Process and control sector not at the mercy of industrial changes

process control

Recently, PACE spoke to industry stalwart Dirk Kuiper, General Manager of AMS Instrumentation & Calibration about where the process and control sector is heading in light of the many changes we are witnessing across the manufacturing and industrial sectors.

PACE: With the slow shrinking of our manufacturing sector, how do you feel this will impact on the instrumentation and control industries?

Dirk Kuiper: Although the manufacturing industry is shrinking it is not in all industries. The automotive industry has disappeared from Australia, which seems to be the one that everybody is talking about, but it must open up other opportunities. There are still large other manufacturing industries that will need to be nurtured, albeit with some government assistance. For example, stricter controls on the quality of imported products, particularly from developing countries. Financial support assists to a certain extent, but must be limited as it possibly makes companies and people reliant on it, which in the long run is detrimental.

So in my view there are still great opportunities in the manufacturing industry, with other industries sprouting up with the entrepreneurial sprits of people, such as 3D printing for example. There is also a shift towards other industries, such as pharmaceutical, food and beverage for example. Even in the current climate I do not think it will impact process control and control industries to a great extent, but more the automation industry, such as robotics and motion control. Processes still need to be controlled and measured. Industry is always looking at improving productivity, so there will always be a requirement for instrumentation and control.

PACE: Do you see the expansion of the Industrial Internet of Things as the saviour of the process, control and instrumentation sectors?

Dirk Kuiper: The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is described as a machine learning and big data technology, harnessing the sensor data, machine-to- machine (M2M) communication and automation technologies that have existed in industrial settings for years. The driving philosophy behind the IIoT is that smart machines are better than humans at accurately, consistently capturing and communicating data. This statement may be expressing what IIoT is, but will it be the savior? – Yes and No. It will spur on new development and research and plants will become more and more automated, so there will be increased productivity and more opportunities for the process, control and instrumentation industry.

One of the concerns is the interoperability between devices and machines that use different protocols and these will take time to be sorted out. In the past many instrumentation, control and automation companies developed their own protocols, which now need to be developed in common architectures. Security and non-investment in new technologies like IIoT are also a major concern. Companies will need to make large investments in upgrading the infrastructure and processes to enable IIoT.

PACE: What about new technologies – is there anything new coming that will be a game changer for your industry?

Dirk Kuiper: New technologies are being developed all the time, such
as 3D printing as mentioned above, and sometimes it is difficult to see what is coming in the future. At this stage the newer technologies are IIoT, as described earlier, and wireless. It appears that many instrumentation and control companies are developing wireless equipment. As we are all aware it is part of our normal daily life now, such as mobile phones, wireless internet, etc. We cannot exist without it anymore and it will develop more and more in other areas, including industrial processes. In new installations it will save a great deal in reducing the costs of cabling, connecting devices, etc., but in existing installation the benefits may not be that great or could increase the installation costs.

The ISA100 Wireless is an international standard, IEC 62734 and an open universal wireless network protocol that makes it the only industrial network protocol compatible with the Internet of Things (IoT). ISA100 has a strict protocol for security to ensure it is safe in the industrial environment, but security experts have warned that there is a possibility that the systems are open to hacking for either political, blackmail or terrorism ideals. Recently, this proved to be true where hundreds of thousands IoT devices were hacked, although these were mainly household appliances, but nothing is holding it back from occurring in the industrial sphere. Encryption of data is a most important part of wireless and encryption needs to be enforced at various levels within a plant.

PACE: Is there a bigger need for calibration services these days or has this part of instrumentation become less important?

Dirk Kuiper: It is a fact that all measurement devices drift over time. Modern instruments typically drift less than older models and manufacturers generally select the best available components and perform testing for the aging of instrumentation, but they still drift over time. Environmental conditions may also play a part in the aging process. Instrumentation that is used more often or in critical processes wear out more quickly than those that are used less frequently.

It could be that process instrumentation are more stable presently, which could reduce the regularity of calibration, but at the same time regulatory requirements have increased the requirement for regular calibration in various industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry, food and beverage industry, power plants (emission controls and safety), chemical and petro-chemical industry (emission controls and safety) and in the oil and gas industry.

Heavily regulated industries, such as pharmaceutical and food & beverage industry usually carry out the calibration and documentation with their own calibration resources, due to strict Standard Operation Procedures and government requirements, while calibration is more outsourced within other industries through contracting companies.

PACE: What about locally-made products – how do they compare in terms of imported products?

Dirk Kuiper: In the instrumentation manufacturing industry, Australia is lagging well behind in designing and producing high accuracy equipment and most equipment is imported either by overseas instrument companies or distributors. That said, there are still companies that manufacture instrumentation, such as Trimec Flow Products, GPI Australia and MacNaught. These however mainly supply mechanical, i.e. positive displacement flowmeters. As the owner of Trimec Flow products I can only speak for this company, but our products in this category compare very well with any imported products and offer advantages of quicker deliveries and price.

PACE: Back to technology, flowmeters these days are highly accurate – have they reached the peak of accuracy or can we go further?

Dirk Kuiper: As with all markets companies are always striving to offer better products and this is certainly true in our industry as well. New technologies in various flowmeter sections, such as ultrasonics, radar, and microwave are coming more and more to the fore. For example, in ultrasonics previously there was a two-path measurement, which has now developed in multi-pass measurements to provide more accuracy. In the domestic water industry there is a movement to replace the basic flowmeters with ultrasonic flowmeters.

In radar level measurement, the instruments now operate at a higher frequency than before – 80GHz instead of the widely used 26GHz. In microwave measurements, new ways to provide measurement include guided microwave measurement (GWR), which provides highly accurate and reliable measurements. So in conclusion, industry will always strive to provide better instrumentation with higher accuracies or other advancements.

PACE: Will Australia ever be in a position to export instruments to say, Asia, and if so when do you think this will happen?

Dirk Kuiper: As mentioned before, the manufacturing industry of instrumentation is small and is mainly positive displacement flowmeters and electronics. From what I can gather, most of these companies export to Asia and some are quite successful. I believe it is due to the high quality of the products, reasonably fast deliveries and a willingness to accommodate their needs. In Trimec Flow Products’ case, we sell and market our products worldwide and the Asian market amounts to about 15 per cent of total sales. There are still developing markets in Asia and there is certainly an opportunity to increase sales in those areas.