Autotech form new UK automation group

Autotech Controls Ltd has purchased Igranic Control Systems Ltd and PSJ Fabrications Ltd to form the Automated Technology Group (ATG) Ltd, which is claimed to now be the largest automation control company in the UK.

The acquisition brings together expertise and experience in diverse market sectors to form a group with a combined turnover of around £30 million. Andy Robinson, Managing Director of Autotech and CEO of the new group, commented: “This deal opens new markets for each of the three group companies, offering the potential for greater success through co-operation to increase market share and secure economies of scale.”

Serving major brands
The client base of the newly formed ATG is impressive. Designing and implementing controls for automated production and logistics systems, Autotech’s customers include major brands such as ABB, BAE Systems, BAA, Bentley, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Kimberly-Clark, Pirelli, Procter & Gamble, Toyota and Walkers Snack Foods. The market profiles and product ranges of Igranic and PSJ form a neat fit with Autotech. Synonymous for many years with medium- and high-voltage control systems, Igranic also serves many blue-chip brands including British Sugar, Corus, Hanson Cement, Scottish Power, Tata Steel and Thames Water. PSJ, meanwhile, specialises in the manufacture of high-quality cabinets and other fabrications in sheet metal, listing the USAF, the Ministry of Defence and the Science Museum among its clients.

Growth target
Said Andy Robinson, “Although ATG’s solutions are largely invisible to the general public, they are key to the operational success of many of the world’s best-known brands. Using our combined strength, we are determined to grow our market share across the wide range of industries in which we are now active – including automotive, logistics, airports, food & beverage, metals, utilities, oil & gas, mining & aggregates and power generation.” Automated Technology Group employs over 200 people across its four sites in Silsoe, Bedford and Birmingham but will need to recruit more engineers in order to achieve its objective of growing turnover to £50 million within five years. “We need many more personnel,” admitted Andy Robinson, “so we are keen to hear from highly skilled and motivated people and we’re also planning to launch our own apprenticeship scheme – the Autotech Academy – with the aim of taking on some 20 apprentices before the end of the year.”

Virtual manufacturing
A key area of growth for ATG will be virtual manufacturing services, whereby clients planning new or modified automated production systems can have their proposals comprehensively proven before the new systems are built and installed. Having invested over £1 million in dedicated software, hardware and simulation expertise, ATG is the UK’s leading supplier of virtual manufacturing services. “The ability to prove, say, a robotic work-cell before it is delivered to the factory floor of a leading car maker,” explained Andy Robinson, “is absolutely invaluable because it reduces risk, improves production quality, eradicates costly design errors and accelerates time-to-market for new models. Using our experience in the automotive industry, we will be looking to apply our virtual manufacturing expertise across our diverse client base.”

Company Histories
Automated Technology Group Ltd is now claimed to be the UK’s largest supplier of automation control solutions: the forecast for ATG’s turnover in 2012 is £29 million and the group aims to achieve sales revenues of £50 million within five years. ATG employs over 200 people across four facilities in Silsoe, Bedford and Birmingham.

Autotech Controls
Established in 1996 by its Managing Director, Andy Robinson, Autotech Controls Ltd is a leading global supplier of automation control solutions. Headquartered in Silsoe, Bedfordshire, the company’s turnover for 2011 was £16 million. Autotech designs, installs, maintains and upgrades control systems for companies in a diverse range of industries including the automotive, logistics, airports and food & beverage sectors. As an approved system integrator for Group Schneider, Rockwell and Siemens, many clients have specified Autotech as their preferred controls supplier. Blue-chip clients worldwide include BAE Systems, Bentley, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Ford, Gate Gourmet, Jaguar Land Rover and Procter & Gamble.

Igranic Control Systems
Established in 1904, Igranic Control Systems Ltd is a leading supplier of motor control centres and innovative high-voltage products. Based in Bedford, the company’s turnover for 2011 was over £7 million. Igranic designs and supplies industrial control packages, handling contracts from concept stage right through to completion, with guaranteed on-time delivery. The company’s core solutions are motor control and high-voltage switchgear/distribution systems. Igranic’s clients include British Sugar, Hanson Cement, Scottish Power, Tata Steel and Thames Water.

PSJ Fabrications
Established in 1969, PSJ Fabrications Ltd is a leading specialist in the supply of sheet metal fabrication work, producing precision-engineered components and equipment at extremely competitive prices. Located in Bedford, the company’s turnover for 2011 was in excess of £2 million. PSJ’s clients include the USAF, the Ministry of Defence and the Science Museum.

Honeywell “Intuition Executive” for process industries

Honeywell has announced the global launch of Intuition Executive, the flagship product of its new Intuition software portfolio. Intuition Executive delivers enterprise-wide information management, decision support and collaboration tools to help companies achieve operational excellence.

Companies in the process industries often use dozens of applications and hundreds of spreadsheets to manage complex production operations, monitor processes and make operating decisions. These systems are usually either completely isolated or are connected with complex, custom-designed interfaces that make it difficult to use the data effectively and maintain data integrity.

With its sophisticated data processing and analytics capabilities, Intuition Executive solves this critical challenge. The software anticipates problems and identifies opportunities. Its collaboration tools highlight and capture expert knowledge, share information and help users to make more agile decisions and take action in order to drive intelligent operations and solve key challenges. For companies in the process industry this results in increased efficiency and the ability to manage and respond to volatile energy costs, complex regulatory changes, and real-world safety challenges.

“Data integration and visualization is a must have for our customers today,” said Ian Brown, vice president & general manager, Advanced Solutions, Honeywell Process Solutions. “The ability to see, understand and act on the relationships within critical data is key to creating competitive advantage, and this can only be achieved when all applications and underlying data are amalgamated. Once you do this, you can identify and take advantage of opportunities earlier, mitigate potentially damaging plant events and make confident business decisions.”

Intuition Executive is developed on and extends the functionality of Microsoft Corp. technologies such as Microsoft SharePoint 2010, SQL Server and StreamInsight to meet the requirements of industrial operations.

“Monitoring and analysing data in motion leads to earlier event detection and faster decision making. Combining business intelligence and analytics tools with existing workflows empowers organizations with the ability to take immediate action and stay ahead in today’s highly competitive industrial marketplace,” said Caglayan Arkan, general manager, Worldwide Manufacturing and Resources Sector, Microsoft. “Combined with Microsoft technologies, Intuition Executive is positioned to take advantage of computing power and complex event processing technology to analyze large data streams.”

Intuition Executive is part of the growing family of Intuition solutions that solve key industry needs such as operations monitoring, alarm management, asset management, remote operation centres, and business process optimization. Powered by Matrikon, Intuition Executive is vendor neutral and will connect to any control system or underlying data source.

For further information, please visit

Invensys Rail announces Positive Train Control $24m acquisition

Invensys Rail in North America has announced the acquisition of privately held PHW Inc for up to $24m. Based in Pittsburgh, PHW is a leading manufacturer of cab signaling systems and other safety electronic train control systems for the North American mainline and mass transit industries.  The acquisition of PHW and its on-board Positive Train Control (PTC) products enhances Invensys Rail’s existing range of trackside PTC products, strengthening further the company’s position in North America.

“The acquisition of PHW and its onboard PTC product line complements our established portfolio of trackside PTC products and will play an important role in helping us to achieve the ambitious growth plans we have in North America,” said Kevin Riddett, CEO of Invensys Rail.

PHW’s on-board system is used on the North East Corridor by Amtrak and associated railroads as part of Amtrak’s ACSES PTC system.  ACSES is the first PTC system to be approved for operation by the Federal Railroad Administration under the requirements of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

PHW will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Invensys Rail, a division of Invensys plc.

Central London CCS plant instrumented by ABB

On 19 April, Veli-Matti Reinikkala, president of ABB Process Automation, and Prof Andrew Livingston, head of the chemical engineering department at Imperial College, London, formally opened an industrial scale carbon capture pilot plant, which makes significant use of remote and wireless technologies. The result of a three year GBP10m ($15m) project, the chemical separation columns extend up through four floors within the chemical engineering faculty building, and will be used for teaching, research, development work with industrial partners, technology display and customer demonstrations/training.  The agreement between ABB and Imperial College to create this facility is based on a history of over 20 years of co-operation, formalized in 2004 into a strategic alliance, which then led in 2007 to joint sponsorship by ABB with the Royal Academy of Engineering of a Chair in Process Automation at the College. This further project represents an initial investment of around GBP1m ($1.5m) by ABB, supplemented with a 10 year agreement to support the facility: ABB will also provide a series of sponsorships and summer placements for Imperial’s chemical engineering undergraduates, probably at their main execution centres for oil, gas and petrochemical automation in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, but also in the measurement products factories in the UK, or even in Brisbane, Australia.

Showcase for ABB technology

“The pilot plant is a global showcase for the latest and best process control and instrumentation technology in use at one of the world’s leading engineering institutions,” said Martin Grady, ABB general manager for oil, gas and petrochemical in the UK. “We will be able to trial new technology in a low risk, well-managed environment to gather Beta site test data. It also gives ABB a great platform to train its staff and customers on a real pilot plant. Quite simply, there are very few industrial companies that have utilised all the leading-edge technology that Imperial College is featuring within this pilot plant.”

The plant uses a wide range of instrumentation, analyzers, drives, motors and process automation equipment from ABB – there are over 250 sensors on the plant. The control room, equipped with an ABB Extended Operator Workplace (EOW), and the ABB System 800xA DCS, provides students with hands-on experience of pilot-scale industrial plant operations: it is the only facility of its kind in an academic institution in the world. In recognition of ABB’s support for the new carbon capture pilot plant, Imperial has named this hi-tech centre-piece of the installation the “ABB Control Room” – even going so far as having large ABB letters woven into the carpet. Split into two parts, with two large and four smaller displays in each section, these can operate as simulated separate control rooms, for example taking the roles of an on-site facility on one side, and a remote supervisory base on the other side.

Central London location

Having such a facility in the centre of London, in South Kensington, next door to the Science Museum and a few blocks from the City, is a fantastic exhibit for ABB. It is also a very significant investment for Imperial College, and will be the focus of the chemical engineering department activity for many years. With extensive instrumentation, including duplicated flowmeters to demonstrate the eight different flow measurement technologies available, and also featuring networking systems like Profibus DP and PA, Foundation Fieldbus, HART 4-20mA and WirelessHART: teaching and experience of instrumentation and control will be another major topic for students. During the demonstration of the facility, the students were using commercial iPad systems with Wi-Fi to call up plant information and operating data when out on the plant, but the lecturers did stress that these were not devices that they recommended for on-site use!

Plant construction

The plant was designed by Strata Technology of Sunbury-on-Thames, and uses two 10 metre high columns, fitted with viewing windows, and extensive instrumentation from ABB. It also includes the latest in wireless technology from ABB, and technical advances in pump and heat exchanger technology. The capture process involves absorbing carbon dioxide gas into a liquid amine stream in an absorber column fitted with random packing and transferring to a stripper column containing a structured packing of trays and within which the carbon dioxide is desorbed at high temperatures.  In this demonstration pilot plant the desorbed carbon dioxide is recycled back to the absorber column. Initial research will concentrate on evaluating the energy efficiency available with different amine stream liquids.

The plant was built by Tecno Project Industriale of Italy, installed and commissioned in February 2012 in conjunction with JMS and Charter Tech. One of the slight problems was that being in the middle of the building, the plant sections and skids had to pass through a specially widened 2.1m doorway, so the max skid width was specified at 2.05m: naturally on arrival the width was checked and found to be 2.15m, but this did not hold up the construction work(!)

Necessarily, the plant is subject to the same stringent safety requirements as any real-life industrial process. Certain critical out-of-range or emergency situations have been identified and are monitored with SIL rated sensors as part of the TÜV certified safety system included within the 800xA control system, to provide alarms and guard against (1) asphyxiation caused by leaking gases, (2) dangerous high or low liquid levels or pressures in the columns, and (3) overheating. Automatic shutdown routines are initiated if no corrective action is taken from the control room consoles.

ABB energy harvesting

An advantage for ABB is that the pilot plant provides a useful Beta-test and demo site for new instrumentation. One of the major true innovations in this field, first seen as a prototype at the ABB Automation and Power World US event in 2010 (INSIDER June 2010 page 3), was a WirelessHART temperature transmitter, powered using energy harvesting based on what was then described as the Peltier effect, power generated by a temperature difference. Gareth Johnston, ABB marketing manager for such instrumentation in the UK, points out that this really uses the Seebeck principle, which is where temperature difference produces electric power, whereas the Peltier effect is normally used to describe the generation of heat at the junction between two different materials. Anyway, the temperature difference triggers a micro thermo-electric generator, or “MicroTEG”, and around 30°C difference between the process line and the environment is sufficient to drive the sensor: perfect for steam line monitoring.

On the pilot plant two of these transmitters are installed on the steam feedlines, and an ABB SM500 paperless recorder shows the measured temperature, and the measured environmental temperature, from the wireless transmitted data. This display also shows the current being drawn from the internal back-up battery, again via WirelessHART: this current is zero when the steam line is running, and the energy harvester is working.  ABB expects the back-up battery to last around 15-17 years, when typically it is not used except during plant shutdowns. I suggested a software mod to reduce the data rate when the battery was in operation, since this would typically be during shutdowns: eyebrows went up, and this seems to have been added to the list of possible future mods.

However Johnston reported a lot of interest in this sensor from a wide range of customers, wanting to conduct field testing in real applications, on steam lines but also even on refrigerated lines – operation below ambient temperatures can still produce the power. One of the energy harvesting steam temperature sensors at Imperial College was a strap-on unit, on the outside of the pipe under the insulation: one of the advantages of this test facility for ABB is that they can try their sensor developments out on an operating plant.

Choice of level products

It was noticeable that the liquid level switch systems on the columns and reservoirs on the pilot plant were the bright yellow of Vega conductivity sensors, and these level switches were not one of the areas where the sensor technologies were duplicated for the benefit of the students! Since acquiring K-Tek in the USA in early 2010 (INSIDER June 2010 page 5), within ABB there is a centre of expertise for such level switch and level measurement products, and this would have been a good spring-board to demonstrate this new capability. Unfortunately not even ABB can ignore the European CE regulations, and until K-Tek products have been designed and tested in versions that meet these requirements, they are not available for use in Europe. However, some ABB DP cells were being used for liquid level measurement duties in the columns.

[Editor’s note: The INSIDER, and any other Editor or marketing professional, by nature takes delight in finding such little chinks in the overall marketing presentation as that noted above! It is to ABB’s credit that they had decided not to try to disguise the level sensors by repainting the housings. But what was actually really impressive to a marketing person was the high quality 12 page leaflet from ABB describing the installation, the range of equipment supplied, and the objective of the different aspects of the plant. All the different equipment supplied is described, including some fairly new to me, like the CO2/N2 gas mix analyzer…and some ABB mechanical pressure gauges….]

International impact

ABB’s involvement in the project is aimed at raising the awareness among chemical engineering graduates of the benefits of a career in control and instrumentation engineering. “By investing in the pilot plant and the awards, we are effectively investing in our own future, by making sure that ABB will have ready access to a stream of bright young engineers,” says Grady.

With many international students also studying at the College, the facility will help to position the UK as the global centre of excellence and expertise for engineering education. Dr Daryl Williams, director of the pilot plant project at Imperial, added: “The pilot plant contributes to making Imperial the leading international centre for practical, hands-on chemical engineering education and training.” It is claimed that around 5000 students will be trained on this plant over the next 10 years or so, and the objective is that on starting work in a process plant, the control room, and ABB equipment, will already be a familiar environment to these engineers. From ABB’s viewpoint, training engineers on the System 800xA DCS will be useful, and they suggest that with a 25% market share according to ARC, with over 6000 systems installed around the world since 800xA sales started in 2004, the chances are that the engineers will benefit, because the plant where they finally work is likely to be using their systems anyway!

Imperial College is faced with future competition from the internet, with virtual learning web-based courses soon likely to offer remote instrumentation training and chemical engineering degrees: this pilot plant puts Imperial one or more steps ahead, being able to offer state of the art practical facilities in a hands-on environment. Plus, the UK Government believes that carbon capture technology will provide a GBP6Bn export industry in terms of expertise and technology from the UK, by the end of the decade.

This article was first published in the INSIDER newsletter for May 2012: for more info and subscription info please see

Dust explosions in Canadian sawmills

A little more background is given here to the story briefly reported in the May INSIDER Newsletter, about the action taken by WorkSafe BC in notifying British Columbia’s 300-odd sawmills they have two weeks to conduct a thorough inspection and implement an effective combustible dust control plan, following recent sawmill explosions in Prince George and Burns Lake, where four workers were killed and 41 injured. One sawmill, the Pope and Talbot sawmill in Fort St. James, British Columbia, has closed temporarily to clean up sawdust.

“The reason for sending out the directive order is directly linked to the second catastrophic explosion in Prince George,” said Roberta Ellis, senior vice president of corporate services with WorkSafe BC. “We’ve heard from workers, we’ve heard from unions, we’ve heard from employers. There’s a high level of nervousness and concern.” So why is this now a major problem, worse than in previous years? The answer is simple, according to the US Government’s Dept of FireScience Digest, and it’s all down to global warming!

Global warming increases the amount of beetle wood

Three years ago, in a report dated 3 February 2009, WorkSafeBC specifically warned of the danger posed by the dry wood killed by pine beetles, which produces a lot of dust, and noted an absence of monitoring the exposure to wood dust in processing saws and chipping heads in one specific plant.

Wood killed by pine beetles is exceptionally dry. John Allen, president and CEO of the Council of Forest Industries (COFI) advises that the industry is inevitably relying on older beetle wood, and it is not practical to reduce the consumption of such wood. “What we’re going to do is take steps to mitigate against any issues from sawmilling beetle wood, including dust,” he said following the meeting with the BC Labour Minister, WorkSafeBC, companies and unions. There has been much discussion about the challenges of processing wood killed by pine beetles because that wood is exceptionally dry.

Beetle epidemic over a wide area

The forests in British Columbia are the scene of what scientists consider to be the worst bark beetle epidemic ever. The US Government’s FireScience Digest says mountain pine beetles and spruce beetles have attacked lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce over millions of hectares throughout the subalpine zones of the Rockies and have killed between 60 and 80 percent of the mature trees in some places.

The Digest says what is particularly concerning about this outbreak is that the beetles are pushing into new territories such as northern British Columbia, on the extreme edge of the mountain pine beetle’s historical range. The beetles have crossed the spine of the northern Rockies, apparently for the first time, and are now resident in Alberta jack pine forests. They have also spread upslope into alpine forests of whitebark and bristlecone pines, where cold temperatures have historically kept them out. They could well spread into other tree species that did not co-evolve with these beetle species and consequently have no defences against it.

The main factor in these new dynamics is a warming climate, the Digest says. Earlier snowmelt, a longer growing season, and milder winters favour an environment that drives beetles to reproduce more often in a season and allows more larvae to survive the winter.

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Verhappen appointed as md for Yokogawa Canada

First reported by Eoin O’Riain of in Ireland, from watching Facebook, Yokogawa USA finally announced today that Ian Verhappen has joined Yokogawa as managing director of Yokogawa Canada, to be based in Calgary. Verhappen is well known within the ISA, and until last month was campaigning to become President-elect at the ISA in the 2012 nominations, but he withdrew from this competition on taking up his new post.

Verhappen reports that he has had an exciting first week this last week, “Working with a GREAT group of people with LOTS of energy” he says on Facebook: “Looking forward to the future!”

From Canada Verhappen will report to Chet Mroz, president of Yokogawa Corporation America, who said: “Mr. Verhappen is well recognized within our industry as someone who quickly identifies the customers’ core problem and understands how technology can be used to provide cost effective solutions to the issue at hand. I believe that his experience, industry knowledge, understanding of the Canadian market, as well as his strong leadership, will help expand our business in Canada by providing customer services excellence.”

Verhappen is also author of several books on Foundation Fieldbus, and recently has been working as Industrial Automation Networks Inc, as a global consultant in the engineering services business, assisting clients with their process plant networking, digital field systems, process control and safety systems, process analyzer systems and automation projects. His previous roles include working for the ISA as Vice President Strategic Planning, as Director Industrial Networks for MTL Inc, and as HSE RIO Project Manager for the Fieldbus Foundation.

Yokogawa also advise that the first 25 years of his career in the upstream hydrocarbon industry with Petro-Canada (now Suncor) and Syncrude Canada Ltd. gaining exposure to the full spectrum of the oil and gas as well as the oil sands sector. He holds a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Alberta, and is a Certified Automation Professional. He is a Fellow member of the ISA, where he was a VP last year, and had previously been the Publications VP: he is also a Professional Engineer in Alberta.

Jim Pinto says “Enough” and stops the weblogs

On his personal website over the last ten years, Jim Pinto has hosted and edited weblogs specifically discussing the eight major automation companies, to allow anyone – whether employee, manager, shareholder or customer – a forum where it was possible to express opinions and thoughts on the company – whatever this might relate to: or to comment on the business activity or direction.

This service was requested and welcomed by many automation company employees, because, apparently, they did not have any other communication route where their views could be aired or discussed. It was a significant task for Pinto, reading, editing, removing offensive material (which was as high as 10-20%), but, as he said back in 2005, it kept him in touch with the industry, he had a finger on the pulse! It often gave advance insights into what was going on, and what was possibly going to happen next, sometimes months in advance, Pinto says.

Lack of management support

The management of these companies did not take Jim Pinto up on his offer to let them post their own opinions, and make positive comments about their plans: so regrettably, particularly in a rough market and general downturn, the negative comments and complaints, sometimes just from a few individuals, have dominated the weblog content in recent times. Maybe that is why most managers deny that they read these weblogs: but Pinto reckons that some company discussions regularly get thousands of visitors a day, and I would believe that.

There is another aspect to this service: maybe with his recent tourist trips and lecture tours in South America and other places, the workload on Jim Pinto when he returns to base, sifting, editing, deleting and loading, is too high to justify his own satisfaction with the end result: we all have to feel we are having some sort of effect for good! Plus in difficult economic times, Jim Pinto has decided it is time to cease providing a forum dominated by doom-mongers. He says “With very little in the way of positive results, I am stopping these automation company weblogs”. As ever, he would be delighted to receive your comments on this, at

INSIDER Comment:

It is significant that while frequently suggesting to the managers, and even PR people during INSIDER interviews, that maybe they should consider writing something positive about their company, like an opinion piece or a thumbnail sketch of their objectives, for publication in the INSIDER (provided it seems to be coherent and sensible, not just an advert): there has been no rush to take-up this opportunity.

Maybe the editors of all the journals are just too good at explaining such things, on their behalf, but you would think that sometimes we might not be as accurate or positive as the ceo would be!