Battery Energy Storage Systems help UK power efficiency

Nidec ASI, of Milan in Italy, part of the appliance, commercial and industrial motor business of Nidec in Japan, has won an order from the UK-based EDF Energy Renewables business for the installation and supply of a second Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), for use on the British National Grid.

EDF ER, a renewable energy developer, is a JV company between EDF Energy in the UK and EDF Energies Nouvelles in France. As a result of this new contract, Nidec ASI will act as an EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) contractor to supply the 49 MW BESS system that EDF ER is building to serve the National Grid, the British electricity distribution company. The contract, which follows closely after an earlier large-scale deal for a 10 MW battery energy storage system (also for National Grid) makes Nidec ASI reach a 33% market share in the British BESS systems market.

As renewable energy resources are more widely used – to reduce the environmental impact of power generation – investments in battery energy storage systems are becoming increasingly prominent. These stabilise the power grid by temporarily storing any surplus electricity generation, and discharging the saved electricity during power shortages. Last November Nidec ASI delivered the world’s largest (90 MW) BESS system to major electricity firm STEAG of Germany. As a leader in the BESS market, Nidec is committed to stabilizing the world’s power grids and contributing to realizing a low-carbon society via the spread and expansion of battery energy storage systems and high-quality state-of-the-art equipment.

EDF West Burton 2

The BESS will be installed at the EDF Energy West Burton site in Nottinghamshire, pictured above, to support the UK’s National grid.

Technews Guide to Wireless

Last year, in July 2015, the Journal South African Instrumentation & Control, published by, released a new title in their ‘Industry Guide’ series, this time covering wireless applications of instruments in control systems. With 44 pages of ideas and applications, and background to the application of wireless comms for the instrument engineer, this gave a really useful source document – in the long tradition of these industry guides on relevant topics. This wireless guide is still available as a pdf on-line from Technews.

I was lucky enough to be asked to submit a review article covering some of the more recent applications of wireless that had caught my attention at the time. All of these are still topical, and relevant, so the review is now published here, with thanks to Technews. The reason for resurrecting the article is mainly because more information has just emerged about the application for the vibration powered sensors originating from Cambridge University research, now in use on the Forth Road Bridge. The new info, from a recent article in The Engineer is added at the end.



The Forth Road Bridge, in Scotland, with the suspension cables being monitored by wireless vibration sensors, powered by harvesting energy from those same bridge vibrations! 

Industrial wireless communications for sensor data and plant information is now available, proven on site, and built into Internationally accepted standards. Wireless links should now be seen as just another family of techniques for the plant manager or engineer to consider alongside 4-20mA loops, fieldbus networks, and data links. Most would accept that plant data can be ‘monitored’ over wireless as effectively as from these other networks: but the action resulting from the monitoring can also create a control loop.

To those who say that wireless links should never be used within control loops, it is appropriate to remind them that sludge blanket levels on settlement tanks have been monitored, and the data transmitted over a wireless link to control the de-sludging operations, for well over 30 years. Add to that a comment about the latest North Sea offshore gas platforms, where Fire and Gas Shutdown systems are now offered by Yokogawa, using wireless gas detectors, with a dual redundant wireless network to reliably transmit all crucial alarm data back to the logic system, alongside sensor health and battery status information.

So how else can the phrase ‘wireless sensor network’ cause a misapprehension?

That internet hype and Process Plants…?

The adoption of wireless as a plant tool has probably even been held back…. by the apparent hype and emphasis on the Internet, the ‘Internet of Things’, and ‘Big data’ networks monitoring lots of sensors – Sensors Everywhere. Financial Directors suddenly see enormous expenditure, hundreds of USD1000 sensors, mushrooming recruitment for expanded IT departments – and then they pick up the latest management articles forecasting major impacts from hacking and data breaches. No wonder they are sceptical even before starting to read a proposal.

From reports about many of the application examples quoted by the enthusiastic suppliers over the last few years, it appears that success in the application of a wireless based system has come to plant engineers who had a specific and defined requirement, a problem for which the engineer’s assessment showed that a wireless system provided the most logical and cost effective answer. But then, would you expect anything less from an engineer? The typical number of wireless sensors installed initially might be quite low, say a dozen or less: usually the cost justification is based on the problems of new wiring to these extra sensors on an existing plant.

Plant networks from the major suppliers

Inevitably in this competitive field, with many vested interests, it is difficult to find a non-partisan authoritative spokesman: so Ted Masters, President and CEO of the HART Communications Foundation, says (in a video shown on the Emerson website, entitled “WirelessHART: An Executive Perspective”)

“WirelessHART ….. gives users the opportunity to bring in valuable data that can be used in systems to help decision support, particularly in plants that are already installed and already wired. Now the ability to put a point anywhere and bring it easily into the system …… will ultimately yield better performing plants for users”

The video quoted above also features Peter Zornio, Chief Strategic Officer from Emerson Process Management, who paints their stance as totally devoted to ‘Pervasive Sensors’, ie sensors everywhere, monitoring the standard process plant parameters, but also gas leaks, steam leaks, corrosion/erosion, vibration, flames and valve activation, for example on safety showers. This is logical, from a sensor manufacturing company: and Emerson has been collecting a whole range of new sensors to create a family of, typically, add-on plant monitoring sensors. The clue then is in the name, WirelessHART: the network provides all the data you would get from a 4-20mA HART sensor, plus the battery status in the ‘wire-less’ sensor. Other suppliers have joined Emerson as WirelessHART enthusiasts and promoters: these are mainly from the wired-HART sensor manufacturers – like Endress+Hauser, Pepperl+Fuchs – but also include ABB and Siemens.

The ISA100 viewpoint

The alternative wireless sensor data network for process plants, primarily on offer from Yokogawa and Honeywell Process Solutions, is built according to the ISA100 US standard. Suffice it to say that the ISA100 and WirelessHART systems are incompatible, but very much the same as each other, same frequency 2400MHz, similar principles of networking between sensors. Yokogawa concentrate on collecting process sensor information, in the same way as WirelessHART, and have made their ISA100 sensor interface electronics available for any other manufacturer who wishes to incorporate it into their own sensors.

ISA100 has additional capabilities, in that systems can be configured to have a defined time response, and the network messaging can also “package” up electronic message data from the sensor, transmit it over the network, and reconstitute it in the original format at the control room end. So this is useful for sending rotating equipment vibration signatures, and other waveforms from sensor systems for analysis by proprietary electronic units. Yokogawa has progressed this so that they can attach an ISA100 transmitter to a standard HART sensor, even power it from their wireless transmitter battery if needed, and send the HART data back over the ISA100 system: a similar RS485 Modbus unit is also planned.

The Honeywell approach does seem to be defined by their wireless product family tradename, “OneWireless”: it presents a wireless network infrastructure for a process plant that can deal with all potential requirements, using ISA100 for sensors, wifi systems for on plant access and control by laptop type systems, phones and tablets, and the capability to incorporate security cameras and video streaming from engineer’s devices.

After understanding all this diversity, the whole lot, WirelessHART, ISA100, wifi and video transmission, all seems to go through on-site wireless access points and aerials that use Cisco hardware and technology.

The second wireless project

The first wireless project is a major step, and is likely to be driven by a pressing need, which justifies the initial investment – or is restricted in plant area coverage so is cost effective.

Possibly the plant engineer’s subsequent enthusiasm for any further wireless network technology comes when he then discovers that the wireless infrastructure created makes the next project easier, and more cost effective. However, this only happens when the network used suits the developing requirements for data collection and wireless communications on the plant, so hopefully the choice of the network adopted took this into account.

It does seem that many engineers who try wireless once are then converted, and go on to invest in further, expanded installations!

On-plant network examples

The amazing thing is, the examples quoted are all unique, driven by specific site requirements. Straight sensor monitoring is typically via WirelessHART. A simple justification project where the network avoided new hard wired connections across the plant for Health and Safety rule updates that required alarm monitoring of safety shower usage was maybe the first of many new applications. Leak detection on storage tank farms using sensors for hydrocarbons within bund walls was justified in a similar way, to meet environmental legislation. Other areas where hard-wired links are a hassle are rotating and transportable equipment, and construction sites: temperature sensors in rotating lime/cement kilns are ideal for wireless monitoring.

An application in the UK from Emerson Process Management illustrates the progressive adoption success with wireless techniques in an existing plant that initially appeared to present installation challenges. Barking Power is a relatively mature 1000MW CCGT power station near London, suffering from steam losses. A wireless project used Rosemount wireless acoustic transmitters to monitor steam traps for leakage, on a rolling basis round the plant. Quickly, a leak from a high pressure super heater steam trap was identified, which itself could have wasted GBP1400 of steam a day. A further 15 acoustic detectors were added to monitor vent valves that can stick during start-up, and also for relief valves that may not seat correctly. There were few problems with wireless communications even in the enclosed environment around the turbine hall. The battery powered wireless devices were easy to move around the plant to test new locations.


Emerson WirelessHART acoustic monitor installed on a relatively inaccessible steam trap discharge line at Barking Power

Then, high vibration levels were observed manually on the gas turbine starter motor, indicating a major problem. New parts were ordered but the motor needed constant monitoring to nurse the plant through to the next maintenance window. A motor failure would have caused damage in excess of GBP200,000, but keeping the plant running for a further two days could accrue revenue of over GBP50,000. So an Emerson CSI 9420 wireless vibration transmitter was added to the network, and the motor instantly monitored for potential failure. Travis Culham, a Rotating Machinery Engineer at Barking Power, commented: “We concluded that if Emerson’s Smart Wireless Technology could be successfully applied on this challenging application, then it could be applied pretty much anywhere on the plant”.


An Emerson wireless acoustic monitor on a vent valve at Barking Power

A major application for wireless sensors from Honeywell Process Solutions will be the new Shah Gas project near Abu Dhabi. Because of a high percentage of hydrogen sulphide (23.5%), the project is unique, and needs significant worker protection and monitoring of this poisonous gas. This has led to the development of wireless H2S monitoring sensors by Honeywell Analytics, which will incorporate a ‘worker’ location and communication system: this actually uses a triangulation system on the wifi network to provide location data. At the perimeter of the plant there was a requirement for further H2S detectors to protect the local offices, and provide a klaxon warning in the event of a gas escape. Again wireless communication was specified for each gas detection pole, with a 1 second response time guaranteed. Here by choosing star topology for the network communications and with the time determinism defined within the messaging, only the ISA100 system was able to meet this specification.

Wireless Data links

Data links to connect typically a single remote outstation unit back to a control centre offer a different set of applications for wireless. Many are associated with the oil industry, in terms of oil and gas fields, and pipeline monitoring. Others are for agriculture, or environmental monitoring, or water resource management. Founded in 1993, Freewave Technologies in Boulder, Colorado, claim to be a specialist in reliable wireless machine to machine (M2M) and IOT communications solutions, now having supplied over a million systems. It does appear that they have developed the industrial side of this US based business in parallel with a lot of defence/military work on UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) data transmission, and now have 2400MHz systems available for markets which cannot use the US 900MHz frequency band systems. The product range can replace wired systems for Ethernet or serial data transmission, or collection, transmission and repeating of SCADA system data, or multiple I/O circuits, over a wireless link.

In agriculture, the use of unmanned autonomous machinery is growing for practices such as harvesting, mowing and spraying. In a citrus fruit grove in Florida, Freewave M2M systems allowed an operator to supervise several autonomous mowing and spraying machines, only intervening when the machine meets an obstacle it cannot handle. Transmitted images show the operator what the machine is doing, and hopefully what the problem is: he can then use the wireless link to take control and direct the tractor around and away, presumably re-programming the route to be used in future. In this test the tractor used GPS Real-Time Kinetics location systems to provide the basic navigation (with centimetric accuracy) of the orchard, and one base wireless tower enabled reasonable coverage of a 3000 acre site: small repeater towers were used to provide coverage behind areas of denser foliage and trees.  Simpler Freewave wireless SCADA transmission for a wide-spread water supply and sewage network has been installed for Parker Water and Sanitation across parts of Colorado. Here the major advantage is that the remote outstation can be re-programmed remotely, over the wireless link, avoiding the need for and delay caused by a site visit.

The use of wireless around the site on remote oil and gas well systems is quoted by Emerson and Honeywell, to save on site wiring, complexity and power. These use the WirelessHART or ISA100 systems quoted previously. But there are also packages for collecting data from such remote operation sites, supplied by Honeywell and others, with integrated solar panels trickle charging battery systems, then providing remote wireless data links.

The Big Battery question

What about the power supply for these wireless sensors? That has been the biggest question, and the current batteries are big too, making a fairly large sensor housing necessary. But this is the main area where technology is moving fast to catch up.

After five years of operation in Emerson sensors, the answer to this question is still that they are not seeing a significant demand for replacement battery packs. Yokogawa offer a two cell battery pack that is suitable for exchange in the field, even in a hazardous area. The pack, with enclosed lithium/thionyl chloride batteries that are available from standard suppliers, allows cell replacement by the user. But battery packs still seem to have a 7-10 year life expectancy: the life actually depends on the sensor response time the user requires. By the time the battery pack needs replacement, the current growth of battery technology will have provided a better cell.


Commercial batteries for an intrinsically safe battery pack, which can be fitted on site to a Yokogawa DP cell

There are also some really interesting developments in energy scavenging power sources already. In the UK, Perpetuum developed an energy harvester that could power an integrated wireless vibration monitoring sensor, creating the power from a moving magnet within a coil. Subsequently, the company have split their vibration-generator unit from the harvesting electronics, so that the latter can replace, for example, the battery in an Emerson wireless pressure transmitter, and the Harvester part is mounted on an adjacent motor or similar -that creates some vibration. Then the harvesting electronics can also be used to collect other inputs, for example from solar cells.


A Pepetuum Intelligent Power Module designed to fit the Emerson 3051S pressure transmitter

This could be the next area where further developments in technology will impact the design of wireless sensors. From ABB, the TSP300-W wireless temperature sensor has a micro-thermal electric generator (micro-TEG, a form of thermopile) that can generate power from the temperature difference (>20⁰C) between the ambient temperature, and that of the process being monitored, whether hot or cold. This is used to trickle charge a Lithium battery, which will operate for ten years at least.


A power module for a sensor chip, from Illinois

Research is coming up with even more novel power ideas like this. At the other end of the size spectrum, researchers at the University of Illinois have produced a lithium-ion micro-battery suitable for ‘on-chip’ integration, using 3D holographic lithography. New lighter batteries using sodium-ion technology are being developed by Faradion to replace conventional lithium-ion cells. Cambridge University researchers have taken the energy harvesting vibration sensor further, in order to produce small self-powered wireless sensors that can be stuck onto the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland, to monitor the effects of traffic vibrations in the suspension cables.

The next step

The recent big consumer technology changes have enabled the technology, with mobile phones producing the economically priced components, aerials etc. Better capacitors, energy scavenging, batteries will all emerge to make the sensors longer lasting. Standards and customers are making the suppliers work together, and they are chasing to satisfy the significant new market demand.

Probably the major limitation to further adoption of these wireless systems in any industry will be in terms of expertise – the knowledge and understanding needed to design and put the systems together. There will be a lot of opportunity for installers and engineers to develop expertise in these new and niche applications, and there should be plenty of new applications emerging! But for once, some of the easiest applications are on process plants, even in hazardous areas, as the products and packages available for these jobs are now established.


2016 Update on the Forth Road Bridge:

The above text was written in July 2015. Since then new applications have been reported here on But this month’s story in The Engineer gives more information on the Forth Road Bridge application: Jason Ford reported:

“Cambridge start-up 8power has signed a contract with Innovate UK to support the development of its vibration energy harvesting (VEH) technology, an advance with a range of money-saving sensor applications.

The contract funds a collaborative project led by 8power and supported by Costain and the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) at Cambridge University. It aims to develop a sustainable, scalable business case for the deployment of sensors in a range of industrial, infrastructure and construction applications.

According to 8power, VEH employs parametric resonance to facilitate power generation from a variety of vibration sources including motors, moving vehicles, or traffic-induced movement in structures such as bridges.

In October 2016 8Power was named the winner of the 7th Discovering Start-ups competition, which is organised by Cambridge Wireless.

Speaking at the event, Dr Antony Rix, 8Power CEO said that advances in wireless technology are making it easier to monitor a range of variables but that the acquisition of data requires large batteries or regular battery replacement.

“Our team solved this problem by developing a fundamental, patented innovation and a technique called vibration energy harvesting, “ he said. “What we do is take vibration energy that’s naturally there in the environment and turn it into electrical power.”

He added that the conventional – and inefficient – way of doing this is to swing a mechanical resonator from side to side, moving a magnet through a coil to generate electricity.

“What we do instead is move the anchor point up and down and this creates massively more energy and that means much more power, about 10 times more than our competitors…as a result the 8Power technology can enable this technology to power sensors in a much wider range of applications where the batteries of our competitors simply can’t compete,” he said.


“Trials of the technology on the Forth Road Bridge have demonstrated that the solution works in live conditions.”

The latest Robots are Friendly

We all know what a robot is. But then it really does depend on whether you immediately think of them in ‘sci-fi’ films, or paint spray booths, or welding on automotive production lines, or stacking in automated warehouses. These have been the big applications, in big automated factories, with around 240,000 robots sold last year. The article below was for a column published in the November issue of South African Instrumentation & Control, see a digital copy on

The emergence of the cobot supplier

However, there is a new breed of robot now: collaborative robots, or cobots, have only really emerged as practical devices in the current decade. A cobot is a robot that is intended physically to interact with humans in a shared workspace, so the special pens and protective light curtains around the robot operating area are gone. The cobot is designed to work alongside a human operator, typically maybe lifting the heavier items involved in electronic device assembly operations: it has smooth surfaces with no sharp edges, and protected joints, so a human working alongside cannot trap their fingers, plus it stops at the slightest external touch.

Additionally, the cobot is flexible, it can be trained (taught) by the assembly operator, by guiding its arms and grippers to show it what to do. Currently the cobot market is around 5% of the total, $100 m last year. These robots are lower in cost, say $24,000 each, but are aimed at the small to medium sized companies that account for 70% of global manufacturing, where flexibility is essential. New international standards for their safe design and use are emerging, and there are many suppliers, as the market is forecast to be $1Bn by 2020.

ABB’s YuMi


One such product is the ABB YuMi (‘you-me’) desk-top robot: a dual-arm small parts assembly robot that has flexible hands, incorporates parts feeding systems, camera-based part location and automated control: yet it has twice the reach and more strength than an operator. It can collaborate, side-by-side (or across the bench), with humans in a normal manufacturing environment, enabling companies to get the best of both humans and robots, working together.

In April, the ABB YuMi was recognised for outstanding achievements in commercialising innovative robot technology with the prestigious Invention and Entrepreneurship Award at the Automatica trade fair in Munich. There followed a Golden Finger award as ‘one of the best industrial robots of 2016’ at the China International Robot Show in Shanghai. One out of every four robots sold today is sold in China, which is the world’s leading robotics growth market: 68 000 units were sold there in 2015, 17% up on 2014.

YuMi was specifically designed to help consumer electronics meet the challenges produced by the need for customised personal electronics products, by enabling operators and cobots to share tasks, with easy training when the task changes. The YuMi appears to be targeted at the assembly operations common with electronic equipment, significantly in Southeast Asia.

Universal Robots – another successful start-up.

Universal Robots (UR) was formed in Odense, Denmark in 2005, with the goal of making robot technology accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises. It introduced its first cobot in 2008, and particularly focused on food industry applications, with 3,5 and 10 kg payload cobots. Their average payback period of 195 days for customers is claimed as the fastest in the industry.

Recently its cobot arms have been awarded certification for use in clean room applications, so UR robots can now be used in areas where purity and hygiene – such as particle emission, easy-to-clean surfaces and extreme reliability – are decisive criteria for precise automation processes. This opens up more applications in the food industry, in the production of microchips and semiconductors, and in the electrical and optoelectronic industries.

At the end of 2014, more than 3500 UR robots were installed worldwide: currently they claim the figure is 6000 – annual sales maybe growing x2,5 in just over a year. Mercedes-Benz has replaced old robots with humans on some lines, to better manage customised products. They are moving to having production workers guiding a part automatic robot. Scientists at MIT, working with BMW, have found that robot-human teams can be about 85% more productive than either of them, alone. Subsequently Universal Robots were rated #25 on the MIT Technology Review’s list of the world’s 50 smartest companies: Teradyne Inc then acquired UR for $285 m in 2015.

Noise mapping offshore using wireless sensors

Many of the latest technology developments in relation to offshore oil and gas production installations have emerged from Norwegian research studies, because that industry represents the major part of the economy in Norway.  Such research studies do not only relate to better and more efficient methods of working, but they also investigate the health and safety aspects of the industry: an area of particular concern has been hearing damage to workers offshore, which is the predominant cause of work related illness. At the Yokogawa User Group meeting held in Budapest in May 2016, Simon Carlsen of Statoil ASA in Norway explained the background to a recent project that was undertaken to improve the efficiency of the noise surveillance and monitoring systems Statoil use offshore. This was also presented to a Society of Petroleum Engineers International conference on Health and Safety in Stavanger in April (Ref 1).


The main Health & Safety tool used for monitoring noise exposure is the ‘Noise map’, which provides noise level contours within rooms and around machinery where workers are active. These are used to establish a course of action where noise levels exceed allowed limits, whether this action is to reduce or remove the noise source (if possible), insulate the area, issue PPE to workers, and/or impose working time restrictions. Noise maps have historically been based on manual surveys that take single point readings, which are then plotted onto a site map, typically from CAD drawings. Manually taking and plotting these measurements is arduous and time consuming, and typically would be updated only on around a four year cycle. Plus the readings are (obviously) not continuous, only record the conditions when each reading was taken, and generally do not record the added effects from workers using different machinery and tools in the area.

Statoil R&D on wireless & noise instrumentation

Simon Carlsen of Statoil joined the R&D Department in 2006, bringing expertise in wireless instrumentation, and started investigating the feasibility of using wireless sensors and software techniques to create a real-time noise map. The system subsequently commenced became known as WiNoS, for “Wireless Noise Surveillance”, when formally initialised in 2013. This will consist of a network of wireless noise sensors, continuously monitoring the noise in the process area, using sound pressure level (SPL) measurements of four types: A-weighted SPL (I.eqA), C-weighted SPL (I.eqC), peak SPL (I.peak) and thirty one separate third-of-an-octave frequency band measurements from 25Hz to 16kHz. This data is much more comprehensive than the simple noise level measurements used to establish the noise maps, but will superimpose this data onto the historically available maps. These readings can then be used to update the map in real time, and create alarms available to operators.

The WiNoS sensors then use an industry standard wireless network infrastructure, which transmits the data into the control system, where special software produces the updates to the noise maps – typically on a one minute update rate (ie almost continuous). This live information can be used to create alarms to report back to workers in the area, to control their noise exposure. The objective is to reduce work-related hearing damage, by knowing the actual on-site conditions; to optimize operator time working on/near tools, to reduce daily exposure; and to provide instant feedback on the effect of noise reduction measures. In addition WiNoS allows for time synchronized measurements amongst the sensors in the network, and also allows the control room operator to trigger a download of a high resolution frequency spectrum waveform from any sensor of particular interest, to analyse the signature of the noise. This latter is a major part of the future development of the monitoring system, which will feed into plant condition and process performance monitoring studies.


The WiNoS project development employed the expertise of the Norwegian companies Norsonic AS in the microphone design and the sound level measurements, and the Department of Acoustics at the research company SINTEF to develop the PC software that records the data and creates the noise maps. The software was also required to conform to the Statoil qualified communications protocol.

Choice of wireless network

A major part of the research feasibility study that preceded the WiNoS project was devoted to the choice of the wireless network to be used to efficiently and reliably transmit the data, relatively continuously from multiple sensors. The two suitable networks that were emerging at that time were WirelessHART and ISA100.

The WirelessHART system is now well-known and fairly widely used in Statoil facilities, but the early research trials showed mixed experience with the system and the relevant vendors – some of this was related to the lack of specification details written into the WirelessHART standard. But there were also challenges with achieving the power efficiency in the transfer of all the data required, and the requested large data transfer of the high-res waveform was not readily achievable.

The ISA100.11a wireless transmission standard was also in use in Statoil, and had been adopted for the wireless flammable gas detector pioneered by GasSecure in Norway – Statoil had been involved with the prototype field trials offshore. The initial trials on ISA100 equipment from Yokogawa provided high flexibility for the different application demands, allowed all the 31 one third octave values to be packed into one transmission telegram, and allowed a well-defined block transfer. The sensor could also achieve the two year life required from the installed battery pack, at the 1 minute update rate.

The decision was made that ISA100.11a was to be the preferred protocol for WiNoS, from a technical and project model perspective. Based on the earlier experience of development co-operation with Statoil, it was decided to invite Yokogawa to join the WiNoS project as a Co-Innovation partner, a role that they were keen to develop. In addition to providing the ISA100.11a wireless interface electronics for the sensor, and the interface into the third party control system, Yokogawa worked with Norsonic to develop the mechanical housing for the microphone sensor, and the electronic hardware to process the sound measurements using the Norsonic software, with the whole sensor assembly meeting ATEX requirements.


A Yokogawa wireless temperature transmitter adapted to include the Norsonic microphone

Full system test

In March 2016, a network of 7 off Yokogawa ISA100 enabled wireless noise sensors were tested within the (land-based) industrial lab hall at Statoil Rotvoll, in Trondheim, which has dimensions 35x25x15 metres – and contains various pumps and process equipment. Further synthesized test noise sources were created using loudspeakers. The wireless sensors, the noise mapping software and the IT backhaul architecture all operated reliably and successfully.


Dynamic noise map generated with the system test


A further test, offshore on an operational Statoil platform, is planned and scheduled for Spring 2017, for which Yokogawa will supply 20 production sensors and the ISA100.11a wireless system. A typical platform deck of 50×50 metres might in practice require around 12 noise sensors for effective coverage.


Possibly future noise mapping sensors will be added in high noise plant areas

The Statoil WiNoS system is now ready for development into a commercially available product for use as an offshore platform noise mapping tool. Future research on this system will involve investigation of 3D noise mapping systems. Statoil consider that the equipment application has potential for expansion into machinery condition monitoring, to include automatic process upset or fault and leak detection.

© Nickdenbow,, 2016



Water Use Cut 75% at IoT Connected Farm

Avocado trees monitored around the clock by a Spirent Communications system are given water only when needed; the farmer uses soil moisture meters, IoT technology, LoRa WAN communications and cloud computing to control the irrigation, reducing his annual water consumption by 75%.

It takes 74 gallons of water to produce one pound of avocados, and drought-stricken California produces 95 percent of avocados grown in the United States. Nearly all are grown in Southern California, in a five-county region that straddles the coast from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. Like the rest of the state, the southern coastal region is locked in a drought and largely cut off from the flow of surface water from the state’s big irrigation projects. Avocado groves have been hit badly with sky-high water costs and reliance on water pumped from underground aquifers.

Water consumption is regulated in California with the state entering its fourth year of drought resulting in water regulators imposing sweeping and draconian restrictions on the use of water. The State Water Resources Control Board has even urged Californians to let their lawns die.

Some avocado farmers in California feeling the heat have turned to new methods in growing avocados such as higher density planting which enables some to produce twice as much fruit for the same amount of water. But a new initiative from Spirent Communications in bringing about connected avocado farms might just be the perfect solution to make further inroads into lowering spiralling water costs.

Useful day-job expertise

It just so happens that Kurt Bantle is a senior solution manager at Spirent Communications and at home has some 900 young avocado trees planted in his “back garden” in Southern California. Within his work remit, which is to develop Spirent’s IoT offering, he decided to experiment into how avocados could be grown using less water through soil moisture monitoring, by using this as an input to automate the irrigation, using a just-in-time approach.

Bantle divided his farm into 22 irrigation blocks and inserted two soil moisture measurement units into each block. The units contain a LoRa ( unit for narrow band data communication to a LoRa gateway which has a connection via a broadband cellular uplink.

The gateway also contains an Oasis (a partner company with Spirent) re-programmable SIM which becomes the enabler in remote water provisioning. All soil moisture data from the avocado trees is collected in a cloud and visualised by a presentation layer. When a tree needs to be watered, the solution turns the sprinklers on automatically to get the correct level of soil moisture for each tree. It then turns them off when the correct moisture levels are reached. The connected trees are monitored constantly day and night. In all Bantle spent $8200 for LoRa stations, gateway and cellular backhaul, moisture sensors, and irrigation valve controllers.

“Avocado trees typically take 4 acre feet (1 acre foot = 326000 gallons) of water per acre per year. This is not only to supply the needed water, but also to leach the salts which build up in the soil,” says Bantle: “The soil moisture sensors let me drastically reduce water usage by telling me when to water and how deep to water to push the salts past the bulk of the rooting zone. The majority of the roots are in the top 8 inches of soil so there is a sensor there and one at 24 inches so I can see when I’ve watered deep enough to get the salts out of the rooting zone”.

The previous annual cost of watering his 900 trees was $47,336. By connecting this IoT technology, his annual bill dropped to £11,834, a 75% reduction. The hardware investment was recouped in the first 6 months.

“The case study showed a water usage reduction by 75%, but the usage will climb as the trees get bigger. The goal is to reach a 50% reduction of water usage when the trees are fully grown. By keeping the salts in check along with keeping nutrients supplied, stress on the trees is reduced and they are able to have better crop production,” says Bantle.

Future Consequences: both positive and negative

The downside for Bantle in harnessing the power of IoT to reduce water consumption was that he was placed under state surveillance for suspected meter tampering, when his water consumption reduced so dramatically.

The connectivity solution provided by Spirent together with its IoT ecosystem partners for avocado trees applies to every other type of vegetable and fruit farm, which would include almonds, olives, apples, oranges and tomatoes.

IoT technology pioneer Spirent Communications plc is leading the charge with its open eco-system partners such as Oasis Smart Sim through its connectivity and embedded subscription business and recently showed various such connected solutions at the IoT World exhibition.

Spirent’s Embedded Connectivity solution will be launched during 2016 in a phased manner so that the commercially available solution conforms to the corresponding GSMA specification releases.

Spirent conclude with the message that the Internet of Things (IoT) is destined to touch every aspect of human endeavour making factories smarter, supply chains intelligent ….and now farms such as this first IoT connected avocado farm more water efficient, saving farmers vast amounts of water (and therefore money) in the avocado growing process.

The original story from Spirent was first published by in their July issue.

The Yokogawa User Group conference in Budapest

The “User Group” conferences, which provide a meeting place for automation and control managers and engineers from different companies and industries to meet and share their operational experience, started in the USA, and have blossomed in Europe in the last few years. Usually hosted by a major supplier, they encourage their clients to come together in a way that is more cost effective, for them, than a standard commercial exhibition and conference. But they always gather their normal specialist sub-suppliers as partners, to also show and talk about their products, and explain how they can interface together to create a total plant system, in the mini-exhibition running alongside meal and coffee breaks.

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The conference dinner was held in the Hungarian National Gallery, by the side of the Danube 

The Yokogawa European User Group meeting took place this May in Budapest. It attracted around 200 engineers and interested editors from all around Europe: from Spain to Norway, from the UK to Turkey, to hear about recent new applications, and the latest product developments.


“Transformation 2017” is the current Yokogawa business plan, covering the three years from 2015-17: the year 2015 also happened to be the 100th year since the foundation of the company. So their anniversary year plan focuses on customer interfacing and “Co-Innovation”, which was the main conference theme for the presentations.

Yokogawa appears to have developed a different approach recently, and have become keen to bring in ideas, products and even make acquisitions to broaden their expertise base. They did this previously, but there is a greater emphasis now, it seems. They are also the ISA100 wireless sensor technology leader, amongst the main automation companies, and are helping more small sensor manufacturers to develop this capability.

Wireless sensors to ISA100

Yokogawa have produced wireless versions of their own temperature and pressure transmitters, as you would expect, plus have the routers and base stations necessary to complete the site system. More interesting, they have developed a wireless module, which can be integrated with other (third party supplier) sensors, to create a new wireless measurement sensor. They also have a battery pack that can be exchanged in a hazardous area, when needed, often only after ten years, but maybe after two years if that battery also powers a third party sensor and needs a fast data response time.

In a presentation about a Richter Gedeon Group pharmaceutical plant in Romania, Yokogawa described a wireless sensor installation that monitored the groundwater levels around the site, in 20 wells over an area 1500m x 600m, with some wells actually outside the factory fence. The historic weekly manual monitoring was not felt to be sufficiently frequent, and current environmental standards required an improvement, to at least 4 times a day. Standard HART submersible pressure sensors were used for the level measurement, powered by the battery pack in the Yokogawa wireless module, which communicated digitally with the sensors and then sent the data over ISA100 links. This provides hourly reporting data from each well, and allows the sensor to be put into sleep mode between readings.

The large area of the site, the topography and pipe bridges, provided a challenge for the wireless links. To achieve the transmission distances involved, Yokogawa planned the site layout with four of their independent wireless Routers, to gather data from the local sensors at the extreme distances, and then use the superior range achievable from the Router to the base station to deliver the data. This was then displayed by the pre-existing site ABB 800XA control system, to present any alarm data to the operators, and archive the records.

The IIOT and “Sushi Sensors”

Yokogawa say they have been working on the development of low-cost, small, battery operated wireless sensors, perhaps aptly named as “Sushi Sensors”, for ten years, as well as learning what associated data analysis is required to come to a meaningful conclusion about what the data – “Big Data” – is saying. So it was good to see their Sushi sensors on display, in different colours (as you might expect: blue, yellow/gold, and silver) – all with a little stub aerial. But turn these little bugs over and there was an empty shell – nothing there yet! Nevertheless, the work is going on, initially to produce temperature sensor systems: watch that space.

On other stands the GasSecure GS01 hydrocarbon gas detector was on show, which is another ISA100 wireless sensor from Dräger, marketed by Yokogawa for LNG and oil and gas facilities.


Spirax Sarco STAPS

Next, Spirax Sarco presented their latest wireless sensor, used for monitoring steam traps on petrochemical plants. Available only recently, from March 2016, this sensor uses the standard ISA100 system, and is called STAPS (which stands for Spirax Total Acoustic Performance Solutions). The acoustic sensing uses a PZT sensor clamped to the outside of the steam line, alongside the trap, and can indicate when the trap is blocked, and when it has failed open, and is leaking live steam. Not only does the STAPS sensor calculate and transmit the rate of steam loss, so the operator can assess the cost and therefore the urgency needed to make a repair, it can analyse the actual type of trap failure. This is done within the sensor electronics, by measuring the emitted acoustic signatures in multiple bands between 5 and 40kHz, to suggest whether the problem is dirt, or a sticky valve, or a damaged valve seat. The STAPS sensor is available intrinsically safe, for petrochemical applications: Spirax previously offered a different wireless sensor for standard industrial plants and boiler rooms, which used a Zigbee communications link.

Customer software and Co-Innovation

There have been two Yokogawa acquisitions in the field of ‘management’ software, which are focused on making the computer based control systems supplied by Yokogawa for plant and process control provide the overview data required by management, improving the connectivity between plant and office, and optimising business operations. First they acquired Industrial Evolution Inc, in January 2016, who provide cloud-based plant data sharing services, or DaaS (Data-as-a-Service). Yokogawa renamed this business Industrial Knowledge: this service has been used in a broad variety of applications such as the sharing of data on oil and gas field operations among authorized users at multiple companies, and the real-time sharing of data with investors on facilities that are operated by third parties. For example when an oilfield is jointly owned by three oil companies, but only one of them acts as the main operator.

Then in April Yokogawa acquired KBC Technologies, a successful provider of software and consultancy focused on achieving operational excellence and improving profitability for both the upstream (oil production) and downstream (oil refineries and petrochemicals production) segments – advanced software for process optimisation and simulation. Originating with three process engineers who started life at the Exxon Fawley refinery, KBC also now incorporates the original Honeywell HPS reactor technology expertise, acquired in 1998, and the chemicals processing technology developed at Infochem, acquired in 2012.

Combining KBC and Industrial Evolution into their Industrial Knowledge business, Yokogawa is expanding its advanced solutions service business by engaging with its customers in a co-innovation process, to add value, using company-wide optimisation of the business operations.

Co-innovation with the specialists

Oil fiscal metering using specialist skids at oil tanker batch shipping terminals is a major application area for Coriolis meters. Yokogawa have just upgraded their Coriolis product line to improve their performance, using modern electronics and sensor technology. The pressure drop for a given flow rate has been greatly reduced, and on-site accuracy enhanced to meet the laboratory tested specifications. Also tube condition monitoring enables on-site checks to confirm that the process conditions have not affected the measurement tubes.


M+F skids in use at a tanker terminal

Unlike other Coriolis suppliers, Yokogawa do not offer an in-house fiscal metering skid production facility, but rely on the knowledge of their specialist customers to achieve the total package offer. So via their chosen skid supplier customer, M+F Technologies of Hamburg, they have supplied meters for terminal management systems, tank truck loading systems, aircraft and ship supply across the world. The M+F MFX4 batch flow computer has been supplied for blending, leak detection and terminal operations in Latin America, Russia, EU, and Cuba. The latest Yokogawa Coriolis meters, the TI product range, has enabled M+F to reduce the size of the gas separators involved, reducing the skid footprint, and also M+F have reduced the maintenance costs associated. Using TCP/IP communications the system has 24/7 remote maintenance available, essential for 24 hour terminal operations.


The two or three conference days crammed in a lot more than was described above: the delegate just chooses the topics of major interest on his plant. Further announcements showed that Yokogawa is to now construct complete Analyser house systems in Spain, in addition to their existing facilities in Singapore and USA, to serve the European market primarily. Here they act as the site systems supplier, perhaps in contrast to their approach to fiscal metering described above. Yokogawa are also collaborating with Cisco Systems over the Shell SecurePlant initiative, which is to be rolled out over 50 Shell plants, and have developed an interesting collaboration with StatOil, to use wireless sensors to monitor the on-site sound noise level on offshore oil platforms, to ensure personnel safety and monitoring.

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An Analyser house supplied by Yokogawa

The next Yokogawa User Group meeting will be in South Africa in October, for three days in Johannesburg, which should be well worth attending.

Copper ore conveyor system by ABB

ABB is to supply one of the world’s most powerful and complex automated conveyor belt systems for the Chuquicamata Copper Mine in Chile. The belt system will operate at highest levels of availability and efficiency, to deliver copper ore from the underground mine directly to the concentrator plant, which is located 13 km from the mine site.

The final conveyor system will be one of the world’s largest, covering both steep gradients and long distances, with conveyor flights using up to 20 MW of power, and 55 MW used in the total system – the amount of energy typically needed to power 41,000 homes. In the final stage the system will transport over 11,000 tons of material per hour, the same amount that would fill around 158 freight wagon trains.


A conveyor belt similar to this will be used at the Chiqui mine

Major capacity expansion

The order won by ABB is for a complete power and automation solution: the project includes gearless drives, motors, instrumentation and power product supply. The equipment will be custom engineered to on-site requirements, in order to optimally power, control, measure and actuate the conveyor system. The belt power and automation will be fully integrated through the flagship ABB control system, 800xA, combined with the ABB Mining Conveyor Control Program, to ensure optimum power quality and control across the entire system.

Chuquicamata is one of the largest open pit copper mines, and the second deepest open-pit mine in the world: it is located 1,650km north of Santiago, Chile. Popularly known as ‘Chuqui’, the mine has been operating since 1910. It is owned and operated by Codelco, the world’s leading copper producer. A new underground mine is being developed at Chuquicamata to access the ore body situated beneath the present open pit mine. The new mine is scheduled to begin operations in 2019, and will significantly expand the output from the area.

“With mineral deposits becoming increasingly complex and more remote, our power and automation solutions can help customers become more efficient and optimize their operations enabling them to increase efficiency with less maintenance costs” said Roger Bailey, Head of the ABB Process Industries business. “We are delighted to support Codelco in their aim to be the leading copper supplier across the world.”

The gearless drive is key

A key feature of the solution to be provided by ABB is the gearless conveyor drive system. This is a state of the art solution that will meet the extremely high load requirements and the necessary power availability at the site: this would not have been achievable with a conventional drive solution.

This gearless conveyor drive system eliminates the gearbox from the motor, thus significantly reducing the number of main wear parts, resulting in less maintenance and ensuring a longer lifespan of the system. Another advantage is a considerable reduction in the drive system footprint and the amount of instrumentation required.