E+H did OK in 2020

Endress+Hauser has weathered the crisis year of 2020 in good shape. However, the Group’s consolidated sales fell slightly – strongly influenced by exchange rate effects – by almost 3 percent to just under 2.6 billion euros. Even a strong laboratory business could only partially offset the shortfalls in process automation, a sector that was hit harder by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

While sales development last year fell well short of targets, the Group maintained profits at a strong level. “Endress+Hauser’s financial solidity has not suffered during the crisis,” emphasized Chief Financial Officer Dr Luc Schultheiss. The company was able to avoid short-time work and even slightly increased employment. At the end of 2020, Endress+Hauser had more than 14,400 employees worldwide, over 100 more than a year ago.

Endress+Hauser has always remained able to deliver despite the pandemic. “We have bridged the physical distance to our customers with digital and emotional proximity,” said Chief Executive Officer Matthias Altendorf. He sees the company as well equipped, even if the next few months continue to be dominated by the coronavirus crisis: “Our innovative strength is unbroken. Endress+Hauser will launch more product innovations in 2021 than ever before.”

Economic recovery not before the end of the year

The impact of the pandemic continues to affect individual market regions, customer industries and fields of activity very differently. Nevertheless, Endress+Hauser has made a good start to the current year. The Group expects growth in the single-digit percentage range in 2021 but sees profits under increased pressure. The company does not expect a fundamental recovery in the global economy until the end of the year.

E+H will present its audited 2020 financial figures on 4 May 2021 in Basel, Switzerland.

SpaceX greenhouse gas sensor by ABB

An optical sensor manufactured by ABB was deployed last night with the successful launch of satellite Hugo from GHGSat, the emerging leader in greenhouse gas emissions sensing services in space.

The ABB supplied optical sensor can map methane emissions from space at a resolution that is 100 times higher than any other sensors. Whilst previously only larger regions could be surveyed, for the first time the new greater granularity now allows the identification of the source of emissions. An additional nine units are currently under manufacture at ABB to be launched by the end of 2022 ready to be on-board across the first private satellite constellation dedicated to emission measurement.

Space offers the ideal location to freely monitor emissions across jurisdictions and quantitatively report on improvements. The ABB sensors will provide valuable insights which will enable governments and industries around the world to meet their emission reduction targets and reduce the negative impact on global warming.

“We selected ABB for its ability to deliver world-class instruments while meeting the challenges of a new space company like ours.“ said Stephane Germain, CEO of GHGSat. “We strive to innovate for the needs of the future, and we’re excited to work with ABB to achieve that.”. 

“ABB shares GHGSat’s goal of reducing emissions through the creation of their greenhouse gas sensing constellation. Our selection as the manufacturer for these advanced sensors demonstrates our competitiveness and strong fit with the private space sector requirements.” said Marc Corriveau, General Manager ABB Measurement & Analytics Canada.  

“The space revolution is well underway and ABB with its heritage of unique space instruments and serial production of advanced measurement sensors for industrial applications is extremely well positioned to serve this emerging sector.” he continued. 

GHGSat announced the constellation contract award with ABB in October 2020, with first deliveries in 2021. The unit launched by SpaceX was a single unit procured by GHGSat from ABB two years ago ahead of a selection for the constellation. 

With its involvement in the Canadian SCISAT mission and the Japanese GOSAT series of satellites, ABB has been at the forefront of the field of greenhouse gas sensing from space for more than two decades. ABB optical equipment already in space cumulates more than 100 years of reliable operation. The SCISAT sensor tracks long-term subtle composition changes in the earth’s atmosphere down to parts per trillion of more than 70 molecules and pollutants since 2003. Weather agencies across the world base their predictions on ABB equipment flying onboard the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather satellites (NPP and JPSS), which saves lives by improving the timeliness and accuracy of weather forecasts for up to seven days. 

Northumberland site for battery gigaplant

UK investor in battery technologies, Britishvolt, has selected a site in Blyth, Northumberland to build Britain’s first battery gigaplant, according to a story on ‘The Engineer website.

battery gigaplant
Rendering of the planned gigaplant at Blyth (Image: Britishvolt)

Construction is planned to begin in Summer 2021, with an aim of producing ‘world class’ lithium-ion batteries by the end of 2023. The gigaplant will be built on a 95-hectare site, formerly the site of the Blyth Power Station.

Britishvolt confirmed that a total of £2.6bn will be invested into the plant, which aims to employ up to 3,000 highly skilled people by its final phase in 2027, providing up to 5,000 jobs in the wider supply chain and producing over 300,000 lithium-ion batteries for the UK automotive industry.

The building of a gigaplant ties in with prime minister Boris Johnson’s ten-point plan for the UK’s green recovery, and has been described by Britishvolt as ‘strategically important’ for the UK automotive industry to maintain competitive advantage as we accelerate toward an increasingly electrified future.

CEO of Britishvolt, Orral Nadjari, said that securing the site in Blyth was a ‘tremendous moment’ for UK industry, commenting: “Blyth meets all of our exacting requirements and could be tailor made. It is on the doorstep of major transport links, easily accessible renewable energy and the opportunity for a co-located supply chain. [It] meets our target to make our gigaplant the world’s cleanest and greenest battery facility.”

Renewable energy will be used to power the gigaplant, including the potential to use hydro-electric power generated in Norway and transmitted 447 miles via the world’s longest inter-connector from the North Sea Link project.

Blyth Valley MP Ian Levy said that the announcement would have a massive impact on the constituency and surrounding area for decades to come, adding that the Northeast had not seen anything comparable since Nissan invested in Sunderland more than 35 years ago.

Following the announcement, Dr Amrit Chandan, CEO and co-founder of clean-tech company Aceleron, expressed concern over the ‘elephant in the room’ – battery waste. “EVs alone are estimated to produce 11 million tonnes of waste by 2030, enough to fill Wembley Stadium almost 20 times,” he said. “This gigafactory is an opportunity for the UK to showcase both its world leading innovation to deliver net zero energy, alongside net zero waste.

“By future-proofing battery design to enable easy servicing, repurposing and reuse we can design out battery waste while creating a booming service employment market that will further drive our green industrial revolution.”

Lithium ion battery anode factory

ABB and Talga plan to explore the development and construction options for a major European battery anode production facility, to be located near a graphite mine in Northern Sweden.

Global technology company ABB and battery anode and graphene additive company Talga Group have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly develop Talga’s Vittangi Anode Project in northern Sweden.

Combining a scalable battery anode production facility with integrated graphite mining operations, the project will be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity to supply ultra-low emission coated anodes for green lithium-ion batteries. It will be located around 15 km from the town of Vittangi and is expected to begin anode production at 19,000 tons per annum from 2023.

Sweden is known to have significant mineral resources of graphite and exploration takes place primarily in the north of the country. This work is important for steel, car and battery manufacturing industries. Most of the world’s reserves are in China, with other key nations India and Brazil. Europe currently imports most of its graphite, but with the increase in battery technologies the aim is to meet a proportion of the additional demand.

“ABB is at the forefront of industrial automation and electrification, and we are very pleased to have their support as we continue to execute on our plan to build one of Europe’s largest lithium-ion battery anode production facility for more sustainable batteries,” said Mark Thompson, Managing Director, Talga Group.

Northern Europe’s available supply of low-cost green electricity from a range of large-scale renewable sources will also support the production of Talga’s low CO₂ battery anodes.

“Supporting the development of Talga’s Vittangi Anode Project provides us with an additional opportunity to showcase ABB’s leadership in industrial automation and smart electrification, applied towards construction of key operations for the emerging European battery supply chain,” said Björn Jonsson, Division Manager North Europe, Process Industries, ABB. “This is another milestone for us and our customers in our aim for more sustainable operations and a fossil fuel free society.”

A pre-feasibility study was completed in May 2019. The location in Sweden is considered to be a low risk mining and investment jurisdiction. Crucially, it is close to emerging European battery gigafactories currently under development.

Retirement!

As is obvious, the regular addition of stories to this ProcessingTalk weblog has dwindled, and new interests and activities have taken over from active involvement and analysis of news stories.

The technology developments, innovations and marketing initiatives occurring in process instrumentation remain a fascination, and some of these will still be reported, irregularly.

I wish to thank colleagues, correspondents and friends across the industry for allowing me to share in some of their amazing product ideas and developments, and long may they continue!

For now my interest in optical and wave sensing techniques continues in a more focussed direction, in restoring old telescopes. Good, old, proven technology just carries on …..

Nick Denbow

November 2020

Emerson invests $100m in new flow research centre

Emerson is to invest more than $100 million in Boulder, Colorado, to significantly expand manufacturing space, and create a new innovation centre focused on research, new product development and industry training for its advanced flow measurement products.

David N. Farr, chairman and chief executive of Emerson commented: “This US investment significantly expands our ability to serve as industry leaders, helping customers in essential industries optimise their operations with the latest technologies. Our new facility demonstrates our continued commitment to customer-driven innovation and high-tech manufacturing, as well as our focus on attracting the best and brightest talent to work for Emerson.”

Emerson is recognised globally for its advanced flow measurement technologies and diagnostics that help leading global customers in the life sciences, food and beverage, chemical, power and energy industries. The new innovation centre will drive innovation and new product development to enable customers in these critical industries to realise performance improvements in production, reliability, safety and sustainability.

“As an entrepreneur, I saw first-hand how Colorado’s talent and market strengths can fuel innovation,” said

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis commented: “As an entrepreneur, I saw first-hand how the talent and market strengths in Solorado can fuel innovation. This investment in Coloradans and our state is a bold statement about our economic power and the bright opportunities that lie ahead.”

Artist’s impression of the new Emerson facility in Boulder

The nearly 180,000 square foot (16,700 square metres) expansion includes a new, 85,000 sq ft (7,900 sq m) laboratory, and a manufacturing facility to design and develop products, technologies and software that measure and control the flow of material in any manufacturing process.

The facility will offer a hands-on Interactive Plant Environment that simulates real-world industrial manufacturing conditions for worker training and upskilling to help reshape the future workforce. This ‘experiential’ training facility will provide Emerson customers with hands-on access to the most advanced products and technologies, including flow, temperature, level, pressure and wireless instrumentation, valves and regulators, as well as Emerson’s leading control systems and Plantweb digital ecosystem. Emerson’s flow measurement portfolio includes Coriolis, magnetic, vortex, multiphase, differential pressure and ultrasonic meters – meters that show the Micro Motion, Rosemount, Roxar and Daniel brands.

The new factory complex will have charging stations for electric vehicles and bicycle parking areas, plus include green landscaping, energy efficiency and water conservation programmes. Work is expected to commence on site in spring 2020.

Emerson currently has 630 employees in Boulder, which is the home of its Micro Motion business. Micro Motion was founded in 1977 as one of Boulder’s earliest start-ups and invented the first Coriolis flow meter. Emerson acquired Micro Motion in 1984 and has continued to invest in design, engineering and attracting technical talent.

Last year, Emerson announced a collaboration with Colorado State University to build the Emerson Brewing Innovation Centre, where students get hands-on experience using the latest automation technologies.

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!