Yokogawa recovery is now completed

The recent Yokogawa User Conference in Berlin was reported in the INSIDER Newsletter July 2014 issue, showing a major emphasis on wireless systems, and the addition of new wireless sensors, for example for flammable gas alarm applications. The Berlin conference was the first significant Yokogawa European event since the Nice User Group meeting in November 2012, and so gave a good opportunity to talk to the management and assess how the business has reorganized and progressed over the few years. The overall impression is that Yokogawa is back to full health, so the major players need to move over.

The problems of the last five years.

The group has had a hard time over the last five years, following the world-wide recession and then their poor financial results in 2009. Then Japanese factors affected the Group badly, with the rise of the Japanese Yen reducing the competitive position – because of local production and group HQ costs – and the country then faced the impact and aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Some of the Test and Measurement Division businesses were sold off, realizing some capital, and the company structure has been rearranged: jobs and resources were re-allocated. Wound around this, the wireless standards ‘war’ between ISA100 and WirelessHART, where Yokogawa for a long time took the brunt of the problems, and presumably had to help in the process of finalizing the ISA100 standard into a workable form: at least this is now completed, and consequently Yokogawa is the leader in the ISA100 field.

Recovery factors

Perhaps the major market factor that aided the Yokogawa recovery was the growth of the LNG liquefaction and shipping activity around the world, since is this an area where they have significant expertise and have a large market share compared to the other majors. Currently there are continuing LNG projects, the Japanese Yen has returned to the historic level of ¥100=$1, and over some years the production facilities have been diversified, reducing the concentration in Japan.

The flow company, Rota, has always been headquartered in Europe: now the special custom assemblies of complete analyzer houses are also built in Europe and the USA, plus the latest LNG project on the Yamal peninsula in Russia will be engineered from Europe. In a discussion at their Berlin conference, Yokogawa president and COO Nishijima san reminded me that they already had two established manufacturing joint venture companies in China, manufacturing transmitters and flowmeters, and the DCS systems plus other measuring instruments are built in Indonesia, with general pcboard manufacturing in Singapore. Nishijima san also commented on the need for local manufacture in the USA to provide the fast lead times required in that market, so we might see investment in a new production assembly venture there.

The next steps – with wireless

The Berlin conference showed that Yokogawa is building on their ISA100 position, and is seeking other add-on wireless sensor technologies to increase their ‘in-house’ capability. This might be by using their add-on wireless adaptor/interface, to existing mains powered sensors. It looks like a good relationship has developed with GE Bently Nevada, and corrosion and intrusion detection sensors might be next, with maybe fire detection sensors to go alongside the GasSecure flammable gas detectors on offshore platforms. Dräger, the specialists in oil and gas safety technology, were one of the major sponsoring partners of the Berlin conference, and also presented a talk discussing fire detection, using visual flame detection systems.

Nishijima was appointed President in February 2013: in April 2013 Herman van den Berg was appointed European President, and in December 2013 Simon Rogers was recruited as the head of the UK operation. Van den Berg, probably in common with Chet Mroz and others in the USA, has been burning up the air miles to Japan over the past 18 months, as a part of planning the recovery of the business. In fact there was an acquisition in March 2013 of Soteica Visual Mesa, marking an entry for Yokogawa into energy management IT services. Nishijima san sees further alliances and even acquisitions as an important route for Yokogawa to consider, to achieve the future growth his shareholders expect to see, and the current improvement in debt/equity ratio and normalization of the company share status makes this much more possible.

DCS and software developments

The major existing DCS developments have involved cyber-security improvements, probably in conjunction with McAfee after the February 2013 announcement, and ISAsecure certification for ProSafe RS. Additions to expect in this area are augmented reality added onto the displays, and compatibility with virtual servers. Yokogawa sees major business expansion potential in providing IT techniques and services for their IA customers, as a continuing service activity.

Examples quoted were CMMS in the cloud, which is already being offered as a service in Japan, and a software service called iMaintain, jointly developed and installed with Akzo Nobel in Germany: plus there is also their RigRider drilling procedure software, as reported from the Offshore Europe Expo in the newsletter last September. iMaintain enables client engineers to access device live data and history via a tablet on site, after reading the device ID locally using OCR. The iMaintain server accesses the DCS via an OPC link, to get current data, but can also call up device notes previously recorded, and also the instruction manual. A similar service offering is the Sotieca VisualMesa energy management system, which can suggest fuel and operational changes that will run plants such as refineries at minimal cost. One example of this is a recent project for the BP Lingen refinery in Germany: the system is in use in around 70 sites in refineries and petrochemical plants in the EU and North America.

The R+D activity on instrumentation also continues….

In the area of field instrumentation, continuing development will be seen following their strategy of having a two tier offering, featuring a top of the range unit backed up with a lower cost unit aimed at lower specification requirements. This has been seen with the EJX and EJA-E pressure transmitter, and the Admag AXF flowmeter, with the RXF unit typically for water industry applications. A new version of the TDLS combustion gas analyzer will also be launched soon. The activity level in this area of R+D is significant, with typically 400 to 500 new patents generated in a year.

Nick Denbow

The INSIDER Newsletter covering industrial automation and control is a Spitzer and Boyes publication, see http://www.iainsider.co.uk

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Rockwell $5.3m order for LSB nitric acid and ammonia plants

LSB Industries Inc, a diversified industrial manufacturer of chemical and HVAC products, has awarded a $5.3 million contract to Rockwell Automation. Rockwell will serve as the main automation contractor for two new plants, providing a $3.5 million PlantPAx process automation system with electrical, controls and instrumentation services, and a $1.8 million Ethernet motor control system. The systems will be installed at both of LSB’s new plants (nitric acid and ammonia) currently being constructed at its El Dorado, Arkansas facility.

“Rockwell Automation won the order based on its strong installed base, plant preference at our El Dorado ammonia plant, and its strategic partnership with the Casale Group,” said Dallas Robinson, vice president of operations at LSB.

Working with the Casale Group, a Swiss systems integrator specializing in ammonia and methanol, and Rexel, a global electrical distributor, Rockwell Automation won a major order for this ammonia plant, strengthening its position in the chemical sector.

“We’re pleased to deliver this important project for LSB Industries,” said Terry Gebert, vice president and general manager, Rockwell Automation global solutions. “Our domain expertise, process knowledge and project management will help LSB Industries implement and operate profitable, sustainable facilities.”

Single-cell mass spectrometry

Yokogawa technology has been selected for the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s next-generation technology transfer program. The technology has made a major step forward towards the development of a confocal image single-cell drug discovery support system.

OK, its not what you expect to read about on an instrumentation and control newsletter website blog, but instrumentation gets into some interesting areas. One of the real advantages of the University system as I saw it, in Cambridge, was that you had researchers from many different disciplines side by side at dinner, in the bar, or just happening to talk to each other. OK, I left there 50 years ago, but still go back for the occasional event/dinner etc – why not, I had fun there. Last month I went back for the 50th anniversary dinner – presumably Churchill College want to make sure I remember them when I write a new Will – and sat next to a young Japanese lady who was using a Yokogawa confocal scanner to monitor the neuron messages in the brain of a fruit fly. Apparently the fruit fly does not think about much, other than fruit, so his neurons are easiest to track, and this is the technology you need.

I have to say its not easy to keep track after several aperitifs and two different courses, with the wine, but for an electrical engineer cum journalist I kept up. So now read what the real description says….

Yokogawa Electric Corporation has announced that its confocal image single-cell drug discovery support system has been selected for the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s (JST) next-generation technology transfer program (NexTEP). NexTEP was created to promote efforts by companies to find practical applications for the technologies (including those covered by patents) and research findings of universities and public research institutions.

Through this undertaking, JST aims to develop a new drug-discovery support system that will integrate a single-cell mass spectrometry method developed by the RIKEN Quantitative Biology Center’s Laboratory for Single Cell Mass Spectrometry with high-speed imaging and high-precision positioning technologies that Yokogawa has developed for its confocal scanner units and drug-discovery support devices.

For the development of new drugs, multiple cells are typically ground to analyse intracellular metabolism and thereby verify the efficacy and side effects of a particular candidate drug. A drawback of this technique is that molecular changes in individual cells cannot be analysed in sufficient detail. In addition, large numbers of animal and human cells are required.

With this new system, JST aims to clarify how molecules of a candidate drug reach a specific cell and the changes that take place there. Single-cell mass spectrometry is a technique for the analysis of target molecules that have been suctioned out from individual cells as they are being observed under a microscope. The system that is to be developed will speed up this process by automating the identification of cells and molecules where unusual changes have taken place, and automatically capturing target molecules. In addition to speeding up analysis, this will reduce costs.

Yokogawa will work with RIKEN to develop a system that will accelerate the development of new drugs by enabling the quick and precise analysis of the effect that candidate drugs have on intracellular metabolism.

Single-cell mass spectrometry is a method whereby cell molecules are suctioned out using a microfine glass tube (nanospray chip), ionised with an ionising organic solvent, and analysed (to identify type and amount) using a mass spectrometer. Performed under a microscope, this method is fast and the analysis results are highly precise. While a large sample is needed with conventional methods, this analysis method requires just one cell, and it can also quantify intermediate metabolites and trace metabolic pathways to final metabolites.

About Yokogawa’s confocal scanner unit and drug-discovery support system

The confocal scanner is a scanning unit that focuses laser beams on individual points on a plane to acquire tomographic images of live cells at selected depths, without the need for slicing the sample. Thanks to its clear images and industry-leading imaging speed, Yokogawa’s confocal scanner is widely used in research institutions around the world. The Yokogawa drug-discovery support system that incorporates this scanner unit is an automated testing tool that looks at cell functions, administers drug candidate compounds to cells, takes pictures of induced intracellular changes, and analyses reactions. This system also leads the industry in screening speed and resolution.

Correlation flowmetering finds the computing power needed

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

This was a quote from George Peppard, in the A-Team, in 1983. But that was too early for the cross-correlation two phase flowmeter to become a reality, as it was only 7 years after I first saw prototypes with Dr Maurice Beck at Bradford University in 1976. My job then was to investigate University developments, to see what could be developed into a viable commercial product for Bestobell Mobrey. We decided not to take up the project, but Maurice Beck continued with this type of research, subsequently as a Professor at UMIST in Manchester. The cross-correlation function took much more computing power than was easily available at that time, but the concept was attractive, particularly to people dealing with multi-phase oil-well flows, dry product flows and other measurements using non-contact sensors. Later, this included people such as oil and oil service companies, like Schlumberger, and sensors for solids monitoring applications, such as Endress+Hauser.

The technology nearly 50 years later

Dr Andrew Hunt

Dr Andrew Hunt

So it was a real pleasure to catch up with what seems to be the culmination of this development process, at the demo facility of Atout Process in Southampton. Andy Hunt, md of Atout Process, has worked on the concepts involved with this flowmeter and flow visualization system for over 12 years, with colleagues in Tomoflow technology. Tomoflow developed and patented much of the electronics and software needed: the technique is similar to tomography, but unlike a body scanner, taking 5 -10 minutes for one scan, it completes a scan across a pipe around 600 times each second – or even faster in some solids applications. Dr Hunt has an oil industry background, and at one time worked for Schlumberger on these techniques, with Prof Beck and his colleagues. So around 5 years ago he set up Atout and licensed the Tomoflow technology for commercial applications development in relation to process applications.

Over the last 5 years Atout has developed sensors and application expertise for visualizing and computing the density profile of flowing materials, across the pipe section, using non-contact, non-penetration capacitance measurements, normally working through a plastic or similar pipe wall material. Typically using two sets of 8-electrode arrays, spaced along the pipe, and computing all the inter-electrode capacitances, these can provide a picture of the material density within the pipe. Cross-correlation functions, now reduced to a minor part of the major computing power applied, calculate the transfer speed of the mass pattern between the two arrays.

Practical demonstrations

Pipe sensor, with visualisation of contents on the laptop - using bench electronics (behind)The results were impressive. Placing a dielectric rod (of diameter <20% of the sensor) within the sensor, the Complete sensor assembly and electronics wrapped around food grade plastic pipescreen visual representation clearly shows the rod position, movement and size, within the blue on the photograph that represents a clear pipe. In the picture on the left, the electronics unit behind the sensor is a desktop research unit: the second picture on the right shows a sensor with the electronics packaged around a food grade plastic pipe sensor, which would then be sleeved.

Dropping 6Kg of wheat from a hopper through such a sensor showed the clouds of wheat on the PC screen, as the areas of higher mass density. Flowing at 2m/sec on average for around 15 seconds the mass total was computed second by second, and the total mass flow displayed within 1%, on each of several runs.

The wheat flow test rig with a completed sensor assemblyProviding such mass flow data to wheat processing/milling systems is one of the first applications likely, and other applications on biofuels, plastic pellets, minerals and cement are possible. For the technophiles, the capacitance changes being monitored are as small as a few tenths of a femtofarad for the widely separated sensor plates: a femtofarad (fF) is one thousandth of a picofarad, and the sensor cables themselves have a standing capacitance of around 2pF.

The wheat flow test rig is shown on the right, the bucket collecting the wheat was on the floor!

Monitoring the dryness of steam

Water droplets carried in steam flows can have a devastating effect on turbine blades and similar high speed equipment. Detecting the presence of wetness, or water mists, in steam flows, is a major safety requirement for power generation systems. One of the Atout sensor systems, packaged inside a stainless steel flanged pipe section, has been tested on a live ‘dry’ steam line, at 190⁰C and around 25 bar, and successfully monitored the wetness levels: as far as anyone could estimate! Free air tests show the system is well able to detect the passage of a single small drop of water falling through the sensor.

Monitoring wet oil flows

The ultimate flowmeter application is to monitor two and three phase flows in the oil industry, for wells and allocation metering. The Atout flowmetering software goes a long way to achieving this, and certainly allows the visualization of the flow profiles and mass density within a pipe flow. Some videos of this visualization are shown on their website. Undoubtedly this is why the UK Technology Strategy Board has given Atout Process a grant to demonstrate their technology, and why there are regular visitors to discuss such potential applications.

A major achievement has been that Atout Process is a participant in one of the latest European projects run by NEL in East Kilbride, which aims to establish a reference measurement network and standards aimed at improving the accuracy of subsea multiphase flow measurement for the oil and gas industry. Atout Process will work alongside National Measurement Institutes with industrial and academic partners from the UK, Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands and France.

Steam sensor assembly in the background, with new bodies for the NEL multi-phase flow visualization sensor

Steam sensor assembly in the background, with new bodies for the NEL multi-phase flow visualization sensor

Andy Hunt commented “This is a fantastic opportunity for Atout to show what we can do with our advanced flow imaging technologies. We believe that flow imaging systems will become a fundamental part of new multiphase flow measurement standards”. Atout has built the sensor packaging needed to fit their capacitance imaging device and flowmeter onto the NEL test lines, as seen in the picture.

As Hunt also commented, if the Atout meter is what is used to establish the industry measurement standard, then this will bode well for future applications. Indeed, there is very little else that the researchers can use to get any picture of what is happening in the pipe, to define the flow structure. Atout forecast that one of their prototype multi-phase flowmeters will be installed offshore inside two years.

The processing technology …..

People often have a bias against a technology, and both correlation and capacitance have their detractors: we all know the history. But what Atout have done is taken the cross correlation technique and used processing power to go deeper into the flows within the pipe, into each little box, splitting out different ‘clouds’ and identifying their mass, and their velocity. This avoids making some of the base assumptions previously used in cross-correlation, which were not really valid. The processing technique can work in other formats too, for example the same flow visualization tools could be used on a multi-electrode electromagnetic flowmeter, or even a part filled magflo meter: such products have also been considered for multi-phase flow.

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of the Industrial Automation INSIDER, which is a subscription newsletter. See http://www.iainsider.co.uk