Whether plant construction, chemical plants or breweries – manual labour has been on the way out for a long time, making space for automation. Automation has been reaching to new highs: the sector reckons with substantial growth also in 2012.
The year 2011 will find a place in history. „We will reach a record turnover of 10,3 billion euro“, states Thilo Brodtmann, executive director of the Robotic and Automation division within the German Engineering Federation VDMA, gleefully.
Compared to last year, the turnover grew by 37 percent. Main growth drivers behind the boom are the food and beverage industry, the pharmaceutical industry and the car industry. And this is not just the case in Germany. „The trend towards automation has clearly increased worldwide and will continue in the mid to long term“, underlines the VDMA.
In other words: alone in Germany turnover will grow by 7 percent to 11,1 billion euro in 2012 – despite uncertainties such as the current state debt crisis and turmoil in the financial markets.
Valve automatisation grows twofold
Automation of machines and plants is increasing – and naturally also components such as valves and fittings. The share of automated industrial valves doubled in the last couple of years, reports trade magazine „Chemie Technik“. Currently the ratio of manual and control valves is around 70:30, yet experts believe the ratio will soon be 50:50.
There is no question about it, the trend points towards automatisation of valves, sliders and flaps. Pneumatic or electric rotary actuators automatically control gases, liquids and granulates flowing through pipes. Blocking, diverting and throttling finds place without an employee having to step in, explains Air Torque. The company created with four other specialists for automated industrial valves - EPI, EXaL, Rotech and Hartmann Technology – a valve cluster.
With each company focussing on a single component, their strength comes from standing together.
Stricter environmental regulations
Burkhard Müller, of valve maker GEMÜ’s Semiconductor Products Division, sees the growing popularity of automation as a logical result stemming from technical. On the other side, however, „stricter environmental regulations are a factor, which require a more precise control of processes and automation.“ Furthermore, labour costs are reduced.
GEMÜ experiences the pressing demand on a daily basis: the workload of the automation business is continuously increasing, as demand for electric controls rises.
The eight men strong team in the division develops customer orientated solutions for automated processes. „We modify products, expand programs or change systems for special applications, sometimes products are reengineered from the scratch up“, explains GEMÜ product manager Marcus Ripsam.
It goes without saying that the division’s spectrum is large. Products include poppet and control valves, metal magnet valves, pilot valves, controllers, display units and field bus systems. Combinations are variable and allow an unlimited amount of individual solutions.
Complex structures in compact designs
An automation plant is a complex structure with a high amount of electronics. These may for example include command and control devices, bus systems, SPS, valve sensors, motors, process instruments, frequency converters, controllers, meters, time relays and position and limit switches. In the past, the huge number of components posed a challenge.
Products stemming from various makers had to be put together to a reliable unit. Assembling a unit gave space for malfunctions. Progresses made in automation, however, pushed this problem back, as clients received more matching components in one device.
GEMÜ embraced „automation inside“ as its motto. The stainless steel diaphragm valve 651 for the pharmaceutical industry is a unit composed of a stainless steel diaphragm valve, pneumatic piston drive, valve actuation system, position transmitter and fieldbus link. According to the company, the compact design enables a markedly simplified and shortened installation and implementation.
In concrete terms, a mechanical installation is hardly ever required and the diaphragm valve is operational within just a couple of minutes. An analogue travel sensor constantly monitors the valve position, whilst a microprocessor controls the data.
Simplification through automation
Rexroth Bosch Group is also engaged in simplifying automatisation. This, for instance, is realised through a 1-axe motion control with open interfaces for the widely used ethernet-based realtime protocols Sercos III, EtherCat and Varan, as well as integrated Best-in-Class hydraulic controllers.
The decentral unit combines control electronics optimised for robust operation and includes software, pressure sensors and a valve platform which can be used without a control cabinet, states Rexroth Bosch. It closes the control loop decentrally, thus requiring far less cabling.
Suppliers of plant automation are set receive lucrative orders, in parts in currently growing markets. Foster Wheeler recently commissioned Emerson Process Management to automate a new, biomass powered boiler in the Polish Polaniec power plant. Emerson’s Ovation System integrates modern algorithms and tested control methods, which continuously adjusts the burning process to the different composition of the biomass being burned.
This is not an unproblematic task for an automation system. Emerson’s technology „helps us to master the difficulties of effectively burning agricultural biomass by providing a reliable, precise and efficient boiler control“, explains Jaroslaw Mlonka, president and CEO of Foster Wheeler Energia Polska.
Emerson Process Management was also contracted to optimise automation in the natural gas field. The company is delivering 1.000 control valves to improve the production of well groups, in order to maximise the gas field’s total output. Technicians can monitor and maintain the valve capacity without any problems, thanks to the modern diagnostics function of Emerson Process Management’s digital position controller.
Automating the Dutch gas field is an ambitious project. It is one of the largest gas fields worldwide and has been in operation since the 1950s. „We only work day shifts and aim to produce fully automated“, says George Verhagen, senior engineer control & automation at NAM (Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij). „We can control Emerson’s Fisher valves from a central post and turn individual clusters on and off, in order to maximise gas field production.“
Remote diagnostics, please
An advantage of the optimised automation the Groningen field: one central post can perform routine tasks such as plant operation and maintenance from a remote location, making inspection tours to the wells superfluous. This, states Foster Wheeler, also applies for control valves on the field‘s gas compressors, which are equipped with performance monitoring and remote diagnosis functions.
„Should a problem occur during production at night, the system can automatically signal an alarm and send it to a technician on standby duty.“ Using a web-based remote connection, the technician on duty can log in to the plant’s automation network to diagnose the problem and, if possible, to remotely solve the problem. Additionally, performance loss in a valve can be dealt with pre-emptively.
Sophisticated automation technology can even save lives, for instance areas prone to explosion hazards. Fill levels in the petrol depot in Kalmar, Sweden, are registered automatically, eliminating the need for measuring by hand. Plant staff used to have to climb up the tanks in winter in ice and snow, under risk of injury. An entire working day was spent on the monthly measurement.
Thanks to the new automation, human errors in data logging, calculation and documentation are ruled out. The new system includes a large display, which shows all tanks and their individual levels and device failures.
Personnel costs are lowered, production becomes more reliable and things are made safer for the staff. Basically put, automation allows for „more precise process engineering and a higher yield, as well as savings on raw materials“, adds Burkhard Müller of GEMÜ. Productivity levels are enhanced. In the end, the price of a plant’s end product becomes less expensive.
Important arguments, especially in the face of competitive pressure.
Help for the environment, lower costs
Well-implemented automation also raises the level of energy efficiency and helps plant operators save costs.
For Festo, energy efficiency is based on air saving circuits, weight reduction, energy recovery and the proper dimensioning of motors, alongside reducing leakage, pressure levels, hose volumes and friction. According to Festo, it is all a question of designing components and systems with matching engineering software. Utilising energy efficient products and solutions is a matter of great importance.
Training and consulting also help boost energy efficiency.
The environment also profits from automation, as malfunctions such as leakages can be dealt with quickly, a boon for saving resources.
Plants need to be serviced by qualified personnel, if automation is to bring about the desired results. Nonetheless, the rule applys that technology should be easy to use.
Growth markets Brazil, India, China and Turkey have a high demand for automation, as the number of new plants is on the rise on a daily basis. Automation company Turck has therefore founded subsidiaries in Brazil and Turkey.
Turck has also been investing in important markets from the start. The company recently spent 15 million in Halver, Germany, to increase production capacity by 18.500 square metres, a further six million US dollar were invested in a 4.000 square metre upgrade of the plant in Minneapolis, USA.
Shift towards renewables
GDC Automation, a provider of turnkey systems for industrial automation, recently invested in a subsidiary in New Delhi, India. It soon proved to be a right move, as numerous, concrete project requests were received.
New business possibilities are also tipping up in new sectors. Germany’s move to renewables, for instance, offers a lot of opportunity. „The increasing shift to renewables is one of the significant growth drivers for our company“, declares Peter Terwiesch, chairman of giant ABB AG and head of the Central European business.
Festo has also made out renewables as a lucrative market. The company based in Esslingen, Germany, developed the High Speed H-Portal for photovoltaic production. „Depending on plant design, up to 5000 wafers an hour can be produced“, explains the automation specialist, which conceptualized high-speed handling for dynamic assembly operations in, among others, the photovoltaic industry.
A constant in modern production processes
Markets may shift; other industries may come to the fore. Automation as part of the production process remains timeless, modern economies cannot do without. It does, however, share one thing with plant and mechanical engineering: namely the goal to achieve the highest performance for businesses and the environment.
Innovations in the field of valves and valve fittings will be presented at Valve World Expo which takes place from November 27 to 29 at Düsseldorf fairgrounds. Further information are available under: www.valveworldexpo.com, press service.