Automation Trends at Interkama 08

A new technology exhibited at Germany’s Interkama 2008 exhibition will streamline factory and process device digital communications, solving interoperability short comings caused by the absence of a single standard in HART or fieldbus communications. Endress+Hauser’s Australian Managing Director John Immelman named this as the gem among a number of significant developments from the April exhibition which are likely to offer major benefits for the process and automation industry over the next year. “Other emerging trends were the heavy promotion of cost-saving wireless technology and a need for simpler methods of inline water analysis to meet the challenge of global water shortages,” said John Immelman.

Every alternate year, Endress+Hauser Australia hosts a group of Australian engineers and their partners on a Process Instrumentation Training Tour in Europe, to coincide with the Interkama Trade Fair. Considered a ‘must-see’ event for the global automation industry, Interkama showcases individual components, complete automation solutions, plus engineering and maintenance services. Interkama is one of the ten flagship shows of Hannover Fair – the world’s largest automation technology exhibition. At the 2008 Fair, 5,100 participating exhibitors from over 60 different nations offered an impressive array of products and solutions. Visitor numbers crossed the 200,000 mark – an increase of approximately 30 percent over the 2006 event. Commenting on the dramatic increase in attendance this year, particularly from the developing Asian economies of India and China, Immelman adds, “the wise decision to merge Interkama with Hannover Fair in 2004 has truly enhanced Interkama’s image worldwide. It is now the event of the year for the automation industry”.

The Australian contingent commenced their Process Instrumentation Training Tour with two days at Interkama where they were greeted at Endress+Hauser’s booth by Klaus Endress, CEO, and then spend the remaining days visiting the thousands of exhibitors. The Tour then travelled South to the E+H factories which included site visits and technical presentations on level and pressure measurement at the company’s Maulburg facilities and a review of all flow measurement technologies at the Flowtec plants. One of the Tour highlights was the Australian group’s visit to the University of Basel where they enjoyed a tour of the world-recognised Nanoscience department. Nanoscience is the study of atoms, molecules and objects measuring 1 to 100 nanometers. (Human hair is 100,000 nanometers in diameter!)

Fieldbus protocols breakthrough

The ‘interpretative’ DTM software (iDTM) is part of the FDT/DTM software toolset. iDTM will allow manufacturers of devices using the classical HART DD (Device Description), either in the HART or Foundation Fieldbus environments, to standardise on the FDT/DTM environment. This is possible because the DDs can be ‘encapsulated’ within the iDTM such that they then appear to be a standard DTM and can be invoked by the FDT interpreter. The end user thus requires only one toolset to commission and troubleshoot all devices from all manufacturers on all plants (assuming the devices have a digital communication option).

Progress towards one standard has been painfully slow despite industry demand for increased efficiency. The difficulty for users has been the lack of cooperation between the two technologies, DD/EDD and FDT/DTM, and although there is presently a workgroup trying to resolve this issue, first solutions are aimed at 2010. The iDTM is available today!

Lack of accurate, reliable data prevents instrument problems being diagnosed quickly and dealt with. Output is affected when instruments do not function at an optimum level. Waiting for repairs – which would not be required if problems were discovered sooner and adjustments made – means unnecessary plant downtime. Manufacturers carry the cost of these inefficiencies. The need for a ‘common’ troubleshooting tool becomes more and more critical.

For Endress+Hauser the breakthrough is even more significant because their commissioning, troubleshooting, and asset management Fieldcare product is DTM-based meaning Endress+Hauser customers will benefit from this new capability.

New wireless technology

Wireless technology and a new technology called WirelessHART were also heavily promoted at Interkama. These could have a huge long-term potential for process plants and tank farms if concerns such as instrument power and technology standardisation are addressed.

Wireless-based instrumentation’s greatest strength is the ability to monitor measurements at remote locations such as level in tanks and silos and pH in faraway dams, effectively saving on cabling and labour costs. However, applications in process control are limited due to issues with technology reliability and the communication network. The main difficulty is the divergent technologies which the two vendors Emerson and Honeywell have adopted to transmit the signals. With no transmission standard, end-users have to choose between the two, invariably compromising device maintenance and productivity. This is changing as we speak.

Questions for specialist instrumentation supplier Endress+Hauser include deciding which technology to use for their devices and how to power the devices. If batteries are chosen, new issues emerge: among them, whether battery-level alarm systems are needed and the risks if alarms are not detected.

Promisingly every major vendor displayed long-lasting battery solutions and was developing batteries that will provide five to 10 years of power for standard instruments.

Water analysis solutions

Globally the need to optimise water use and manage economic and environmental impacts has become a top public and private sector priority. Consequently many vendors at Interkama offered new water analysers, and better water analysis solutions are emerging as a research focus.

Water shortages are not just an issue in Australia. Climate change, population growth, drift to the cities and inefficient harvesting of water drainage all contribute to world scarcity, as does Generation Y’s resistance to water rationing.

Drinking water can be obtained by desalination and recycling wastewater or sewage but current methods of water analysis are costly, complex, time-consuming and labour-intensive. Samples must be mixed with reagents then analysed with light spectrometry to check which unwanted materials they contain. Labour and equipment like pumps and cabinets are needed, while hazardous reagents have a limited shelf-life and must be stored in air-conditioned cubicles.

The need to dramatically evolve improved water analysis equipment seen at Interkama poses new challenges for industry as well as opportunities. How about BOD, TOC, TN, TP etc measurements without reagents or moving parts?

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