MVDC Power Transmission

Azeez Mohammed, president & CEO of the GE Power Conversion business discusses how MVDC technology is creating a more secure and higher-capacity grid for the future. Thanks to the MCDC technology, Scottish Power Energy Networks’ Angle DC project – first of its kind in Europe – will provide a 23% power capacity increase for supplies to Anglesey. Similar technology is being used in offshore wind applications, giving up to  15% cost savings.

Transforming Power Grids for an Efficient Future

With a fast-growing global population and increasing levels of industrialisation, demand for electricity is expected to soar 60% between now and 2040. That means power grids will be called on to transmit more power, more efficiently. And to do so, they’ll have to adapt to an evolving energy landscape.

Today’s grid is still structured around transmitting electricity from a handful of large, centralised power plants running on coal, oil, gas and nuclear. While these will continue to dominate the mix for years to come, renewables are increasingly making their presence felt – and are expected to supply a third of global power by 2040.

With renewables growth comes an increasingly diverse distribution network – from remote and offshore generation sites to microgrids. All must be brought together to ensure we continue to have a reliable, resilient power supply. The challenge now is that the majority of power grids are made up of decades-old infrastructure that’s simply not – yet – up to the task.

Laying the foundations

Creating a future-proof power grid means fusing time-honoured knowledge with forward-thinking technology. For over 100 years, GE electrical engineers have recognised that DC electricity transmission is more efficient than AC. Now, DC is becoming more prominent – both at the beginning and end of the grid. DC is produced by wind turbines and solar PV and used by everything from smartphones, laptops and electric cars to the data centres that keep our digital world up and running. However, having to convert back and forth between AC and DC along the way leads to wasted energy through resistance and heat.

AC may have won the “War of the Currents” that raged between the Edison Electric Company (which favoured DC and would become General Electric) and Westinghouse (which favoured AC) in the 1890s. This was due to its ability to easily step up voltages to the higher levels needed to transmit it over long distances and back down again for safe usage. But today, new power conversion and transmission technology means it is becoming more cost-effective to use DC to transmit at higher voltages, with less energy losses. The same attractive cost story applies when it comes to integrating new, often remote, DC-producing renewables into the wider grid network.

At the GE Power Conversion business, we’re developing the use of DC to enable more efficient power transmission to and from remote areas – both onshore and offshore.

Strengthening the Anglesey power supply

At the GE Power Conversion business, we are delivering Europe’s very first medium-voltage direct current (MVDC) link as part of the Scottish Power Energy Network Angle DC project in Anglesey and surrounding North Wales area. A growing demand for electricity in the region, combined with increasing volumes of renewable generation, is putting the existing 33-kilovolt AC links between the isle of Anglesey and the Welsh mainland under strain.

Converting the existing AC connection to MVDC could help it to carry more than twice the power and do so more efficiently. GE MVDC technology is providing a critical project asset, as it allows for the creation of a more-secure, higher-capacity grid without the need to overhaul existing infrastructure or install new power distribution assets.

Instead, GE will install MVDC power modules at the two existing substations in Bangor and Llanfair PG, where the AC to DC conversion will be performed. GE MV7000 power electronic inverters will transmit the power via the existing 33-kilovolt AC overhead line and cable circuit, increasing the power available to Anglesey by 23% to meet its future needs without additional environmental impact. What’s more, the DC equipment will assist in the provision of further grid support, as the inverters are able to support the AC voltage at each substation.

This MVDC technology works in much the same way as our high-voltage direct current (HVDC) projects, but on a smaller and simpler scale. For example, a comparable HVDC system would operate at 320-400 kilovolts DC, whereas the Angle DC project will operate at 27 kilovolts DC—demonstrating how this technology can be scaled to fit a variety of customer needs.

Lowering the cost of offshore power

From wind turbines stationed far out at sea to solar farms in inhospitable deserts, renewable generation networks are often found in hard-to-reach places. Getting the power generated to a centralised grid via AC can waste energy and keep renewable electricity costs higher than they need to be.

Now, similar technology behind the MV7000 converters used for Angle DC has also been successfully trialed for use in remote power networks. Our PassiveBoost solution will enable DC power transmission, opening up the potential to boost electrical output from these remote sites while also reducing power costs.

PassiveBoost is an MVDC converter which provides a straight replacement, with the same footprint and volume, for the AC transformer inside every wind turbine. This helps to facilitate a direct connection to an efficient MVDC power collection grid, resulting in a lower cable cost and no need for an expensive and complex DC breaker. A 6 megavolt-ampere converter was designed and tested at the GE power test facility in the UK. There, it successfully demonstrated the capability of generation, distribution and protection at MVDC, highlighting efficiency levels that could bring a 15% cost saving for offshore wind electricity by significant reductions in component count, cabling costs and removal of need for offshore platforms.

Greater grid control through data-driven insights

To drive further efficiency across the power grid, GE can also offer VISOR 2.0, an asset management tool that provides remote connectivity to key assets. This not only enables an improved service response time, but also access to real-time support and advice in the event of a fault or problem. By pairing this tool with the GE Data Historian, which collects, processes and stores data, customers can more easily review the capabilities of their MVDC system. Its ability to capture and analyse data about asset performance means customers can then develop optimum control algorithms for the distribution system, helping to ensure the grid is always functioning as effectively as possible.

As electrification within all industries gathers pace and the burden on existing energy distribution networks increases, we’re ready to put our expertise into action where it’s most needed.

 

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Technology disruption, and profiting from university R&D

It is almost a part of engineering folklore that the UK is slow to realise the potential of its inventions. The jet engine, computing and television are perhaps the best-known examples of British inventions whose financial benefits were mainly exploited by other nations. Lithium-ion technology is another that was developed in Britain, in fact in Oxford, but was commercialised mainly in the US and East Asia. However, this was not a failure of foresight but merely a misfortune of timing – the initial invention came many years before the development of mobile phones and camcorders which were the most fruitful early applications for lithium-ion batteries.

The Faraday Institution was then set up as the UK’s independent centre for electrochemical energy storage science and technology, supporting research, training, and analysis. Its function is to bring together expertise from universities and industry, and they are attempting to make the UK the go-to place for the research, development, manufacture and production of new electrical storage technologies for both the automotive and the wider relevant sectors.

Accelerated technology development

Building on this general approach, the Royal Academy of Engineering has now established a scheme as part of the UK Government National Productivity Investment Fund, to accelerate the development and commercialisation of other emerging technologies within the UK. This will involve the establishment of 10 new University ‘Chairs in Emerging Technologies’ at UK universities: this scheme will identify research and innovation visionaries and provides them with long-term support to enable them to build a global centre of excellence focused on emerging technologies with high potential to deliver economic and social benefit. This type of public investment has been seen to be highly effective in stimulating co-investment from the private sector, enabling the UK to secure an early foothold in a potentially important future market and preventing UK companies from losing their competitive advantage as other countries get involved.

The UK magazine ‘The Engineer’ explained both the diversity of technologies and disciplines represented among the chairs selected and the breadth of societal challenges and economic opportunities that have motivated the world-leading engineers appointed, as follows:

  • One chair focuses on technologies with strong medical applications. It has the objective to deliver a step change in personalised medicine by engineering cells that can combine precise disease diagnosis with therapeutic intervention in a closed loop circuit – to prevent the disease developing or provide a cure. This is sometimes called ‘theranostics’.
  • Another focuses on reducing the burden of brain disorders. The goal of the chair is to accelerate the translation of therapeutic bioelectronic systems – for example a ‘brain pacemaker’ – from laboratory to industry.

Artificial intelligence, robotics and materials science, AI and robotics also had strong representation among the chairs selected. For example, one chair addresses the technologies underpinning soft robotics, which have the potential to impact upon many areas of our lives, from implantable medical devices that restore function after cancer or stroke, to wearable soft robotics that will keep us mobile in our old age – plus biodegradable robots that can combat pollution and monitor the environment.

Other chairs address issues of safety and reliability associated with AI and robotic systems – a topic of great societal importance and current interest. Two other chairs focus on driving improvements in materials that underpin important industrial and societal applications. One will develop novel interactive technologies using acoustic metamaterials; another is targeted at the optimisation of next generation battery materials for improved cost, performance and durability.

Others of the chairs draw upon recent advances in the physical sciences to address novel areas. They include radical new space technologies that will underpin entirely new satellite applications; an integrated approach to two-dimensional classical and quantum photonics; and a platform for multiscale industrial design, from the level of molecules to machines.

The CET scheme steering group were deeply impressed by the quality of the applications for these chairs that they reviewed, which bodes well for the UK’s ability to continue to be at the leading edge of technology disruption. Nevertheless, it is notoriously difficult to forecast which technologies will turn out to have the most significant impacts over the long term. It would appear that the major problem will be to attract long-term technology investment from UK companies, who are notoriously short term in their views on financial payback and investment decisions.

This article was featured in the June 2018 edition of the journal South African Instrumentation and Control, published by technews.co.za

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

Wave energy – UK and South Africa

wave energyBoth the UK and South Africa have the potential for harvesting green energy from the surrounding sea, from ocean or tidal flows, or from wave energy. Some 15 years ago, when the UK Government was keen to encourage and invest in green energy technologies, the European Marine Energy Technology Centre (EMEC) was established in the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. The EMEC is the only centre of its kind in the world: it exists to provide developers of both wave and tidal energy converters – technologies that generate electricity by harnessing the power of waves and tidal streams – with purpose-built, accredited open-sea testing facilities. Initial funding of GBP34m came from the UK and Scottish Governments, the Carbon Trust, the European Union and several Scottish local agencies and councils. By 2011 the EMEC had become self-sufficient, by selling its consultancy and site evaluation and testing services to would-be suppliers.

As an aside, becoming self-sufficient was probably very opportune in 2011, as other UK Government financed initiatives and incentives for green technologies, like the Carbon Capture and Storage demonstration project, and financial incentives for wind farms, were switched off very fast as harsh financial strictures were imposed on Government spending. Currently, the CCS demo project in Canada, supported by its national and local Government, Shell Research, and local industry, is performing better than the project expectations.

South African research

According to Professor Wikus van Niekerk, from the Stellenbosch University Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES), while South Africa has some limited potential for harnessing tidal current energy, particularly at the Knysna Heads and the Langebaan Lagoon, the country’s most promising renewable ocean energy potential lies in ocean currents and waves.

From the technology aspect, wave energy appears to offer the most potential in South Africa. CRSES research shows the Western Cape has the highest wave power generation potential, and a few wave energy projects have been tried. Indeed Stellenbosch University developed the Stellenbosch Wave Energy Converter (SWEC) in the 1980s. As recently as 2015 it appeared the cost of wave energy generation was significantly higher than the solar PV or wind turbine techniques, but cost and technology changes rapidly!

New wave energy devices

Now on test in the Orkneys with EMEC is a 50% scale model of the new Swedish design of the Wave Energy Converter, the C3 from CorPower Ocean. This unit resembles a large ‘skittle’, or long necked bottle. Under test at EMEC since January 2018, the C3 WEC will be connected to a floating Microgrid unit, which is designed to allow the C3 device to behave as if it were grid connected by providing a stable voltage and frequency reference, simulating the impedance of a typical grid connection, absorbing power from the device under test and providing power to auxiliary systems.

This style of the WEC would be aimed at providing off-grid operations to power islands, offshore installations or remote coastal locations, all around the world. Another unit previously tested by the EMEC is the Wello Penguin, designed in Finland. Wello has received its first order for a commercial wave energy park, to be installed next to Nusa Penida Island in Bali, Indonesia: it will be the largest wave energy park globally, with planned delivery at the end of 2018. Power output is 20 MW, using multiple Penguin generators.

The Wello Penguin floats on water and captures kinetic energy from the waves, which is then turned into electrical power. It is an asymmetrical ship, and a 600 kW unit would be 220 tonnes typically, 30 m long and 16 m wide, anchored to the ocean floor. It utilises the same components that are already in use in wind turbines, and is easily constructed in a shipyard, meaning the Penguin is cost competitive compared to offshore wind energy. The roll of the Penguin spins the rotator inside the device, directing the energy from the waves. This rotation drives the generator – it does not have any moving parts in contact with sea water, so the service needs are minimal. In relation to comparative costs, the CEO of Wello, Heikki Paakkinen, said “The cost of energy generated with Wello Penguin is already very competitive compared to offshore wind energy, and in serial production we aim for a further 50% cost reduction.”

wello penguin

In 2015, Blackbird International, in collaboration with WERPO, announced plans to develop a 500 MW wave energy power plant in South Africa. The original wave energy system designed by WERPO, from Israel, uses an anchored float normally installed on wave breakers or sea walls, which rises and falls with wave action.

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

Process plant safety hazards – and sensors

The following summary of recent hazardous events was the subject of my column in the May 2018 issue of the South African Instrumentation and Control journal, published by technews.co.za . See the whole issue here.

This March saw the North of Europe suffer with the ‘Beast from the East’, with freezing Siberian wind and rain, plus snow – even in the South of the UK. The high winds brought an unexpected benefit: the power generated by the many UK wind turbines reached 14GW, or 34% of the UK power demand, during several periods. The wind power capacity installed feeding the UK grid is now 19GW, the third highest in Europe: Germany has 56GW, and Spain 23GW.

Cyber attacks in the Middle East

The major concerns for Saudi Arabia are the continuing cyber-attacks.  More information is emerging about the Triton malware attack, reported in this column in February. The latest news, published on the Cyberscoop and CyberArk websites, suggest the Triton attacks failed because of a ‘flaw in the coding of the malware’. Because of the sophisticated nature of the malware, and because many of the coding indicators have not been seen before, or used by any known hacking group, the conclusion is still that extensive resources were involved in creating and testing Triton, which could only have been provided by a nation state actor. Saudi Aramco assisted in the investigations, but say the plant attacked by this virus was not a part of their operations. Triton is confirmed to be specifically targeting the Triconex safety override systems, in an overt attempt to cause catastrophic damage. The Schneider Triconex controllers are used in about 18,000 plants around the world, including nuclear and water treatment facilities, oil and gas refineries, and chemical plants. The reports also revealed that attacks in Saudi Arabia using the Shamoon virus have continued, with Sadara Chemicals and the Saudi National Industrialisation Company (Tasnee) both being attacked last year.

USA, the CSB, and Russian hackers

In the USA, the impression is that major plant incidents fall into three main categories: dust explosions, maintenance welding errors and transport pipeline fractures……

[But here it is necessary to update this “impression” after the later announcement from the US administration  – the Dept of Homeland Security recently reported that Russian hackers had been observed on machines (computers) with access to critical control systems at power plants (both nuclear and conventional). American agencies have been aware of these intrusions/attacks for the past 18 months, and they have screenshots showing the hackers had the foothold needed to manipulate or shut down power plants – both in the US and in Europe, it seems….. Plus it is also linked to the suspected Presidential election meddling.] Returning, however, to dust explosions and welding errors….

The US ten year average for grain dust explosions is 9.3, so actually 2017 was below average with only seven explosions and five fatalities in the USA. The number is steadily declining, as better training and housekeeping take effect, and with the wider use of dust explosion venting and suppression systems.

It is my personal impression that maintenance welding errors seem to be a major cause of the plant and tank explosions reported in the USA, firstly during maintenance under hot work permits, but also in plant changes, when working on tanks where flammable materials were previously stored. Despite this apparent laxity in grain handling and petrochemical plant operations, the US has a world leading accident investigation organisation, the Chemical Safety (and Hazard Investigation) Board. The CSB was established in 1998, and produces brilliant accident analysis reports, covering small hazardous events up to major disasters. They are the people that are responsible for detailing the causes of the major BP Texas City refinery explosions in 2005, and the Macondo blowout in 2010, both of which caused major loss of life. The CSB can only make recommendations for legislative changes, which then have to be considered by OHSA and US State legislative bodies. Perhaps typically, President Trump promised to abolish the CSB when he came to office last March, presumably thinking it was a barrier to free enterprise etc, but thankfully he seems to have changed his mind!

Developments in Sensors

Returning to sensors, and the current development trends, it seems there is no specific focus for developments currently. Perhaps because of the US accidents with pipeline leaks and fractures, there is considerable attention being paid to corrosion and crack monitoring, but the development of point sensors seems to not be relevant for long pipelines. At the University of California San Diego, a new ultrasonic sensor array has been built onto a flat silicone elastomer sheet, which can be wrapped round bends and corners that otherwise are difficult to inspect with flat probes. Initial applications are seen on structural steel in bridges, or for aircraft engine supports.

In Europe, ACHEMA has launched their brochures in advance of the 11-15 June expo in Frankfurt: the last event was in 2015. Focussed on process engineering for chemicals, pharmaceuticals and petrochem, maybe ACHEMA will show the future routes of sensor development – notably however, cyber-security and safety from hazards are not major topics in their agenda!

Plant control systems and the internet

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

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

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

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

The problem for Automation companies

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

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

Other perceived growth areas

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

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

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

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

Software systems

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

The future

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