places these meetings have to be held in!).

Missing elements

Funded by Shell Global Solutions, the analysis considered just one use case – that of a temperature transmitter sensing sea temperature and displaying it ashore – and only looked at about a third of the complete ISA 100.11a specification. Nevertheless it is understood to have come up with more than a dozen elements of the standard which were either missing, didn’t work or conflicted with other elements. What’s so interesting about these findings, apart from the suggestion that the standard, as approved in August of 2009, is incomplete and potentially unworkable, is that they relate back directly to issues raise by the appeal against its ratification made by, among others, Walt Boyes of CONTROL magazine, Sicco Dwars of Shell Global Solutions and Frederick Enns of Dust Networks. That is hardly surprising, perhaps, as no doubt supporters of the standard will be quick to point out, since Dwars was apparently responsible for initiating the Nice use case project and Enns was one of those involved in conducting the analysis and made the presentation on it at the Orlando meeting. Readers will recall that it was rejection of that appeal by ISA on the grounds that it was submitted after the deadline which led to the failure of the America National Standards Institute (ANSI) to accept the standard at its November 2009 meeting (INSIDER, January 2010, page 5). Supporters of that appeal are now arguing that the Nice use case analysis confirms what they had been arguing all along, namely that by failing to follow their own procedures correctly when assessing technical comments on the standard prior to its final ratification they allowed previously identified deficiencies and inconsistencies to remain in the final document.

Face saving

Ironically, however, these latest developments look as if they may provide ISA with a face saving solution to the dilemma posed by ANSI’s insistence that the appeal be heard. While nobody is going to admit that there is anything wrong with the existing version of the standard, the word on the Orlando street is that ISA 100.11a will undergo “maintenance” over the coming months to render it “more robust” and that the resultant revised document will then be put out to ballot in time for it to be released in the early autumn, ideally at the new ISA Automation Week event in Houston in October. The beauty of this solution is that, while it tacitly overcomes the original objections, it obviates the need to hear the appeal since it will be a new, rather than the original, document which will eventually be submitted to ANSI and which should therefore meet with that body’s unqualified approval – assuming, of course, that ISA manages to follow its own procedures correctly this time around.

ISA100.12 efforts

Meanwhile, also meeting at Orlando was ISA 100.12, the sub-committee charged with finding a way to converge ISA 100.11a with WirelessHART. Logically one would expect that any sign of further delay in finalizing the ISA standard, which can only increase WirelessHART’s already substantial lead, would encourage efforts to accelerate the convergence project, not least because, as Gary Mintchell of Automation World reported in his own ‘Feed Forward’ blog, “… a panel of practitioners at one session at the ARC Forum uniformly pleaded for a single wireless standard.” Mintchell’s own assessment of the current state of the convergence project is blunt in the extreme. “… attempts to rationalize the differences between the two standards appear to be dead,” he says. And he’s not alone in pointing out that while the HART Foundation has been repeatedly criticized for being a ‘pay-to-play’ supplier consortium, dominated as many believe, or at least find it convenient to suggest, by a single supplier, Emerson, the ISA’s own wireless activities, which purport to be user driven, are in fact increasingly being identified with Honeywell and the chip supplier Nivis. If all that’s giving you a feeling of déjà vu, it’s probably because you’re being reminded of such alleged but largely spurious past red herrings as Rockwell-DeviceNet, Siemens-Profibus and Emerson – Foundation fieldbus or even, if your memory stretches back far enough, IBM -Token Ring and Xerox/DEC-Ethernet!

This article was published in the Industrial Automation Insider in the issue dated March 2010, and on the web in September 2011.