Drives are greener than you realize

These past few years have seen inverters promoted, quite rightly, as one of the very best energy saving technologies, playing a key role in combating global warming. But Mitsubishi Electric’s Jeff Whiting says controlling the power consumption of motors is only the first of their many environmental credentials.

We’ve heard the figures many times: motors account for 65% of all industrial power consumption, and yet only 25% of motors are fitted with variable speed drives. But use a variable speed drive to control a motor with an appropriate speed profile for the task in hand, and you can slash that motor’s energy usage. Last year the government woke up to the fact that use of variable speed drives represents one of the best ways to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint, bettered only by a wholesale switch to LED lighting and thermal insulation in commercial buildings.

But, as the world economy recovers from its battering of the last couple of years, a more sophisticated definition of green manufacturing is emerging. And this time it makes even better business sense, because while measures such as the Climate Change Levy and the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme effectively penalise companies financially for not reducing their energy consumption, in our more sophisticated picture of green manufacturing, best practice environmental measures can actually boost productivity. As ever, it is variable speed drives that can really make the difference.

Consider, for example, the stopping of large machines, or indeed any shaft driving a load that needs to be brought to a controlled stop. Traditionally, this would be achieved with some sort of mechanical brake. But these work by clamping the shaft and using friction to bring it to a stop – an inherent by-product of which is of course heat, or wasted energy. But a key feature of many modern variable speed drives is regenerative braking, which converts braking energy back into electrical energy. This energy can then be fed back into the main supply or shared with other drives by connecting their power reserves together.

Not only does this save energy in its own right, but the regeneration function also makes it possible to achieve smaller, less expensive drive systems and simpler, more compact switchgear layouts.

It seems obvious, but better control of a motor on any machine or process, optimising speed and torque, means better controllability. When you apply that tighter control to the whole production line, what you immediately see is significantly increased useful output, with far fewer reject products, and a dramatically reduced need for any product rework. How many products, for example, are thrown away at the start of the production cycle as the machinery is tuned and optimised? How many more are rejected as processes drift out of tolerance? Variable speed drives can help in optimising machinery and processes from the minute they are turned on, and in keeping them at optimum efficiency throughout the production cycle.

A reduction in reject parts and in the need for rework can significantly impact on a company’s bottom line. If a process is making greater numbers of useful products for a higher proportion of time, that makes you more competitive and better able to meet customer requirements. But it also means that you’re using less energy per finished product.

We can apply the same thinking to the wider production cycle, which more and more today is characterised by frequent line changeovers that cater for short runs of many different products. The requirements of the customer and the need to optimise production efficiency can appear to be in conflict, since maximum efficiency is gained on the longest possible production run of a single product. But today’s competitive global markets demand flexibility if a company is to thrive, or even to survive.

In machinery and processes without inherent flexibility, there are significant costs in product changeovers, in terms of manpower and lost production. But once we have tighter control of those processes, changeovers from one product run to another become recipe based, with complete lines reset at the touch of a button. What would have required time-consuming retuning of motor speeds and profiles can now benefit from automatic adjustment. The recipes for each product to be made on the line will store all the relevant parameters and settings, and these can automatically reset the likes of variable speed drives as required.

This optimisation of the production cycle can mean the difference between having to manufacture for stock and being able to manufacture to order – or at the very least to a more optimised inventory schedule. Because when we’re simply manufacturing for stock, inevitably there will be over-production of some items which will then just sit on shelves losing value. Each of those products in the warehouse represents some degree of wasted energy in manufacturing.

We can look at the wider plant environment, too, because every motor – regardless of its efficiency rating – generates heat. Outside of specific hazardous areas, it is unlikely that the heat produced represents much of a problem to the machine itself or to personnel. But when you consider the number of motors there are likely to be around a typical industrial site, then you can see that these motors will be contributing to a measurable temperature rise.

In some controlled environments, that can be critical. In temperature sensitive environments such as cosmetics production, overall temperature has to be closely controlled within specific tolerances. If one process is generating excess heat, then another process has to be introduced to bring the temperature down – most likely some form of force air recirculation or air conditioning. And this, of course, is using energy.

Much more efficient would be to reduce the heat signature of the motors themselves – or even capturing that energy – and here again variable speed drives come into their own. The variable speed drive more closely matches the motor to the load, and so the motor generates less heat. Not only is the motor being run more efficiently, less work has to be done to compensate for the heat generated.

We can see then that variable speed drives have a hugely significant role to play in making industrial plants and processes more efficient. It may be the energy saving impact of not running a motor at fixed speed that grabs most of the headlines, but when we consider a more sophisticated picture of green manufacturing, it becomes clear that variable speed drives are making an even greater contribution to energy efficiency than might first be considered.


BP Deepwater Exploration in Australia

BP has announced that it has been awarded four deepwater offshore blocks in the Ceduna Sub Basin within the Great Australian Bight, off the coast of South Australia.

BP said that it will explore Exploration Permit for Petroleum (EPP) areas EPP 37, EPP 38, EPP 39 and EPP 40 covering an area of 24,000 km2 for oil and gas reserves, with the right to develop any commercially viable discoveries.”This is a material and early move into an unexplored deepwater basin,” said Mike Daly, Executive Vice President of Exploration for BP.

“The Ceduna Sub Basin is a very exciting new exploration area for BP. Our experience tells us that the geology has a high potential for containing hydrocarbons,” added Dr Phil Home, Managing Director of BP’s Australian upstream oil and gas business.

BP said that the proposed exploration activity would be phased over 6 years and, as part of the regulatory approval process, would be subject to detailed environmental assessment.

BP Australia is an energy company involved in a wide range of activities, such as exploring for and producing natural gas and crude oil resources, refining and marketing petroleum products, producing lubricants, and generating electricity from solar panels.

BP is a joint venture participant in the North West Shelf Project and also owns assets which are being developed in the Gorgon LNG Project and the Browse LNG Projects. Its downstream business is centred on refineries near Brisbane and Perth and has a network of almost 1,400 service stations throughout Australia.

Seismic survey activity could take place in the summer of 2011/12. Drilling activity is not expected to take place until 2013 or 2014. BP is committed to use the intervening time to fully implement the lessons learned from the investigations into the Montara and Deepwater Horizon incidents, and is working closely with the Australian Government, the South Australian Government and industry to do so.


The INSIDER January newsletter

The January newsletter from the Industrial Automation Insider has now been despatched: the following abstracts of the main stories show the topics covered this month.  To receive a newsletter copy on publication, or see the whole of these reports, why not take out a subscription? For further information, see .

Customers accept wireless technology from Emerson.

Bob Sharp, president of Emerson Process Management in Europe, introduced their European press event last month with the assertion that “Emerson strives to enjoy a leadership position in technology and innovation” – and it seems that European customers have responded to recent developments, with significant projects testing and adopting electronic marshalling using their CHARMS I/O, quoted as giving faster start-ups, easier engineering and reduced capital costs (INSIDER, November 2010, page 3).

Another significant factor for the Emerson European marketing operation is that “Customers have embraced wireless”, with 20% of the booming Emerson sales demand for wireless products coming out of Europe in 2010. Since the Emerson wireless bookings for the FY to end September were $76m (INSIDER November 2010, page 11), then this puts their wireless business in Europe at $15m.

Emerson experience in wireless

Bob Karschnia, global vp for wireless, presented the Emerson Smart Wireless techniques, using the WirelessHART IEC62591 standard, as proven in application, and suitable for use on control applications. The pedigree behind this, against the arguments offered by the exponents of ISA100.11a, is that the installed base of these sensors, built to the IEC standard, exceeds 1400 sites, with accumulated sensor operational time in excess of 300 million hours. Many major customers have installed and are now using Emerson WirelessHART systems: a slide of selected world user logos quoted companies such as BP, Bord Gais, Chevron, INEOS, Petrobras, Pemex and Statoil in petrochemicals; Croda, Novartis and Syngenta in fine chemicals and pharma; Rusal and Dubai Aluminium; Boise paper and CalPortland building materials.

Karschnia totally rebutted the battery life challenge raised by members of the ISA100.11a camp (INSIDER November 2010 page 2). “Emerson WirelessHART battery powered sensors have been in the field for around 8 years. In that time there have been no requests from our customers for Emerson to make replacement battery packs available, and we have not needed to supply any”.

Emerson vetting by EU press

Arising out of questioning in relation to WirelessHART and international standards, the Emerson response was that “Only one internationally approved standard (by IEC) exists for wireless communications with sensors, and that is IEC62591 (WirelessHART). Emerson try to influence efforts of new standard developments, so that they become a subset of any existing international standard.” This led on to questions around the Emerson decision to join the FDT Group (INSIDER November 2010, page 10): they hope to encourage the FDT community to join the FDI initiative and bring EDDL and FDT together.

Alarm management experience

The second edition of the Alarm Management Handbook has recently been published, written by Bill Hollifield and Eddie Habibi, of PAS. Habibi explains the background to the book and the second edition: “Poorly performing alarm systems hinder an operator’s ability to mitigate abnormal situations that can lead to consequences ranging from minor process upsets to catastrophic accidents. With the release of the new ANSI/ISA-18.2-2009 ‘Management of Alarm Systems for the Process Industries’, PAS wanted to update the book, first published in 2006, to incorporate these guidelines”. The book adopts a practical and pragmatic approach, which Jim Pinto describes as “an essential textbook for managers, process engineers and operators to keep around and refer to regularly”. A free copy of the book is being raffled for interested INSIDER readers.


Automation supplier rankings

Following the publication of the CONTROL Automation Vendors’ Top 50 rankings for the USA and the World, produced every year by Larry O’Brien, Research Director of ARC Advisory Group, and Walt Boyes, Editor of, the INSIDER once again takes a look at the positioning of the major vendors outside the US market, which is a significant 25% of the total market.

Once again Siemens, ABB, Emerson, Rockwell, Schneider and Honeywell take the top slots, but the interesting changes from last year show Emerson streaking ahead of the other suppliers in the pack that previously just followed on behind Siemens and ABB, to take a clear third position. With Endress + Hauser overtaking Invensys in this table, the potential combination of Rockwell and E+H, two close partners at least in the USA, is another growing force. But then GE, now combined with Dresser, is also pushing into the Top 10 of our league table.


Alfa Laval on the march!

In a review of Alfa Laval recent activities, and acquisitions, the INSIDER suggests it is time to consider where Alfa Laval will move next. Having sold their Control and automation arm, Sattcontrol, to ABB in 1998, they may be moving back into similar areas in the energy efficiency and environmental solutions markets, particularly after the acquisition of Aalborg Industries.

Lars Renström, President and CEO of the Alfa Laval Group, commented: “Aalborg complements our offering of energy-efficient and environmental solutions. It represents a significant business opportunity as it not only supports the development of our offering to the marine and off-shore markets but also we can introduce their product offering to new industrial end markets and customers.”

An interesting aside in relation to the INSIDER website, is that stories about the Alfa Laval activities attract the highest numbers of Google search led visitors to the INSIDER blog, Key products are heat exchangers, separators, pumps and valves – producing a turnover reported in Swedish Kronor of SEK26Bn in 2009 ($3.8Bn) and an operating profit of $670m (18%): the company has a market value of approx SEK57Bn ($8Bn). Company market share in heat exchangers globally is stated to be 30%, and the company growth rate over the period 2002 to 2009 averages 8% pa, based on a strong presence in the world’s fast growing economies.

CC-Link offers more than just a Gateway to Asia

CC-Link, the fieldbus protocol which dominates the Asian market, but which has until recently largely been ignored in the European and North American markets (which are dominated by Profibus, DeviceNet and Foundation Fieldbus) is beginning to make significant inroads into Europe. That was the message from outgoing CLPA (CC-Link Partner Association) general manager Steve Jones and his successor John Browett at a press conference held shortly before Christmas.

CC-Link is very much more than just a proprietary Mitsubishi protocol dressed up as an open network. This is shown by the population numbers produced by CLPA: installed nodes are multiplying at a rate of 950,000 a year and are set to pass the 8 million mark by March 2011, while the number of compliant products now exceeds 1000, and the number of partner companies 1300, with between 300 and 400 of them coming from Europe. European companies which have recognized the potential of CC-Link include Weidmüller, which has added CC-Link IE support to its range of Gigabit Ethernet connectivity solutions, HMS Industrial Networks which supports CC-Link IE with its Anybus–S gigabit Ethernet interface modules, and Hilscher which has introduced a Network Evaluation Board supporting CC-Link Remote Device and Remote I/O capabilities.

An American visit to the SPS Show in Nuremberg

Walt Boyes of was delighted to accept an invitation from Siemens, who took three US-based journalists to Nuremberg to experience the SPS/IPC/Drives show. The attendance – 52,000 visitors, 1300 exhibitors – impressed Siemens as well as Boyes. Siemens used it to launch their TIA Portal (Totally Integrated Automation Portal), a software development suite for all automation tasks on the Siemens programmable controllers, HMI devices and drives.

Where is the advertising spend going in 2011?

Chris Rand, founder of, now runs a UK-based consultancy called BMON, which specializes in providing Google AdWords management for industrial and scientific companies. Via his daily B2B marketing blog, sent to over 1000 engineering marketing managers – presumably mainly based in the UK – Rand asked for responses in an opinion poll about “Where engineering companies will be spending advertising money next year (2011)”. Over 180 marketing managers responded to the poll, and over 80% said that e-mail marketing is going to be the most important area of investment for industrial and scientific companies next year – the other area where the effort and budget is heading is Google AdWords, much to the relief of Chris Rand. Cuts are planned in the spend on web banner ads, and all spending seems to have been cut from “Paid-for editorial”. For the full results see the BMON survey on

Will panel builders soon rule the world?

Panel builders are the foot soldiers of the control and electrical engineering industry, and like today’s infantryman their job is undergoing radical technological change. Stuart Harvey of SoftStart UK ( predicts how things will develop over the next two-to-five years.

Nuclear physicist, rocket scientist, panel builder: they are all at the cutting edge of technology, and the country would soon grind to a halt without the least glamorous of these groups!

Today, automation and control are everywhere. Manufacturing and industry use it to constantly improve quality and productivity; public buildings are environments controlled to a tee; retailers use automation to order their stock with military precision – while monitoring every detail of consumer behaviour; mass transport is more automated than ever; schools, hospitals, sports centres are all installing specialist systems.

Yet the image of a wireman remains as an old codger doing what he’s been doing since  he realised that he was never going to make the billing on Top of the Pops or be regularly picked by Bill Shankley.

But the truth is panel building ain’t what it was, nor what it will be. Its technology is subject to constant change and improvement and today the rate of change is probably faster than ever. Another potent driving force is legislation, which constantly redefines safety and environmental performance. And control panels are not going to escape the drive for energy efficiency

In recent years we have seen the contrary effects of the ebb and flow of the wider economy. As business levels turned down, control gear manufacturers tried to secure their share of orders by winning buyers over with improved products and new technologies. Simultaneously, they thought laterally to find ways to take cost out of their customers’ activities.

This last point is very significant. Previously, the battle cry was always ‘cut costs’. But increasingly now the drive is to improve value, add functionality, integrate operations, improve performance, increase systems’ working life, design out operating costs, cut energy use, reduce downtime.

And the humble control panel is at the heart of all the above.

Our teenage kids are, of course, showing us the way. When did you last see a youngster with separate phone, camera and computer? Using integrated technologies is one of the great driving forces of the day, and panel builders are the people who will provide the integration at industrial systems level. Traditional industrial functions, such as driving pumps and conveyors, air knives and tunnel ovens must be integrated with one another and with ever-more monitoring functions. Then they must be sequenced with other production plant. Energy consumption has to be optimised like never before and safety must be maintained. Meanwhile raw data needs to be processed into high level information for feeding into the business systems, so computers need to be integrated into control panels – and they in turn need to integrate with computers in the offices above the production floor.

Control technology, therefore has a lot of goals to achieve. Fortunately manufacturers, such as Hyundai, Power Electronics Inc and ASEM, amongst others are ahead of the curve. They are already integrating products and technologies, adding massive single-chip intelligence to previously dumb components, giving them communications capability, and developing drives and soft starts to new levels.

A good example of this is the HMI (human machine interface). A flat screen graphical display that is easy to install and intuitive to use, a single HMI can replace an array of warning lights that would need to be individually wired-in and which would provide only the crudest of information.  Just a few years ago a power station or oil refinery would require a control room of many square metres just to house the mimics and operating desks – they were not dissimilar to NASA’s Mission Control or evil Dr No’s underground command centre. Now all that functionality can be provided by a couple of well programmed HMIs in a control panel.

Today nearly all businesses need to collect data from multiple sources, including production output, energy consumption, stock levels, plant performance and market predictions. This all needs to be analysed instantly and production plans automatically drawn up. The information has to be displayed to many people – in many locations and in many different formats. In short the control panels are increasingly being integrated with the enterprise management computer systems.

It is a fact of life that there is never adequate budget to realise the dreams of senior management, so panel builders have to look for new technologies to help keep costs under control. Plug and play equipment pulls out installation costs; integrated technologies are usually far cheaper than separate; modular software can be used like building blocks to create the perfect system for most applications.

There is, naturally, a relationship between panel size and cost, so miniaturised and compact solutions become attractive.

Another natural phenomenon is that once a panel has been installed for a few months, the powers-that-be will want to change it, with more functions, greater speed or integration with other parts of the production process. Modern, modular plug and play, control gear is designed for just this; reconfiguration is often now very simple where previously it could be next to impossible. Trendy marketing types call this ‘future proofing’ – wiremen prefer the term ‘sensible’, but when talking to the boss will say ‘reduced downtime’.

Safety has come to the fore in recent years, redefining panel layouts and acceptable practices. The need now is to make things absolutely idiot-proof and again today’s control gear manufacturers have risen to the challenge by designing out inherent problems and even making installation mistakes virtually impossible.

In conclusion, there has been and continues to be massive innovation in control gear design and panel builders have to constantly refine and develop their skills level. As businesses increasingly move to solutions-based management, control engineers will have to keep expanding their roles and responsibilities.

We have seen that technology is able to keep up with this trend. It is to be hoped that salaries and respect will also follow suit.