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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 http://www.processingtalk.com/news/spb/spb002.html 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 http://www.processingtalk.com/indexes/categorybrowseat.html.

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 http://www.processingtalk.com/news/czs/czs109.html. 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, http://www.qsiuk.com 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, http://www.processingtalk.com/news/emn/emn149.html, 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!

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