Taste-testing whisky

A recent article from the journal “Design Products & Applications!

An artificial ‘tongue’developed at the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering can taste subtle differences between drams of whisky. The approach could lead the way to better detection of counterfeit alcohol. In a new paper published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Nanoscale, Scottish engineers describe how they built the tiny taster, which exploits the optical properties of gold and aluminium foils to test the tipples.

Sub-microscopic slices of the two metals, arranged in a checkerboard pattern, act as the ‘tastebuds’ in the team’s artificial tongue. The researchers poured samples of whisky over the tastebuds – which are about 500 times smaller than their human equivalents – and measured how they absorb light while submerged. Statistical analysis of the very subtle differences in how the metals in the artificial tongue absorb light – what scientists call their plasmonic resonance – allowed the team to identify different types of whiskies.

The team used the tongue to sample a selection of whiskies from Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch and Laphroaig. The tongue was able to taste the differences between the drinks with greater than 99% accuracy. It was capable of picking up on the subtler distinctions between the same whisky aged in different barrels and tell the difference between the same whisky aged for 12, 15 and 18 years.

Image courtesy of University of Glasgow

Dr Alasdair Clark, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering, is the paper’s lead author. Dr Clark said: “We call this an artificial tongue because it acts similarly to a human tongue – like us, it can’t identify the individual chemicals which make coffee taste different to apple juice, but it can easily tell the difference between these complex chemical mixtures.

“We’re not the first researchers to make an artificial tongue, but we’re the first to make a single artificial tongue that uses two different types of nanoscale metal ‘tastebuds’, which provides more information about the ‘taste’ of each sample and allows a faster and more accurate response.

“While we’ve focused on whisky in this experiment, the artificial tongue could easily be used to ‘taste’ virtually any liquid, which means it could be used for a wide variety of applications. In addition to its obvious potential for use in identifying counterfeit alcohols, it could be used in food safety testing, quality control, security – really any area where a portable, reusable method of tasting would be useful.”

Will UK ever pull out of BREXIT torpor?

….and will the Government ever pull a consistent plan together?

Whether the UK – whoever is in charge – decides next March to remain in the EEC, drop out, or make a negotiated partial exit, the last year has been disastrous for UK industrial investment in instrumentation and control. Presumably this results from the hold placed on investment across most manufacturing industries. This has resulted in a lack of new product releases and PR spend, and presumably has led to a reduction in page advertising industrially. No doubt UK magazine publishers have seen this and could provide charts of advertising pages, declining by the month. Possibly UK businesses don’t yet know which way to turn – and for that matter which of their instrumentation and control customers or contractors will survive.

The near two years of uncertainty for these companies is a knock-out blow to the ultra-short term approach of UK industry, where investors and accountants rule – and demand a one, or at most two year payback from any expenditure. Possibly this is a personal hobby-horse, but in Europe, particularly in Germany and Scandinavia, companies and investors think in much longer timescales. My normal example of this is Endress + Hauser. Their output of PR and news is much less frequent than possibly occurs with British or US companies, but this has continued as previously – these European companies are two years on from when the UK paused for Brexit. E+H is continuing to make investments for the future, outside the EEC in particular – which is surely what UK companies were supposed to be doing, what Brexit was supposed to achieve?

In November E+H announced the opening of their new Euro 3m state-of-the-art calibration and training centre in the industrial city of Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Typically for E+H the centre features a classroom with interactive technology, an extensively equipped workshop and a fieldbus training lab. It offers practical, hands-on training programs designed to impart knowledge on measurement technologies and process control systems that are in demand by the hydrocarbon, power and water & wastewater industries. Subsequently, the Group announced a new appointment, of Dr Andreas Mayr as Chief Operating Officer to be responsible for all sales, production and support, and effectively to be a deputy CEO to Matthias Altendorf. As ever, this is an internal, planned promotion. It also enables Altendorf to focus more intensely on aligning, growing and strengthening the whole Endress + Hauser Group, which particularly seems to mean internationally.

UK investments..

There are some long term investments being made in the UK. However, these seem to be mainly financed by Government, or Government guarantees. At Hinkley Point, the build programme for the EDF large EPR (European Pressurised Reactor), based on the Areva (France) and Siemens (Germany) design, continues. The long timescale of this build, based on past examples, will be extended significantly, and cost over-runs will be inevitable. The Government deal will see the UK grid buying the Hinkley power at £92/MWh, whereas current offshore wind power is costing around £60/MWh.

Wind turbine developments continue apace, and the latest offshore developments from companies like Siemens in Germany are producing realistic designs for 75m turbine blades, over twice the length of current wind turbine structures. These will inevitably result in a lower output cost for the grid companies. The next step will be to have the turbines installed on moored floating structures, rather than towers embedded in the sea floor, enabling wind turbine offshore operations in many more locations around the world.

The Government has given some encouragement to the small modular reactor concept, with money for design studies and proposals: but not much concrete help or commitment. As a result of this, and other Group problems in the USA, Toshiba (who acquired Westinghouse) have closed down its planned NuGen nuclear reactor site in Cumbria, which was the first of the planned ‘new nuclear’ modular plants, after the rescue plan by a south Korean company failed to get UK Government backing. At Wylfa in North Wales a Hitachi nuclear plant installation started, with 33% funding from Hitachi and each of the UK and Japanese Governments. Yet now Hitachi has also pulled out of this, citing other problems, probably to save face for the UK Govt. As the UK winter approaches, the Hunterston B number 3 nuclear reactor has not yet come back on line, after some cracks were found in March. Instead of November, it will not return to service till February, hopefully. Currently unit number 4 is also offline, undergoing an inspection, and it is ‘hoped’ this will return to power in mid-December. Hopefully too, the winter will not be too cold, and have lots of wind for the turbines!

Another useful Government funded project was the White Rose Carbon Capture and Storage project at Drax power station. The Government withdrew the funding some years ago. Now Drax has from its own resources converted four of its coal fired boilers to biomass (wood pellet) fuel, and adapted the now redundant desulphurisation units on the flue gases from these boilers to extract the CO2, using a solvent. This might help the Government meet its carbon emissions target!

The UK is currently a partner in the £9Bn Galileo project, which is developing a modern version of a GPS system, specifically for military and security applications, but also with a lower resolution commercial system. The UK has invested £1.2Bn so far in this project, and has done most of the work on the high definition aspects. But apparently the European Union has decided that the UK will not be allowed access to the high resolution information available from Galileo, after Brexit!

Apart from the Government, there are some private companies involved in long term investment projects in the UK. One notable example is BP, who have invested £4.5Bn in oil and gas export facilities from the Clair Ridge field, west of Shetland, in co-operation with Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips. Oil has started flowing down a new 5.5Km long 22inch pipeline to the Sullom Voe terminal, and will do so for the next forty years. A six inch gas pipeline has already been exporting natural gas to Sullom Voe. Further drilling around the platform on the Clair Ridge field will continue for the next ten years, to produce further wells.

As for run of the mill projects, let’s hope that some confidence can be resurrected, and that the general I + C industry does regenerate soon….

Footnote: This article was originally written at the end of November 2018, but held back until end January in the hope that some good news would have turned up! It was then published in the journal South African Instrumentation and Control in their February 2019 issue.

 

E+H celebrate 50 years in Manchester

Measurement and automation specialist Endress+Hauser Ltd is in great shape as it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary on 11 November 2018. Now employing over 200 people, and with an estimated turnover of £46 million in 2018, the measurement and automation engineering specialist continues to break new sales records.

Part of the Switzerland-headquartered Endress+Hauser group, the UK sales and production centre was founded in 1968 by Dr Georg H Endress, the grandfather of the current managing director. Originally situated on Southmoor Road in Manchester, the company moved to its current site on Floats Road in 1996. In 2008 the company opened a new £8 million state-of-the-art office and engineering facility to support its growth, followed in 2013 by a £1 million training centre incorporating the latest digital technology.

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The E+H Manchester office and engineering building

Over the last 50 years Endress+Hauser has developed from a vendor of devices and instruments to a full-range services provider working with customers in process industries such as food and beverage, water and wastewater and oil and gas. Products for measuring temperature and flow are also designed and manufactured at the Manchester site.

Steven-EndressSteven Endress took the reins as managing director in 2016, the first third-generation member of the Endress family to take an operational role in the family business. Reflecting on the 50-year anniversary, he said, ‘Over the years our buildings and the scope of our offer have changed as we seek to align with our customers’ needs. But, without doubt, our most important asset is our people. It is the drive, ambition and attitude of my colleagues that makes the difference.’

As well as investing in the business, the company has a long history of investing in the local community. The founder of Endress+Hauser invested four per cent of his company in the creation of the charitable Georg H Endress Foundation, which promotes training and education, as well as supporting academic research. Today, Endress+Hauser Ltd continues this legacy by forging links with local schools, colleges and universities. Earlier this year, the sales centre donated nearly 50 computers to one local school, Harrop Fold, which allowed them to kit out their ICT room.

Power transmission, and the internet!

Changes in the technology around us that we work with and even create when involved with automation and control, are having a wider effect on society as a whole. Two areas that have been influenced this way are the growth of alternative methods of power generation and transmission, and the enormous power demands of the Internet, which will lead to a crisis somewhere.

The following article was written for the September issue of the journal “South African Instrumentation and Control”, which is published by Technews in South Africa.

Last November, this column described the long distance HVDC power transmission systems being installed by ABB, taking power across China, and also those used on undersea links between the mainland and offshore islands, or even oil industry offshore platforms. In reverse, similar DC power links deliver the new green power from offshore windfarms to national networks. Now GE has described how their MVDC technology from the GE Power Conversion business has been applied by Scottish Power to deliver extra power across existing lines between North Wales and the island of Anglesey (it is a quirk of the UK power industry structure that Scottish Power also supplies England and Wales).

The GE project converted the existing 33 kV AC transmission links to work with 27 kV MVDC, using GE power electronic inverters in sub-stations at either end of the line. This will increase the power available over the existing cables by 23%, enabling the supply to meet the future needs on Anglesey, without any additional environmental impact. GE point out that these same techniques are being applied in wind and solar farms, facilitating direct connection to an efficient MVDC power collection grid, giving a lower cable cost and less expensive installations.

Needless to say, the installations in Wales and Anglesey will be monitored by remote asset management systems, operated by GE engineers via the Internet.

DC power networks

DC power is becoming more prominent, both at the beginning and at the end of the grid. It is produced by wind turbines and solar PVs and used by everything from smartphones, laptops and electric cars, to the data centres that keep the Internet running.

However, having to convert back and forth between AC and DC along the way leads to wasted energy through resistance and heat – is this just to enable an interface with our old fashioned infrastructure? Our office buildings have computer network access on every desk, and even at home, the power sockets are fitted with added USB power outputs. The modern LED lighting systems, and ordinary domestic lamp bulbs, now use low power DC supplies. Why then do we need AC for more than power duties such as heating and cooking? Maybe it is time to convert homes to have most outlets just providing a DC supply from one power source housed in the local sub-station.

Internet burnout

There is a problem in adding too much emphasis on interrogating, monitoring and controlling everything via the Internet. The problem is the amount of power needed to run the data centres that store and distribute our data. In 2015, data centres worldwide consumed 30% more electricity than the whole of the UK demand for power – they took 3% of the global electricity supply. Ian Bitterlin, Britain’s foremost data centre expert and a visiting professor at the University of Leeds, says the amount of energy used by data centres is doubling every four years: and he points to a study focused on Japan, which suggests that their own data centres will consume the entire Japanese electricity supply by 2030. Carry on at this rate, and at worst the whole Internet will fail – at the very least there will need to be access charges and taxes to control the growth in Internet use.

Most data centres are sited in cold climates, to assist with cooling the electronics, as most of the power they use seems to be consumed by large cooling fans. While the heat generated directly contributes to global warming, the power used in 2015 accounted for 2% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, giving the data centres the same carbon footprint as the whole airline industry.

I had hoped that there would be an answer to this problem by using solar or other green DC sources to power these centres, but this seems unlikely, if the major power requirement is for the fans. Naturally, research continues on reducing the data centre demand for power, but it may be too late!

Siemens and Bentley Systems consolidate alliance

Siemens has announced that their successful strategic alliance with Bentley Systems, the software development company that concentrates on infrastructure project management, will be further expanded to strengthen their joint business cooperation and investment initiatives. The result of this latest agreement between the two companies means that their initial 50 million Euro investment program will be doubled – taking it to 100 million Euro. In addition, the Siemens stake in the Bentley Systems company has been increased to over 9%, as a result of the continuous investment of Siemens into secondary shares of Bentley’s common stock.

Klaus Helmrich, member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, declared: “I’m very pleased with how well our alliance started, how strong the relationship is. We are now investing up to the next collaboration level with Bentley. For example we will strengthen their engineering and project management tools using the Siemens enterprise wide collaboration platform ‘Teamcenter’ to create a full ‘Digital Twin’ for the engineering and construction world. Integrated company-wide data handling and IoT connectivity via Siemens ‘MindSphere’ will enable our mutual customers to benefit from the holistic ‘Digital Twins’.”

Greg Bentley, the CEO of Bentley Systems added: “In our joint investment activities with Siemens to date, we have progressed worthwhile opportunities together with virtually every Siemens business forgoing digital’ in infrastructure and industrial advancement. As our new jointly offered products and cloud services now come to market, we are enthusiastically prioritizing further digital co-ventures. We have also welcomed Siemens’ recurring purchases of non-voting Bentley Systems stock on the NASDAQ Private Market, which we facilitate in order to enhance liquidity, primarily for our retiring colleagues.”

Background to Bentley Systems

Bentley Systems is a software development company that supports the professional needs of those responsible for creating, building and managing the world’s infrastructure, including roadways, bridges, airports, skyscrapers, industrial and power plants as well as utility networks.

Founded in 1984, Bentley has more than 3,500 colleagues in over 50 countries, and is on track to surpass an annual revenue run rate of $700 million. Since 2012, Bentley has invested more than $1 billion in research, development, and acquisitions. The collaboration with Siemens commenced in 2016.

Editor’s note: The Bentley website ‘About us‘ page has an excellent video illustrating some of the worldwide applications where the Bentley infrastructure project software has been applied.

The European Scene

The German organisation Profibus & Profinet International (PI) publishes annual statistics on the numbers of devices installed with interfaces equipped with their communication technologies, which also include ProfiSafe and IO-Link. The trend towards Profinet increased in 2017, with 4.5 million new nodes installed, an increase of 25% on the previous year figure, which brings the total number installed to 21 million. Possibly because of the rise in Profinet systems, the Profibus DP numbers added seem to have reached a plateau over recent years, with a population of 60 million.

Profibus PA and ProfiSafe node numbers are growing strongly in the process automation field, with the ProfiSafe adoption growing 25% in the year, adding 2m nodes to reach 9 million in total. Similarly IO-Link device numbers installed in the year increased 50%, adding 2.8m to achieve a population of 8.1 million, linking sensors and actuators to a PLC as a subsidiary network below the fieldbus/Profinet level. PI recently published an IO-Link wireless specification, and demonstrated the technology at the Hanover Trade Show earlier this year.

Government Interferences

Legislative rulings have affected businesses and consumers across the EU recently, with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) causing avalanches of email asking for a subscriber’s permission to be re-registered with every firm they have ever dealt with, to allow them to record the fact. Even companies from outside the EU will face financial penalties, if they send out emailed newsletters or promotional messages into EU subscribers, without having these permissions confirmed, registered and recorded!

In the USA, the EPA, under the Trump administration, has dropped most of the more Draconian measures that they had originally proposed to impose on chemical plants, after the explosion at West Fertilizers in Texas that killed 15 fire-fighters and injured 260 people. The CSB report on the incident also listed 19 other Texas facilities that store large amounts of Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser, and are located within half a mile of a school, hospital or nursing home. One regulation that will be introduced in Texas is that local fire marshals will inspect all sites storing ammonium nitrate, once a year. Hopefully this might help prevent any further explosions that might result in large off- site consequences.

The changes that were proposed by the EPA and that will not now be introduced include (1) the need to evaluate options for safer technology and procedures that would mitigate hazards; (2) the requirement to conduct a root-cause analysis after a catastrophic chemical release or potential release incident; and (3) performing a third-party compliance audit after an accident at a plant involving the release or potential release of chemicals.

In the UK, Barclays Bank, rather than the Government, is reassuring UK exporters worried about Brexit and trading afterwards, with a survey that shows 39% of International customers would be more inclined to buy a product if it displayed the Union Jack. This was especially true for consumers in Asia and the Middle East (India, 67%; UAE, 62%; China, 61%), and also for younger consumers generally, where nearly half said this would encourage them to make a purchase. For over 55 year olds (who maybe had more life experience) the figure dropped to a quarter. It’s all statistics!)

Research projects

Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen was first demonstrated by Fujishima and Honda using a titanium dioxide electrode. Since then, scientists have been on the hunt for the ideal material to perform the task, as Hydrogen is a very useful, green fuel for portable power. Now, a team from Exeter University has made a significant hydrogen energy breakthrough, developing an electrode that splits water using only light. The photo-electrode, which is made from nanoparticles of lanthanum, iron and oxygen, absorbs light before initialising electrochemical transformations to extract hydrogen from water. The team is currently working on further improving this material to
make it more efficient, to produce more hydrogen.

At the Drives & Controls Exhibition in the UK this year all the motor manufacturers were showing the condition monitoring capabilities of their offering, usually measured by vibration monitoring sensors. Possibly ABB went one step further, showing a sensor assembly that can be attached to almost any low-voltage motor, existing or on a new project. Transmitting information over Bluetooth, the sensors require no wiring, and are attached directly to the motor’s frame. Within the unit, sensors collect vital data points like vibration, sound and temperature, and upload that information via an ABB gateway or Smartphone to the cloud, where it is analysed. The results are sent back for optimising performance and predictive maintenance, just like a roving maintenance engineer!

This article was written for the July issue of the South African Journal of Instrumentation and Control, published by technews.co.za

Exit for Automation Insider – maybe!

With the news that the Industrial Automation Insider is publishing its final issue, Eoin O’Riain of Read-out.net writes the following analysis:

The editorial in the latest issue on Industrial Automation Insider is (we think) somewhat sad. Walt Boyes writes


“Well, this is it. 

This is the last issue of the INSIDER. When David Spitzer and I bought the INSIDER in 2014 we hoped to find a market for news and analysis in the automation industries that was not influenced by advertising spend. We believed there was such a market, and we decided we would keep the INSIDER a subscription only publication. We are proud to have provided you news untainted by advertising dollars.

We believe that we have produced great news, some interesting scoops (that’s hard to do in a monthly magazine) and some hard-hitting deep analysis. We have gotten feedback to the effect that we are unique, and we are doing a service to the industry that is needed. But everything comes to an end. 

We want to thank our readers and subscribers for supporting us these last years.”

So much water has flowed under so many bridges since Andrew Bond first put pen to paper and produced the first beige coloured edition way back in pre pdf day. He then passed the torch on to Nick Denbow who continued the good work. Some years ago it crossed the Atlantic when Walt Boyes of Spitzer & Boyes took up the mantle. It perhaps lost a little of its European flavour in the transition but it never ceased to be interesting and sometimes controversial.

Like so many print and distributed periodicals the easily availability of news “as it happens” (not to mention the news that hasn’t happened) the number of people who actually read these in their oh-so-busy mailboxes must shrink. The Insider, and indeed our own publication Read-out, have suffered.   The Read-out name is preserved as a constantly changing news presence on a continually updated website.

Walt thanks his co-writers David SpitzerJoy Ward, Rajabahadur Arcot, Nick Denbow and all of the other people who supported the INSIDER over the past few years. He also promises that they will continue to appear, from time to time, “in our blog on the Spitzer & Boyes website.”

David W Spitzer’s own e-zine – which provides technical and indeed marketing, information for automation professional by email each month – will continue to be produced. (Get your copy each month by signing up on the website.)

We wish those involved in the monthly production of the Insider every success as they continue to provide news and analysis in the automation industries but in a different way. We thank Walt and his team for great – and perhaps irreplaceable – service through the years.

Eoin O’Riain