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 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.


Process plants as weapons of war

Malware over the Internet has replaced the large gunboat that was despatched in previous times – say 200 years ago – to send a message to the heart of a rival nation, indicating that relationships were becoming a little frosty. Then submarines and ICBMs were introduced, as less vulnerable to counter-attack – and providing hidden strength to be activated when necessary. The same applies to malware, in that once it is in place the weapon can be hidden and dormant until required. However, with any new missile system or weapon, the routing, targeting and performance of the latest versions have to be tested, and often this testing can be observed and monitored.

For any nation or group with an evil intent against another, this gives a major opportunity to cause chaos or damage to the infrastructure or manufacturing operations of a target country. This was seen in 2010 with Stuxnet, the Malware targeted at Siemens controllers in Iranian nuclear centrifuge installations. The source of the virus (officially) was never traced, but it was thought to have been from Israel, possibly with support from the USA. So Iran saw the effectiveness of this approach, and then developed the Shamoon virus, which caused major damage to all networked PCs at Aramco in Saudi Arabia in 2012. A further variant of Shamoon was unleashed in 2016/17, targeting ordinary computer systems around the Persian Gulf, as well as in Saudi Arabia.

Following these events, many cyber-security service businesses and departments appeared, in addition to those which were developing anti-virus systems to protect computers from hacking by fraudsters and criminals. Both of these types of company monitor any new attacks and intrusions, and normally report that state sponsored hacking is known to have originated from Israel, Iran, Russia, USA, and North Korea. Indeed some of the most active hacking has been from a Russian group known as Sandworm, particularly disrupting networks and systems in the Ukraine starting in 2014. Malware called ‘Industroyer’ was used in 2016 to cause a power blackout in Kiev, by modifying the ABB configuration files in the electricity supply grid network systems.

The latest attack

Two such cyber-security service businesses are FireEye and Dragos, based in the USA. In December 2017 they reported on a new attack (actually seen several months before) delivering malware into an un-named petrochemical plant control system in the Middle East. Others have reported this malware was most likely to have been developed in Iran and targeted at a Saudi Arabian installation. The FireEye investigation team from their Mandiant subsidiary found that the plant safety system, a Triconex SIS, had caused an unexpected safety shut-down. Triconex is a company within Schneider Electric, following their acquisition of the Invensys Group: their triple-redundant safety systems protect major hazardous installations such as petrochemical plants. They also are the ultimate shut-down safety system for many nuclear power plants around the World, including most of those in China.

FireEye called the malware they found “Triton” – it is also known as Trisis. The implication of their report was that the Triton attack framework gained remote access to an SIS engineering workstation, sought out the Triconex controllers, and tried to inject new commands into their operations. It seems that the workstation (on site) was in programme mode at this time, hence opening a potential window. There was no indication that the malware used any vulnerability in the Triconex system or its program code. In fact the triple redundant safety system reacted properly: the new single instruction did not pass the built-in validity checks, and so Triconex shut down the plant operations safely, as is the requirement of such a safety system.

FireEye interprets that this attack, which shows persistence, the lack of any clear monetary goal, and the technical resources necessary to create such an attack framework, as suggesting the origin is a well-resourced ‘nation-state’ actor. Either this current attack is reconnaissance development testing of part of what would need to be a significantly expanded multi-point approach to penetrate and control Triconex, or at a minimum it is designed to be economically disruptive to the target plant. Other commentators have suggested that Triton could prevent the Triconex SIS from carrying out its safety function, and drive the plant to destruction. Whilst this is unlikely, and not supported by current knowledge, the malware is undoubtedly aimed at the safety system, and Triconex is the omnipresent safety system used in most of the hazardous plants across all countries, whatever the origin of the plant control system.

A unique ubiquitous target?

Industrial control systems – for petrochemical plants, nuclear and other power stations, water treatment plants, power grids – are standardised across the World, so that they can accept inputs from equipment from many manufacturers: this is good, because there are no monopolies. It is also bad, because anyone can learn how to access these systems. While there are maybe ten major DCS suppliers worldwide, the SIS supplier base is much smaller – there are two or three suppliers. Of these, Triconex is by far the largest supplier, making them a very tempting target for anyone intent on world domination!

This article was written for and first published in my column in the February 2018 issue of the South African journal of Instrumentation and Control, a magazine from

SAW technology for Bürkert flowmeter

This review of Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) techniques was first published in my regular column in the December issue of the journal “South African Instrumentation and Control” (SAIC), published by

The SAW (surface acoustic wave) technique offers fascinating opportunities for many different styles of monitoring sensor. The first example seen many years ago really impressed me: it was called TorqSense, a torque measurement sensor applied onto a drive shaft, with no external electrical connections to the shaft needed. This used a SAW device mounted on a quartz substrate: the input and output sensors for the acoustic waves are separated by the length of this substrate, which changes as the quartz is deformed by the torque. Feedback creates a high-Q resonant circuit, and the resonant frequency changes as the quartz is distorted. RF excitation and monitoring of this resonance from an external unit gives a measure of the torque: this has been offered commercially by the UK based Sensor Technology for over 10 years.

Since then SAW techniques and sensors have been studied and researched by many universities, and sensors have resulted that measure temperature, pressure, viscosity, humidity, and even chemical concentrations. The idea is to choose a substrate or acoustic delay-line material between the acoustic transducers that is influenced by the environment to be monitored, such that it is stretched, or the acoustic path length changes in some other way. A recent market status report, by Mordor Intelligence, suggests that the total market for all such SAW sensor systems will be almost $4Bn by 2018.

The clever part in creating a sensor is to modify the acoustic properties of the piezoelectric material between two sensors in some way. Chemical and biochemical sensors for monitoring liquids have been created using a lithium tantalate piezoelectric with a micron thick coating of PMMA or cyanoethyl cellulose, which is sensitive to the chemical target, and keeps the surface waves near the surface, which are therefore influenced by the liquid properties.

Industrial flow applications

After collaborating with such university research for some years, in 2014 Bürkert saw the opportunity to develop a liquid flowmeter using SAW transducers, which could give major advantages particularly in hygienic applications – one of its key market areas. In this case, the SAW transducers were to be used to launch the ultrasonic pulse into the pipe wall of the flowmeter, which then leads to transmission of the signal diagonally across the fluid flow. The pipe wall and the moving liquid create the variable length acoustic delay line between opposing pulsed sensors, and fluid movement creates the change in this delay.

Burkert261_FLOWave_SAW_flow_sensor_pic1_PR2548_58253Effectively, Bürkert was using the SAW transducers as the upstream and downstream sensors for a time of flight type ultrasonic flowmeter. But also there is no intrusion into the flow tube, so the meter is suitable for ultra-pure applications like pharmaceuticals, water for injection and so forth, as well as food and beverage applications.

Development and field testing has covered the last two years, with a careful product release for suitable applications – typically initially used on low conductivity clean liquids, such as water for injection (WFI) in the pharmaceutical sector. Indeed one field test unit was installed in the supply line of a production filling system for infusion bags. Now, the Bürkert FLOWave range of flowmeters, covering DN15 to DN50 pipe sizes, is fully available for sale. This range of sizes covers the smaller bores typical of industrial requirements, in contrast to the larger ultrasonic flowmeters available from other suppliers. FLOWave is designed for hygienic use, and certified to EHEDG and 3A standards. The pipe has hygienic style end connections, and is internally finished to 0,8 or 0,4 microns: it is fully CIP and SIP tolerant, and indeed has been used to control CIP cycles, as the unit also provides a temperature measurement of the flowing liquid. It uses four SAW transducers, two on each side of the sensor pipe section, therefore acting as a dual path flowmeter. Flow measurement performance over the range 1-10 m/sec flow velocity is 0,4% of reading.


The latest development work has introduced density measurement and an acoustic transmission monitor parameter, which allow indications of the viscosity, bubble and suspended solids content of the liquid. This is useful in CIP process control, and also for monitoring milk in the dairy, during filtration. Bürkert claim an advantage over other styles of flowmeter, in that the unit is small and light in weight when used on a skid. Other applications now being investigated are for wort concentration monitoring in breweries, and homogenisation control in paint manufacture. Highly viscous liquids, such as glue, are also being monitored, where the full bore obstruction-free design is important.

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.

Confusion over radar level measurement

We have learned not to get too confused over suppliers using buzz-words and clever marketing names, but recently it seems the major level measurement system vendors have been introducing new and higher radar frequency systems as their latest development – and therefore, by implication, maybe the best. We were used to 6 GHz, and then 26 GHz radar frequencies, but why should we suddenly go to 80 GHz? Then, perhaps just to add a little excitement to the mix, Endress+Hauser started talking about 113 GHz!


The E+H radar line up that offers 113GHz!

This article was first featured in the journal South African Instrumentation & Control in September 2017, a journal published by Technews

Let’s dispel a few myths. Firstly, in the same way that lasers for fibre-optic communications systems made the technology available to create infrared optical systems for process gas analysers, and mobile phone technology possibly provided the hardware for the first radar level measurement systems; the 80 GHz versions are a result of measurement technology made commercially viable on the back of production investment in the distance measurement systems and parking sensors used in modern cars. So the suppliers take the available sensors and chipsets to create a new industrial product, and then have to find the best applications – in this case, the ones that might benefit from the 80 GHz.

Secondly, E+H do not have a 113 GHz system, this is a marketing statement, made to catch attention – ‘with a wink’ is their expression. They claim a ‘complete radar competence of 113 GHz’ because this is the sum of the many different frequencies their different sensors use! These are 1, 6, 26 and 80 GHz.

So why have different frequencies?

Possibly the best explanation for the applications suited to the different frequencies has been provided by the Rosemount measurement division of Emerson, in their “Engineer’s Guides”. The Emerson expertise stretches back many years, having acquired the Saab Tank Radar business. Per Skogberg, from the Gothenburg HQ in Sweden, separates the devices into low, medium and high frequency, to generalise.

Radar signals are attenuated, i.e. they lose signal strength as they pass through the air, or vapour, above the liquid. High frequencies are more severely affected than lower. When the air has moisture, steam or liquid droplets (from spray or filling) present, the attenuation is higher. Equally in solids applications, dust particles have the same effect. So low and medium frequency radar are best when there is dust or moisture present.

At lower frequencies, the wavelength is longer (30-50 mm), so surface ripples in a tank have a small effect. At higher frequencies, surface ripples and foam on the surface can be a problem. But the shorter wavelength of the high frequency units (4 mm) allows accurate operation over short ranges, for example in small tanks. The higher frequency units can use a smaller sensor construction, so the unit is easier to install. The beam angle is narrower, so it can be aimed at a smaller target area and therefore can be positioned more easily to avoid any obstructions in the tank. But even this can be a disadvantage, as the installation needs to be exactly vertical and any turbulence of the surface during filling or stirring can cause the signal to be lost temporarily, in larger tanks.

When reading these suggestions, it is important to remember that Emerson does not offer an 80 GHz unit yet, so their marketing approach would naturally bias users to look at low and medium frequency units. The suppliers of high frequency units (Vega, Krohne and E+H) would point out that in many liquid storage tanks the surface is undisturbed, since any foam, turbulence and significant ripples (>2 mm) caused by filling or liquid transfer will only cause short-term interference. Plus the small antenna size and short range performance make 80 GHz units very useful for smaller process vessels and tanks.

Radar system types

There are two types of radar systems, Guided Wave Radar (GWR) and Free Space Radar. The GWR systems use a conducting rod, or similar, extending down into the liquid, often working in a stilling chamber attached to the main process tank. These operate at low microwave frequencies, and are independent of surface turbulence and foam. They are useful for shorter range measurements and interface measurement between liquids, as well as long ranges.

The Free Space Radar systems are more widely used, since they are top-mounted with nothing in the tank: indeed, some can operate through non-conducting windows in the tank roof. Low and medium frequency radar systems generally transmit a signal pulse and measure the liquid distance by the time delay for the returned pulse. High frequency (80 GHz) systems use an FMCW radar measurement, where the frequency of the transmission is swept, and the frequency difference of the returned signal is measured to assess the distance. The FMCW technique is also used at 26 GHz in some recently launched sensors.

Radar systems can transmit their measurement data using 4-20 mA, fieldbus systems like HART, FF, Profibus PA and Modbus, or indeed via wireless systems like Bluetooth. The low and medium frequency pulsed radar systems generally operate over a two-wire interface: some of the higher frequency FMCW systems require more power and use a separate power connection.

Major applications

Simple low-cost radar level measurement sensors have been specifically designed for water industry use, in sewage sumps and flume flow measurement, by Vega and Endress+Hauser. Vega suggest that 40,000 such sensors are now in use in the water industry, mainly in Europe, and claim their total output of such sensors exceeds 550,000 units over the last 25 years.

Several of these devices use simple Bluetooth interrogation and programming from a handheld PDA: E+H demonstrates this at its facility in Maulberg, working on the stream that runs through the factory complex, as seen below.

Micropilot_FMR10_FMR20_on test stream at Maulberg, with operator using Bluetooth

Both E+H and Vega produce further industrial units for use on process vessels, and storage vessels for solids and liquids. Recently, E+H has extended its capability to add long-range units, such as the 80 GHz FMR62, working at up to 80 m range, with an accuracy of 1 mm. Other units work up to 125 m range, at 3 mm accuracy. These units will eventually be aimed at the large petrochemical industry storage tank markets, and specifically are working towards use for custody transfer duties.

Krohne have similarly announced a new range of its 80 GHz Optiwave sensors. Some of these can even operate at up to 700°C, for example for use on molten salt vessels in solar power plants. Lower specification units rated at up to 150°C can be used through a tank roof made of plastic, or similar materials. Suitable for small or narrow tanks, the unit can measure ranges of up to 100 m. Krohne also offers lower frequency Optiwave systems for use on solids and powders, or to electronically monitor the float position in magnetic level indicator columns attached to process vessels.

Postscript: Krohne is organising a webinar with the title “80 GHz Radar Level – Allrounder or Overrated?” to discuss their recent developments with such systems. This webinar will take place on 18th October 2017 at 3pm London time/10am New York time.

Protect your flowmeter IP

trevor-forsterThe following comments come from Trevor Forster, the MD of Titan Enterprises, a specialist flowmeter manufacturer based in Dorset, UK. He recounts his experiences over the development of a new style of time-of-flight ultrasonic flowmeter, later called the Atrato, in their latest newsletter, called the Titan Flowdown. It is an interesting experience and maybe holds some lessons for all.

“A few years ago, Titan Enterprises filed a patent application for some new ultrasound technology we had been developing over the previous 12 months. On examination by the patent authority it transpired that someone else had the exact same idea and had filed some three months before us. Annoyingly this competitive filing was nine months after we had our first thoughts and six months after our first successful experiments. There were two valuable lessons here:

  1. File your ideas as soon as possible.
  2. Do not waste time in developing a completely viable idea before protecting the intellectual property behind the innovation.

As a consequence of this setback we had to revisit what we wished to achieve with our ring technology development. This project involved development of an ultrasonic device which was tolerant to variations in tube diameters due to the material, temperature or pressure. Our new idea was to section the device annulus into several segments which where independently acoustically coupled to the pipe but joined electronically. The benefit of this innovation is that it would provide us with a “flexible” crystal which can accommodate variations in the tube diameter as well as having a consistent acoustic connection.

Our developmental options were to make drawings, get the specially shaped crystals manufactured and then perform the tests. Alternatively we chose to get some miniature diamond cutting saws with appropriate boring burrs and make our own segmented crystals from existing larger crystals which we use on another ultrasonic meter. This enabled us to prototype and test our idea much more quickly.

The initial tests on the new device were extremely promising which gave us sufficient confidence to file our patent application while more accurate components were being manufactured and tested. This technology has formed the basis of our soon to be released Metraflow ultra-pure flowmeter and our developments with a new 1350 bar flow device.

The initial disappointment was a valuable lesson in getting intellectual property registered as quickly as possible especially with any rapidly developing technology.”


Editor’s comment:

From previous discussions about this development, the initial research and testing of the flowmeter concept was undertaken in co-operation with a University, using a research student, so the development was not completely ‘under wraps’, under the control of the company. Nevertheless in a fast developing technology area, many minds are grappling with similar perceived problems and solutions, so parallel work would have been going on elsewhere: an early patent filing is very important under such conditions! The ultra-pure nature of the Metraflow flowmeter arises as the flow tube is a simple straight glass or similar tube, and the ultrasonic transducers are all external. To register to receive further info on the Metraflow, please email Titan.

600,000 flowmeters measure beer and lager flow

Titan Enterprises has established a long-standing working relationship with Vianet plc (formerly Brulines) for the supply of beer flowmeters for pub and bar automation projects. Over the last 20 year period Titan have delivered, and Vianet has installed, over 600,000 of these meters for beer and other bar flow measurement and automation applications.

Brulines, was formed in 1993 with the intention of providing pub chain owners with data on their bar activity via an electronic point of sale (EPOS) system. After trialling several other flowmeters, the company sought a solution to resolve flowmeter bearing lifespan problems and to overcome the unreliability of the optical detection method in beer.


The beer flowmeter

Following a collaborative approach to developing the solutions needed for the Vianet customer base, Titan Enterprises proposed an adapted version of its 800-series turbine flowmeter as the design included durable sapphire bearings proven reliable for many thousand hours operation, and a Hall effect detector which was not subject to problems with discolouration inside the pipe. After successful tests, a trial order for 400 units was placed in 1997, which after the subsequent field trials, was followed by an order for >5000 meters which were all delivered to the clients required timescales.

To ensure the flowmeter was ‘fit for purpose’, Titan additionally adapted the cable type as well as the body and increased the length to 10 metres. These adaptions enabled Brulines installations to be maintained in beer cellars with differing wire runs to the control panel without any junction boxes.

Twenty Years of Collaboration

With the widespread reliability of this product, Vianet turned again to Titan Enterprises in 1999 to develop for them an “intelligent” flowmeter (IFM) for their enhanced iDraught retail product. The specification for the IFM required that it should additionally measure temperature as well as determining the type of fluid in the line to detect line cleaning cycles which are essential for the dispensing of a good pint.

At the time, Titan did not have the technology to provide sensing electronics at a reasonable price so we produced a revised version of the beer flowmeter with the capability of being matched to a PCB designed, manufactured and installed by a third party.

After trialling and testing, this new IFM was introduced in June 2000 and supplied to Vianet at the rate of up to 3500 units a week. Mark Fewster, product manager at Vianet commented “Titan’s supply chain has always delivered to our quality and timescale needs”.

IoT Developments

ifm latest

An intelligent flowmeter design

Since this first IFM introduction, close collaboration between the two parties has resulted in 5 iterations of the product with revised features as end user requirements have developed and evolved with the growth of the IOT (Internet of Things). Drawing upon this close working relationship, over a long period of time, Titan continue to work with Vianet on new solutions and offerings as the Vianet customer offering further develops.

This Titan Enterprises application story is based on a report in the Autumn issue of Flowdown, the regular news bulletin published by Trevor Forster, MD of Titan, from their Dorset, UK base.