P+F invests in factory for Exd, Exe housings

Dr-Ing Gunther Kegel joined Pepperl + Fuchs, the German family owned company, in 1990, in the Mannheim headquarters, initially in design and technical management rôles, but since 2001 he has been the ceo. Currently, apart from running P+F, he has been elected to the chairmanship of the Fieldbus Foundation board of directors, and also chairs the board of the VDE (the Association of German Engineers), plus is a member of the boards of many other organizations, such as the FDT Group, the ZVEI, and the German language automation magazine atp – plus several other organizations.

It was therefore a fascinating experience to be present at the opening of the new P+F factory in Wednesbury, in the UK West Midlands, North of Birmingham, where he outlined some of the plans and developments for the future within P+F – which is developing along just as many strands as his external activity. Concrete evidence of one of these strands is seen in the new Wednesbury factory, representing a total project investment of Euro6m ($8m) over three years, into the manufacture of enclosures and hazardous area electrical equipment.

Acquisition of Walsall Ltd
In December 2009 P+F acquired Walsall Ltd, a UK company established in 1892, and originally named after the neighbouring town of Walsall, where the first factory was established. The acquired business manufactures Exd and Exe junction boxes, cabinets and control panels and switching systems for hazardous area use, plus accessories such as light fittings, floodlights and beacons for hazardous areas. It still trades with the brand name P+F Walsall, see http://www.Walsall-ltd.com, but the Walsall name will be phased out slowly.

The logic is to grow the P+F business with an expanded range of explosion protection equipment, adding flameproof (explosion-proof) and increased safety housings and cabinets to their existing capability of intrinsically safe sensors and barriers, making a complete offering for hazardous area electrical installations. With a parallel acquisition in Italy offering a complimentary range of Exd and Exe enclosure designs, P+F has a portfolio of stainless steel, cast iron, aluminium and GRP housings and cabinets, to offer across their nine regional solutions engineering centres, scattered across the world.

Investment in production
In only two years the new factory has been established, with more than double the previous production space, and production cell and team expertise is being built up in the fast growing team – currently 45 are employed: the surprising mix of German and Birmingham accents in the production and engineering teams, and the robot handling the output from the fully automated and software programmed stainless sheet (1.5mm and 3mm) cutting machine, are evidence of a drive to build and grow this business. The next investment at Wednesbury will involve a fully automated welding robot cell (at around GBP350k/$550k) for these stainless housings, to increase volume throughput. Already the solutions centres are supplying over 25,000pa units of hazardous area solutions packages, and this success is leading to increased demand.

P+F sees fast recovery from 2009
Dr Kegel outlined his view of the P+F Group, after a remarkably fast business recovery from the depression of 2009: 2010 saw a sales recovery to the Euro370m level of 2008, and last year the business grew to achieve Euro450m in sales, admittedly still with 58% in Europe. While only 17% of sales go to the USA, many of the major DCS suppliers are major customers for P+F interfaces, custom control cabinets and barriers.

P+F adopts a full manufacturing profile, even down to the plastic mouldings, and currently has 5200 employees (900 up on last year), with 49% in Asia, and a large manufacturing base in Hungary, a relatively low cost assembly area. Current investment into manufacturing includes doubling capacity in Hungary, and also in Tuttlingen, Germany (for rotary encoders – widely used on wind turbines).

Other investments include Euro15m into the German distribution centre, now nearing completion, to be followed by further investment in the Singapore centre. On top of this, R+D expenditure is budgeted at 10% of sales, around twice that of any similar business in the USA or UK, but actually on a par with some of their German competitors. They see a need to stay in a strong position of “innovation leadership”, but Dr Kegel stressed an area of concern, that there is a real need to attract more engineers into this industry, to achieve their development plans.

DART goes into production
A major P+F innovation is seen in their DART technology – Dynamic Arc Recognition and Termination. The first pilot production runs are in progress, following the PTB approval of DART systems for use on Foundation Fieldbus H1 installations. Basically DART offers Ex ib IIC intrinsic safety for long (1000m) cable lengths carrying up to 50W of power into the hazardous area, by having P+F electronic systems at either end of the cable: these identify any fault in the electrical system at the outset of the event, and switch it off before the energy released reaches a critical level. After only a few milliseconds the power is restored, and if the apparent ‘spark’ signal had been caused by a ‘connect’ or ‘disconnect’ operation, for example when an operator reconnects a sensor, everything is back to normal.

A DART power supply links to the DCS in a safe or a Zone 2 area, and in Zone 1 at the other end of the cable up to four DART Segment Protectors provide intrinsically safe connections for field instruments and fieldbus segments, with up to 120m per spur allowed – double the length available with FISCO. Note that these segment protectors are normally housed in stainless or GRP enclosures with suitable cable glands – which can also be supplied by P+F Walsall.

A future IEC standard?
DART allows long cable runs in hazardous areas that previously might have needed to be specified in conduit, replacing this with standard cabling, and avoiding the need for conduit, glands and flameproof or explosion-proof boxes, to distribute the instrument power. Further applications for DART are being planned – for example for Profibus PA, and also maybe with intrinsically safe lighting systems. A consortium of companies are quoted to be pushing to get the DART technology adopted as an IEC standard – Dr Kegel would not like to see application of this technology in any way affected by the commercially biased approaches that have caused the ‘Fieldbus Wars’ and the ‘Wireless Standards’ disputes of recent times!