Electrocomponents plc buys Monition, adds to RS

Electrocomponents plc has today completed the acquisition of Monition, the UK-based pioneer in the design, development and application of condition monitoring systems. Monition is based in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, and will become an operating brand within the RS Technical Services operation.

Monition provides managed services in areas such as condition monitoring, predictive maintenance and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to improve their customers’ reliability, operability and maintainability. Originally founded in 1988 by Ian Jennings, Monition has more than 30 years of operational knowledge and expertise in the reliability and condition-monitoring sector, developed in co-operation with European and UK governments, leading Universities and industry specialists. It has well-established relationships within the maintenance functions in a range of blue chip clients, particularly within the food and beverage sector.

“The acquisition of Monition supports our strategy of building a range of differentiated value-added solutions such as connected factory and IIoT solutions for our customers,” said Pete Malpas, Managing Director of RS Northern Europe. “Whilst we already have an extensive range of customer solutions including calibration, eProcurement and inventory management solutions, we believe that the Monition portfolio will enable us to provide our customer base with the intelligent solutions they need to maintain their operations more effectively and as such will bring us closer to becoming first choice for our customers. We are thrilled to welcome Monition to RS and the Electrocomponents Group.”

Mike Burrows, Managing Director of Monition, commented: “We are extremely excited to become part of RS and the broader Electrocomponents Group. We share a common vision to deliver high-quality, innovative maintenance solutions to our customers. Being part of a larger Group will bring Monition benefits of scale and additional resources, which will help us accelerate the design and development of cutting-edge maintenance engineering solutions to address Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing needs.”

Monition will retain its trading name and, as part of RS, will benefit from the financial strength, scale and international spread of the broader Electrocomponents Group.

Electrocomponents is listed on the London Stock Exchange and in the last financial year ended 31 March 2018 had revenues of £1.71Bn.

Advertisements

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.

 

Cyber security for energy infrastructure

In this article, published early in December in Panel Building and System Integration,  Martyn Williams of Copa-Data UK discusses cyber security in the energy sector, and the IEC 62443 certification of their “zenon” energy automation software:

Stakes are high in the energy sector. In fact, it is one of the only industries in which cyber security is entangled with public safety and environmental concerns. Digitalisation in this sector provides huge efficiency benefits, but also presents risks. Cyber criminals are now looking for gaps in security measures, and IoT devices can provide an opportunity to infiltrate these networks.

The arrival of ISA/IEC 62443-4-1:2018

In 2017, Energy UK called for a collaborative approach to cyber security in the industry. One of the objectives was to encourage security vendors to work closely with operators to ensure products are fit for purpose.

During the same period the Cyber Security in the Energy Sector report by the Energy Expert Cyber Security Platform (EECSP) was released. The group identified 39 gaps in energy cyber security that were not covered by existing legislations. Alongside calls from trade associations like Energy UK, the report demonstrated a need for a flexible framework that addresses and mitigates current and future security vulnerabilities in energy automation.

Shortly following this, the ISA/IEC 62443 series of standards were released. Developed by the ISA99 committee as American National Standards, ISA/IEC 62443 was also adopted globally by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

What does this mean for the energy sector?

Prior to this new standard, products and services for energy automation could not be certified in relation to secure product development. The new IEC 62443 standard therefore creates the basis for comprehensive security. For the first time, the standard provides a baseline to unite all perspectives — that of the component supplier, system integrator and equipment operator.

TÜV SÜD, part of the German Association for Technical Inspection, recently awarded the new ISA/IEC 62443-4-1:2018 security standard to Copa-Data, for its software development, quality assurance and support processes used for energy automation software, zenon.

Certifications like these are particularly beneficial for the UK energy sector as entire power grids are often networked using HMI and SCADA systems powered by software like zenon. Energy grids are increasingly using centralised software to visualise and control their operations, linking critical infrastructure and the cyber world.

While this connectivity is valuable, it automatically increases cyber security risks in all networked equipment. Therefore, it is necessary that the software at the centre of it all is trusted – and this trust is certified by a third-party standard.

Intense audit

What exactly does a company need to earn IEC 62334 certification? The certification requires companies to check the potential weaknesses of their automation and control technologies, and then demonstrate they have developed effective protection measures.

The requirements are very comprehensive, and in the case of Copa-Data, required the formation of a Security Management Team (SMT) to demonstrate exceptional security issue management for the duration of one zenon release. In particular, the team introduced threat models to search for structural vulnerabilities from the point of view of an attacker.

For system integrators, achieving the certification requires testing of integration processes and the assessment of implemented IT security functions. The relevant documents will be scrutinised by the assessor, and an on-site audit plan is put in place. Next up are intense interviews, procedural assessments and technical checks.

The certificate is only considered current for one year, ensuring security in product development is regularly assessed. Businesses must re-certify annually. This guarantees that new and emerging cyber threats and loopholes are consistently managed and therefore are not able to infiltrate the software.

Power grids may be fast becoming digital jungles, but as with every trek, the best voyagers are equipped smartly and prepared for the worst. To secure their networks in today’s turbulent energy sector, it is vital that operators are armed with software that is designed in line with current industrial IT security guidelines.

Hitachi buys ABB Power Grids

ABB has announced that Hitachi will acquire its Power Grids business as part of an expansion to the existing partnership between the two companies.

Hitachi plans to initially acquire an 80.1% stake in the Power Grids business and expects to close the acquisition in the first half of 2020. Hitachi has also entered into a purchase option to acquire the remaining 19.9% stake in Power Grids, making it a wholly-owned subsidiary.

In the fast-changing world of energy infrastructure, with a shifting customer landscape and the need for financing and increased government influence, ABB believes Hitachi is the best owner for Power Grids. As a stable and long-term committed owner, with whom ABB has developed a strong business partnership since 2014, Hitachi will further strengthen the business, providing it with access to new and growing markets as well as financing. Hitachi will accelerate Power Grids to the next stage of its development, building on the solid foundation achieved under ABB’s previous ownership.

Since 2014, Power Grids has been significantly improved under the ownership of ABB. The latest results are at the target margin corridor, having more than doubled margins, with positive third party base order development recorded for the last six consecutive quarters.

ABB will initially retain a 19.9 percent equity stake in the joint venture, allowing a seamless transition. The transaction agreement includes a pre-defined option for ABB to exit the retained 19.9 percent share, exercisable three years after closing, at fair market value with floor price at 90 percent of agreed Enterprise Value. Hitachi holds a call option over the remaining 19.9 percent share at fair market value with floor price at 100 percent of agreed Enterprise Value.

The joint venture will be headquartered in Switzerland, with Hitachi retaining the management team to ensure business continuity.

Starting in Q4 2018 until closing, ABB will report Power Grids in discontinued operations. As a consequence, ABB will record $350-400 million of stranded and other carve-out related costs, which are currently predominately recorded as part of the Power Grids cost base. These will now be recognised in ABB’s corporate & other operational EBITA. ABB expects to eliminate the vast majority of these costs by deal closing by transferring them back to Power Grids. ABB expects approximately $200 million of charges in Q4 2018 related predominantly to the legacy EPC substation business reported in non-core corporate & other operational EBITA.

ABB expects to incur one-time non-operational transaction and separation related costs of $500-600 million. ABB anticipates $800-900 million related cash tax impact. The completion of the transaction is expected by first half of 2020, subject to regulatory approvals and fulfilment of closing conditions. ABB intends to return 100 percent of the estimated net cash proceeds of $7.6-7.8 billion from the 80.1 percent sale to shareholders in an expeditious and efficient manner through share buyback or similar mechanism.

Yokogawa Invests in Microalgae Biotech

Yokogawa has invested in a partnership with AlgaEnergy, a Spanish biotechnology company specialising in the production and commercial applications of microalgae. Their strategic agreement involves an approximately 10 million euro investment by Yokogawa to acquire newly issued shares of AlgaEnergy, making the Japanese company a reference shareholder.

Microalgae are a diverse group of unicellular photosynthetic micro-organisms that can thrive in a wide variety of aquatic habitats, such as oceans, lakes, and rivers. Their rapid rate of reproduction means they can be utilised effectively as a biological resource. They are recognised as having great potential to contribute to a more sustainable society through applications in diverse sectors ranging from agriculture, food, and animal feed through to pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, biomaterials and, in the future, sustainable biofuels.

AlgaEnergy has been a pioneer in the microalgae biotechnology field since 2007. It is currently operating a commercial production facility in the south of Spain, and, in late 2015, launched the world’s first line-up of microalgae-based biostimulant products to promote efficient crop cultivation. Biostimulants are micro-organisms whose function when applied to plants or the surrounding soil is to stimulate natural processes to enhance nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, and crop quality.

Yokogawa IA - AlgaEnergy's plant in Cadiz.jpg

The AlgaEnergy microalgae production plant in Cadiz

The entry of Yokogawa as a shareholder will enable AlgaEnergy to reinforce its position of international leadership, with the equity investment being used to fund a set of ambitious projects, including international expansion of its biostimulant product sales organisation, entry into new sectors such as food and cosmetics, and development of its promising product pipeline.

Future Intentions:

The scope of this agreement extends beyond just financial investment. The two companies, which share strong synergies and a common vision, seek to build an industry-leading partnership in the microalgae biotechnology sector worldwide by collaborating in the areas of R&D, manufacturing, marketing, and sales. AlgaEnergy will leverage its broad knowledge and experience in the microalgae biological processes, accumulated throughout more than four decades of R&D by its scientific leader, the world-renowned microbiologist Professor Miguel Garcia Guerrero of the University of Seville. Yokogawa will provide the advanced technologies and knowhow related to automation of industrial processes that will be key to maximising quality and efficiency as production volumes increase.

Augusto Rodríguez-Villa, AlgaEnergy’s president, highlighted that, “This agreement is the best possible partnership in the journey to achieve our mission to leverage the potential of microalgae worldwide. We share the same vision for the future, the belief that more sustainable development is possible and that microalgae can be a key contributor towards that objective.”

Tsuyoshi Abe, senior vice president and head of the Marketing Headquarters at Yokogawa, added, “Yokogawa aims to contribute directly to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals through its core business activities, and this year we established a new ‘Life Innovation’ business unit in line with that. This is our first serious foray into clean technology in the bioeconomy, which was recently added as a new focus area in our long-term business framework, so we have high expectations for this exciting strategic partnership.”

About AlgaEnergy

AlgaEnergy is a biotechnology company specialised in the science of microalgae. The company consolidates over four decades of state-of-the-art knowledge related to microalgae, generated by the main specialised universities, and has invested heavily in applied R&D, positioning itself as the main international reference in this field. AlgaEnergy’s mission is to develop and commercialise innovative, high-quality products derived from microalgae, targeting specific needs in different industries.

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.

_DSC1470.JPG

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!