Automation for Growth

Automation services for industrial production are projected to grow. Muriel Axford examines some of the biggest technology players across the chemicals industry to find out how they plan to make this happen.

Even as businesses look at their costs during this period of depressed economic growth, remaining competitive and turning out products to a standard expected by customers is still important.

There has been a drop in major new industrial developments and many proposed expansions of production capacity across most industrial sectors, including chemicals, have been put on hold or cancelled, but maintaining and upgrading existing operations is vital for producers wishing to continue on a path of development and growth.

Automation and control value

With this situation in mind consultant Frost & Sullivan has predicted that automation services will grow, despite the recession. There are many advantages to the installation and use of appropriate automation services, according to one consultant.

"Automation services are no more seen as just a value-add, but as a crucial steer that enhances energy efficiency, site assessment, process optimisation and effective spare part management," said the consultant.

"Automation services are seen as a crucial steer that enhances energy efficiency."

According to Frost & Sullivan, the oil and gas, chemical and power generation sectors together accounted for around 62% of the total automation and control solution services market during 2008. The value of the automation and control market, across Europe, the Middle East and the Americas was put at $4.4bn during the same year.

Sectors such as food and beverages and pharmaceuticals were also partly driven by European Union mandates and standards from medical bodies aimed at underpinning human health.

Wireless solutions

One of the major growth areas linked with automation and control has been the development of wireless technology for use in industrial production plants. Wireless solutions provide benefits including greater flexibility, reduced construction time and the fact that a process can be better monitored, making it easier and cheaper to access and monitor remote locations and integrate new technologies.

Wireless solutions for the process industry are not new, but the attention for years had been on developing a multifunctional wireless network standard that could be applied universally with the focus on reliability and the safety and protection of the data generated.

The establishment of the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA), brought together many leading players in the industrial automation sector who worked to develop a standard for implementing wireless systems in the area of industrial automation and control.

Coupled with online analytical capabilities, operators of industrial plants are reaping enormous control and costs benefits from the use of wireless technology.

"Operators are reaping control and costs benefits from wireless technology."

Today leading automation and control suppliers such as Honeywell Process Solutions, Emerson Process Management and Yokogawa provide wireless solutions for the process industry.

Honeywell has developed its OneWireless network solution, which the company says "allows plants to use a single wireless network to accommodate thousands of wireless field devices that perform a wide range of functions – from asset monitoring to non-critical process control".

Honeywell’s wireless system has been installed in locations including an olefins facility owned by India’s Reliance Industries, the country's largest private sector business.

Emerson Process Management provides a wireless solution known as Smart Wireless. The US-based company says that the system extends its PlantWeb predictive intelligence into areas that were previously out of physical or economic reach, opening the door for new possibilities in process improvement. Emerson’s technology has found wide application including facilities operated by Novartis. The French pharmaceutical company said that Emerson's wireless technology allows it to improve maintenance and operator efficiency.

A pioneering company, Novartis has been using wireless technology in its plants since 2000 and has seen benefits.

"Because of the wireless network we do not need to systematically invest in new control stations, even if the production of new products requires a change to the plant equipment or layout," said Patrick Boschert, automation expert at Novartis.

Developments at Japan-based Yokogawa Electric Corporation, have led to the release of what the company says are the first field wireless devices based on the ISA standard known as ISA100.11a, the industrial wireless communications standard. Yokogawa says that the devices include differential pressure and pressure transmitters, as well as temperature transmitters. These products are aimed at the oil and gas, refining, chemical, food and beverage and petrochemical sectors.

New levels

But even with the advantages of wireless technology, such as reduced installation costs, the growing size and complexity of industrial production plants is taking the development of process automation, technology and equipment to new levels.

"Emerson's Global Innovation Centre claims to be the home to the largest flow-lab."

Add to this the stringent safety and environmental standards and it is clear that plant owners are keen to ensure smooth running by incorporating tried and trusted instrumentation and control mechanisms and equipment.

These requirements have led to US-based Emerson Process Management opening a Global Innovation Centre, which the company says is "designed to help customers tackle the toughest engineering challenges facing today’s process manufacturing and energy industries".

The $30m facility is located in Iowa, US, and Emerson says that the so-called mega-technology critical to reliability and safety in the process and energy industries can be tested. The centre claims to be the home to the world’s largest flow-lab, which for the first time enables large valves to be tested in real-world plant conditions to ensure production reliability, and compliance before being installed at a customer’s site.

"Our facility can seismically qualify a 35,000lb control valve through to testing a two-storey tall valve that controls the flow of feedstock for a petrochemical plant," comments Steve Sonnerberg, president of Emerson Process Management. "Control valves can be tested at pressures up to 3,500psi."

The fact that a facility such as Emerson’s Innovation Centre has become a necessity indicates the rapid change in technological advances across the process industry.