Plant control systems and the internet

The following is my personal view of the business planning quandary faced by the major automation companies, first expressed in a Comment page published by Technews.co.za in the South African Journal of Instrumentation and Control, SAIC, March 2018 issue:

It is a common saying that the pace of technology change accelerates with time: although possibly as the observers get older, they become set in their ways, and cannot keep up.

This is certainly true, in my experience: I am getting older, set in my ways, and struggle to keep up. However:

It is not only the pace of such changes, but the speed at which the changes are spread across the ‘world market’, that makes new technologies so rapidly applied and, sometimes, profitable. In consumer markets, the effect is most evident, with the spread of mobile phones and mobile computing: possibly this would all not have come to pass without the availability of the Internet fuelling the spread of information. But for automation, and industrial sensors, has the technology change been rapid? I believe it has, and believe it is now accelerating ever faster, taking advantage of the advances made to meet the demands of other users. This has been evident, and mentioned in these columns, in referring to wireless sensors, batteries for self-powered devices, and self-power from solar or vibration or heat energy. There are many more developments that should be included in that list.

The problem for Automation companies

But how are the major sensor and automation companies driving this growth into their businesses using advances in technology: what are they researching? Where are they investing to get a business advantage? I think that their business planners are having a difficult time at the moment.

Around ten years ago, the big new technology coming to the fore was wireless communication from battery powered sensors. The large automation companies, like Emerson and Honeywell, invested heavily into this technology, and there was the inevitable confrontation between two rival systems – WirelessHart and ISA100. The automation marketplace thrives on such confrontations, for example the spat between Foundation Fieldbus and Profibus. It happens in other markets too; think of Blu-Ray and standard DVDs, PAL and NTSC TV systems etc.

Other perceived growth areas

After the wireless investments blossomed, the Internet was looming, and everyone believed they had to take advantage of the data that could be collected, and networked. Certainly Emerson and ABB went heavily into power network control systems, but ABB had major product availability and systems installation capability in the power industry and has made real progress. Emerson eventually sold out of this network power business, but retains the Ovation DCS used for thermal power station control on site.

Automation companies also bought into the long-established, relatively dormant and slow market of condition monitoring systems, by acquiring the companies quoted to be ‘active’ in the field, who had the ‘black art’ knowledge of industrial condition monitoring. Personal experience, back in the ‘70s, has taught me what a hard sell and difficult market even the simpler condition monitors offer, monitoring bearing wear etc, and that hardly suits the major project potential that might be of interest to big contractors. Complex systems, such as those applied to turbines in power stations, did offer potential, but needed real specialist back-up.

Additionally, the people in the business, such as Schaeffler perhaps (once again the product suppliers with the customer base), slowly developed their own bearing monitoring systems, ranging from portable hand-held units to bigger wired/wireless systems – these are the ones that I believe will succeed in this market. An alternative approach adopted was based on wireless technology developments, which needed a central monitoring system, the ultimate goal for the automation guys. Sensors for steam trap monitoring were designed by majors such as Emerson, to expand their plant control systems into condition monitoring for the plant engineers.

Sure enough, after a slower start, steam trap companies such as Anderson (US) and Spirax Sarco (UK) developed their own systems, and had the market entry with the customers using their traps. The opposite approach was adopted by Yokogawa, which is the pioneer of ISA100 industrial wireless systems. They created alliances with people like Bently Nevada, the bearing condition monitoring sensor people, and with Spirax Sarco on steam traps. Maybe this was to be able to reverse sell them the back-up products and technology for wireless systems, or maybe to hope for the potential of a plant monitoring control system supply.

Software systems

Most of the automation majors have alliances with the large software and computing companies, like Cisco and HP. The current approach seems to be to use these alliances to piggy-back a 24/7 plant monitoring system using the Internet, supplied as a service across the world. Again, I believe the companies with the product on the ground, the stuff that needs monitoring, will be the major players. Here it looks like GE, monitoring its own brands of refrigeration compressors, large pumps and gas turbines at power stations and offshore etc. are best placed.

The future

The quandary is where the Internet will help the industrial control systems and sensor suppliers expand their businesses in the future. The answer deduced above is stick to what you know and what you are known for. The irony is that the major with the best potential now is Rockwell Automation, with its systems based around Ethernet communications, interfacing with anything, plus their onsite Ethernet hardware, with control systems already configured to deal with such varied inputs. Maybe this was why Emerson made an abortive take-over offer for Rockwell late last year. The potential has also been seen by Profibus, who are pushing forwards with their Profinet, and where they go, Siemens will always be in the background.

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Modern trends in long distance power links

Many of the changes in the way the world works lead to new opportunities for different technologies. This has led to a new approach to electricity distribution using HVDC – High Voltage Direct Current – transmission lines, operating at up to 800 kV. Such power transfer lines are now installed particularly around Europe, and across China.

When power stations were smaller, and based near the major population centres, they tended to serve a local area with electric power, and this was best delivered using AC transmission, via local transformers, to produce the 110–240 VAC power distributed to each street. (As an aside, even more locally around the power station, district heating schemes could distribute some of the power using thermal transmission.) To provide the electrical energy transmission further afield, higher voltage AC transmission lines were used to feed a major substation, then distributing the power to local transformers, creating local networks – like the branches of a tree.

Currently, the new solar farms and wind power sources have been built well away from the major centres of population, where the land (or sea) space is available, and the conditions are right. Plus, hydroelectric plants are necessarily placed near the river or water flows, naturally located in the hills. All these sites are at the end of the thinnest branches of the old ‘distribution tree’, so new transmission lines are needed to take the power back to the population centres.

Long distance transmission

China also faced this problem, with economic development and a growing demand for power by the population in the west of the country, with the major new power stations and hydro plants located in the east. For transmission of power over distances like 500 km or more, the reactive power flow due to the large cable capacitance limits the maximum possible transmission distance, as the power loss becomes high. The installation and maintenance costs for the necessarily taller and wider dual pylon AC overhead transmission lines, also becomes excessive.

For such long distance transmission, HVDC comes into its own economically because the line losses are much lower, as are the line installation and maintenance costs, since HVDC (at around 600 kV) can use a single overhead pylon carrying just two conductors, or can use a buried cable. The higher costs of the HVDC terminal equipment, needed at both ends to convert the power back to AC for local distribution, are more than offset by the savings in the transmission line costs. Plus the environmental impact of the HVDC underground cables is insignificant, compared to overhead AC transmission. The possibility of using underground cables means HVDC links can deliver power into cities and urban areas where the use of pylons and overhead cables would not be tolerated.

So, over the last few years China has installed 24 projects using HVDC power transmission: one of these used a 1670 km line carrying 8000 MW of power to the east. The supplier for 19 of these projects, including the largest one, was ABB Power Systems. ABB also claims to be the major supplier of recent HVDC power transmission projects throughout Europe, and the rest of the world.

Undersea links

In Europe there are many power networks, based around different standards that were developed by the different countries: these AC networks can run at different frequencies, and are not often synchronised. It makes sense to wish to trade power between networks, to make use of surpluses when these are available, and cover for power outages or other unforeseen events. Transferring power using HVDC links makes sense, firstly because the receiving terminal can convert the DC to an AC power source running at the same frequency as the receiving network, plus the local ­engineers can phase synchronise the generated AC power with their other sources.

The second big advantage of HVDC links is that they can run in economically constructed underwater cables, to islands and across major sea routes, such as from the UK to France, or Norway and Sweden to Denmark, Germany and Finland. The NorNed link, from Norway to the Netherlands, is the world’s longest submarine power cable, at 580 km length. Similar HVDC links are used to supply power from hydro schemes and wind farms in the north of Scotland, across the estuary of the Moray Firth to the heavily populated Inverness/Aberdeen area.

The growth of offshore wind farms has led to this green energy being sent onshore using an HVDC submarine cable, and also vice versa, in the sense that offshore oil production platforms are now being supplied with power from onshore, delivered by cable, and just converted to AC power on the platform – saving weight and complexity offshore. Plans are being made to extend this European network, with possible hydro-electric power being delivered by cable from Iceland to Scotland, and from Norway via the Shetland Islands, then also to Scotland.

More importantly, in an African context perhaps, solar farms in North Africa will be able to transmit power to Europe via Spain from Morocco and to Italy from Tunisia and Libya.

This article first appeared in my column in the South African Journal of Instrumentation and Control, November 2017 issue. SAIC is published by Technews in South Africa.

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.

Advances in battery technology

The opportunities for spin-out businesses and industries from university research projects are multiplying. The growth in this sector comes from the acceleration of technology in general, but also because the increased investment in education means there are a lot more research students, some with good ideas, but others just looking for topical subjects to latch onto for their research project. Also, industry has learnt that by funding some low cost university research, other ideas might emerge that might be of benefit.

A lot of attention is being given to new designs of battery, as there are some well-known major commercial projects where new systems are needed. First to come to mind would be batteries for electric cars like the Tesla. Here, low-cost, lightweight and relatively compact devices are needed, with high-power output and fast charging. Second are the batteries (or systems) needed to store the power generated by solar farms or wind turbines, during the hours when it is not needed, so that it is available for different times of the day. Possibly lower down the priority list are the small long-life battery systems needed for IIOT sensors and industrial sensors in general. These do not have the major numbers, or the (relatively) high price, so do not attract as much attention.

Eliminating standby power drain

So, it was all the more interesting to hear of research at Bristol University, in the UK, where Dr Stark and his colleagues in the Bristol Energy Management Research Group have developed an electronic chip that can switch on a sensor only when that sensor is being asked to provide or monitor data: for the rest of the time the chip and the circuits which it controls consume no energy at all. It may not be a new battery development as such, but it would allow a much extended battery life, by eliminating all stand-by current drain.

The principle is that the chip uses the small amount of energy transmitted in the interrogation signal from the system asking for the data, to trigger a circuit that switches the device on. The interrogation signal could be from an infrared remote control, or a wireless signal. The team developed their circuit using the same principles as those used in computers to monitor their internal power supply rails – to ensure the voltage does not dip below a certain threshold. The trigger signal uses a few picoWatts of energy, and a signal threshold level of 0,5 V, which is achievable from a passive sensor, just using the received wave energy.

The natural follow-on from this concept is that the trigger signal on some sensor applications could be derived from the event being monitored, such as a rapid increase in the sound or vibration levels of plant machinery. Also, for a security alarm, the movement of a hinge or similar could be sensed magnetically. Conventional power management techniques would be used to switch the sensor off once the data has been transmitted to, and acknowledged by, the monitoring systems.

Power storage

With solar and wind energy providing such a large part of the power used by the National Grid in certain areas, many ways are being researched to achieve power storage over the short term, such as 24 hours. There are already companies providing large storage systems with banks of conventional batteries, acting like very large uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. In Spain and the USA there are solar collector systems where the sun’s heat is concentrated onto a central collector, melting sodium salts: the heat is later used to drive a steam turbine. Further systems are being trialled where surplus energy is used to liquefy gases, or compress them in a high pressure chamber, later the stored gas can be used to drive a turbine generator.

A novel development of a battery cell reported recently is the use of a low cost electrolyte for use with aluminium and graphite electrodes. Dr Dai, at Stanford University, in collaboration with Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute, demonstrated such a battery powering a motorbike in 2015, but the electrolyte was expensive. The new electrolyte is 100 times less expensive – it is based on urea. Dr Dai sees this as a useful solution for storing solar power, even domestically – maybe new houses will have such a system underground, and call it a “Power storage pit”!

This article was first published in the April issue of “South African Instrumentation & Control”, a TechNews publication. This journal is kind enough to publish an article from Nick Denbow every month, as a report on stories of interest from Europe.

The value of Specialist Automation Suppliers

Engineers around the world are looking at how to benefit from the various solutions to the IIOT on offer: the article posted on 2 February entitled “How DCS Vendors see their IIOT future” covered the approaches being adopted by some of the major DCS vendors. This follow-up article, written for and first published in South Africa, in the Technews South African Instrumentation & Control Journal, March 2017, covers the approach of some of the smaller, specialist suppliers to their own selected sectors of the process industries.

While the major DCS suppliers try to work out how to provide revenue earning services from the growth of the IIOT, there are many specialist engineering product and systems suppliers who are investing in making their products easier for engineers to use in networks, and operate within the IIOT.

Most of these specialists are primarily focussed on the production of their valves, sensors, controllers or drives: this is their business – and they need their products to work with any interface the customer requires. Their expertise in interfacing their own products is the best available, they have an in-house systems knowledge base and capability. Most now offer this capability to their would-be product users as a service – offering a custom designed system incorporating the products. So look to these suppliers to offer the best engineering at an economic price, within their specialist field.

Typically these single-minded companies were set up by a design engineer with a good original product idea, and this has been developed and refined over the years. Often the company is family owned – and engineering / R&D investment takes precedence over profit distribution. Some such companies still exist in the USA, and a few in the UK, like JCB and Rolls Royce. Several specialist engineering product examples are found in suppliers originating from Germany, Scandinavia and middle Europe, where the culture seems to have encouraged their survival.

Beckhoff Automation

Arnold Beckhoff started his company in 1953: Beckhoff Automation now has a turnover of Euro 620 million, and employs 3350 people. The company implements open automation systems based on PC control technology, scalable from high performance Industrial PCs to mini PLCs, I/O and fieldbus components, plus drive technology and automation software. Supplying systems to many industries, Beckhoff works with and supplies components for over 15 major fieldbus systems. Motion control solutions solve single and multiple axis positioning tasks, and their servomotors offer combined power and feedback over a standard motor cable.

The Beckhoff TwinCAT 3 engineering and control automation software integrates real-time control with PLC, NC and CNC functions in a single package, and then all Beckhoff controllers are programmed using TwinCAT in accordance with IEC 61131-3. While the built-in TwinCAT condition monitoring libraries allow the on-site controllers to monitor the status of the sensors, to reduce downtime and maintenance costs, it also allows wider comparisons with connections to such cloud services as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services. Other data connections are available, for example a smartphone app enables immediate local and mobile display of a machine‘s alarm and status messages.

Bürkert Fluid Control Systems

Bürkert was founded in 1946 by Christian Bürkert: it now has sales of Euro 412 million and employs over 2500 people. The product base is gas and liquid control valves, systems for measuring and controlling gases and liquids, plus sensors for monitoring such fluids, extending to complete automation solutions and fluid systems – this capability is known as their ‘Systemhaus’. While their products are now applied across many industries, their particular specialisations have been in sanitary, sterile and hygienic applications (food, beverage, biotech and pharmaceuticals), micro applications (medical, inkjet and beverage mixing/vending), and water treatment industries.

From the UK operation, Bürkert provide locally engineered solutions and systems for their pharma, food and brewery customers in particular. Locally made craft beers are a major growth area in the UK, and most start small, with no real automation. One example was Stroud Brewery, who needed to expand production by a factor of 5x, and preferably not increase their staff numbers: Bürkert designed a PLC system and intelligent control panel, which automated the temperature control of the cold and hot liquor tanks, and in the mash pan. In addition a system for controlling the run-off rate from the mash tun simply uses three separate Bürkert level sensors.

Bürkert also have developed their own ‘Device Cloud’, they call this ‘mySITE’. This collects data from Bürkert sensors around the world, using an on-site interface known as mxConnect – which can also accept data inputs from other sensors.

National Instruments

National Instruments was only started in 1976, in the USA, by Dr James Truchard and a colleague, who are still involved in the business. Now sales are $1320 million, and they have 7400 employees worldwide. Their declared Mission is to “equip scientists and engineers with systems that accelerate productivity, innovation, and discovery” – and their focus has always been to supply research establishments and engineers with open, software-centric platforms with modular, expandable hardware. This gives its own logistics problems, with 35,000 customers served annually.

It is difficult for me, as an outside observer, to relate the NI systems to an oil refinery or chemical plant application: but it comes into its own when the data handling grows in complexity – for example in pharmaceutical and biotech applications, and the sort of plants where engineers have a major input in monitoring the application. Mention cyclotron or Tokomak, CERN or the Large Hadron Collider, and NI and its LabView are embedded in their engineering control systems. All 108 collimators on the LHC are position controlled using LabView.

National Grid UK, which controls the distribution and transmission of electric power round the country, has adopted a control system based on the NI CompactRIO for the whole network. With many new power generating sources, HVDC connections, variable inputs from solar and wind farms, and the phasing out of major fossil fuelled plants, National Grid found that traditional measurement systems did not offer adequate coverage or response speed to handle these new challenges and risks. They adopted a platform, based on the CompactRIO, to provide more measurements – and also adapt with the evolving grid for generations to come. This interconnected network includes 136 systems, with 110 permanently installed in substations throughout England and Wales and 26 portable units that provide on-the-go spot coverage as needed.  The associated software systems provide their engineers with customized measurement solutions that can be upgraded in the future as new grid modernization challenges arise.

In terms of IoT developments, NI has just opened an Industrial IoT lab at the NI Austin HQ in the USA, to focus on intelligent systems that connect operational technology, information technology and the companies working on these systems. Many other companies are co-operating in this venture, like Cisco and SparkCognition, and the lab intends to foster such collaboration to improve overall interoperability. In addition NI has partnered with IBM and SparkCognition to collaborate on a condition monitoring and predictive maintenance testbed: this will use the SparkCognition cognitive analytics to proactively avoid unplanned equipment fatigue and failure of critical assets.

(c) Nick Denbow 2017

Power Industry Boiler Water Level Measurement Techniques

The March 2017 Inst Measurement and Control Technical Seminar evening will be hosted by Doosan Babcock in Manor Royal, Crawley, on Tuesday 21st March 2017.

This will be a tri-company, collaborative event, presented by Doosan Babcock, and also featuring contributions from Vega and TC-Fluid Control. It is aimed at providing attendees with a useful insight into industrial measurement application challenges in order to further their professional development knowledge.

Drum Level Control

The first presentation by Doosan Babcock will discuss Drum level measurement using DP Measurement and Hydrastep Measurement techniques.

Power station Steam Drum Level measurement is required for drum level control, Burner Management System (BMS) protection and Code compliance. Drum level is both a critical and difficult measurement to make. At steady state conditions, considerable turbulence in the drum can cause the level to fluctuate. A changing rate of water inflow and steam outflow adds to the potential for measurement error. The DP Measurement technique uses the difference in pressure between a head of water in an external reference column and the level in the drum. The density of water and steam vary appreciably with pressure, so the differential pressure obtained at any given level will vary as boiler pressure changes.

The Hydrastep technique detects the conductivity variation between the steam and the water. The electrode principle is an efficient system for measuring drum water levels.

Microwave Technology

Vega will explain how microwave technology can tackle a wide variety of applications associated with steam boilers. Non-contact or guided wave techniques have the ability to measure reliably, even with fluctuating temperatures up to 450C combined with pressures of up to 400 bar. Measurement is virtually unaffected by pressure and temperature changes. Top mounting makes installation and maintenance easy. In many cases microwave transmitters provide an alternative to legacy equipment for both solids and liquids. SIL qualification and boiler approval now enables microwave technology to  be used directly on steam boilers, with special modifications to compensate for saturated steam effects.

Visual/Glass and Boiler Steam Glass level gauges

untitledVisual/Glass and Boiler Steam Glass level gauges are a requirement on steam boilers for visual verification of the level control system, and will be discussed by TC-Fluid Control. Magnetic level gauges have many applications on and around the boiler, providing visual level indication whilst minimising potential leak paths, and can be used as an alternative to one of the glass level gauges on the boiler drum. Simple, robust technology provides a highly visible indication of process level at pressures of up to 400 bar and temperatures up to 450C.

Postscript: Wessex IMC Section meeting

Vega Controls will also give a talk to the IMC Wessex Section meeting on 15th March about the technology behind their 80GHz radar liquid level measurement systems. The talk will include live demonstrations, and takes place at the Forest Lodge Hotel, at Lyndhurst. A video is available that shows their new sensor.

 

Yokogawa EPMS and SCADA for the UK’s BPAL pipeline system

Yokogawa has received an order from the British Pipeline Agency Limited (BPAL) to supply a management and control system for one of the UK’s major multi-product fuel pipeline systems, to replace the current BPAL pipeline management and SCADA systems.

The BPAL UK pipeline system consists of three integrated multi-product fuel pipelines that link two, refineries, one at Ellesmere port on the Mersey near Liverpool and the other on the Thames in Essex, to inland distribution terminals. These pipelines, operational since 1969, meet over 50% of the jet fuel needs at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, and are altogether some 650 km in length. BPAL, jointly owned by Shell and BP, are the operators of these pipeline systems (known as UKOP and WLWG), which are owned by a consortium of partners.

This order is for Yokogawa’s Enterprise Pipeline Management Solution (EPMS), which will manage functions such as delivery scheduling and oil storage, and their Fast-Tools SCADA software, to monitor and control the oil pipelines and related equipment such as compressors. The EPMS uses specific gas and liquid applications that enable a pipeline operator to manage delivery contracts in a time and energy efficient manner. With the SCADA system covering monitoring and control, the EPMS will integrate the management of the SCADA data. Delivery of these systems will be completed by March 2018.

Further order for UAE Power and Desalination Station

Yokogawa also recently received its first ever DCS order for a power and desalination plant in the UAE. The company is to supply the Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority (SEWA) with control and safety systems, plus field equipment, for Units 7 and 8 at the Layyah Power and Desalination Station.

Each unit comprises a 75 MW oil and gas-fired thermal power plant and a 27,000 m3 per day multi-stage flash (MSF) desalination plant: a technology that involves the heating and evaporation of seawater in multiple vacuum distillation tanks to produce steam, which is then condensed to produce fresh water. Such systems are energy-efficient because they use the heat from the steam that is created in the vacuum distillation tanks.

Yokogawa Middle East & Africa will deliver the CentumVP integrated production control system for the boiler, turbine governor, turbine protection system and the desalination plant at each of these units, as well as the ProSafe-RS safety instrumented system for burner management and boiler protection. The field instruments will include Yokogawa products such as the DPharp EJA series differential pressure and pressure transmitters, continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS), and steam and water analysis systems (SWAS). In addition to being responsible for engineering, the company will provide support for the installation and commissioning of these systems, with all work scheduled for completion by September 2017.

Demand for electricity and water is soaring throughout the Middle East due to their rapid economic growth. Power and desalination plants that rely on the region’s abundant oil and gas resources make up an important part of this region’s infrastructure.