Monday, 21 November 2016

Systems integration for Industry 4.0

Our world is getting smaller every day. Never before have remote locations been more accessible thanks to communications technology, smartphones and the internet. Connected devices have infiltrated every aspect of our lives, including the most traditional industry sectors. Here, Nick Boughton, sales manager of the Boulting Technology, discusses the challenges connectivity poses for industry, particularly with regard to systems integration and the water industry.

One question industry has been unsuccessful in answering refers to the number of connected devices that exist in the world at the moment. Gartner says that by 2020, the Internet of Things will have grown to more than 26 billion units. According to Cisco, there will be 10 billion mobile-ready devices by 2018, including machine to machine – thus exceeding the world population.


The Industrial Internet of Things

Only fifteen years ago, an industrial plant operated on three separate levels. You had the plant processes or operational technology (OT), the IT layer and in between stood the grey area of middleware - connecting management systems to the shop floor. The problem in most enterprises was that the commercial and production systems were entirely separate, often as a deliberate policy. Trying to connect them was difficult not only because of the divergence in the technology, but also the limited collaboration between different parts of the organisation. For these reasons successful implementation of middleware was rare.

Fast forward to today’s smart factory floor that uses the almost ubiquitous Ethernet to make communications as smooth as possible. Supporting the new generation of networking technologies is an increased flow of data, collected and analysed in real-time. However, data is only useful when you can decipher and display it. The next step to industry nirvana is using relevant data for better decisions and predictive analysis, in which the system itself can detect issues and recommend solutions.
 
Smart manufacturing is based on a common, secure network infrastructure that allows a dialogue – or even better, convergence - between operational and information technology.

The trend goes beyond the factory floor and expands to big processes like national utilities, water treatment and distribution, energy and smart grids, everything in an effort to drive better decision making, improve asset utilisation and  increase process performance and productivity.

In fact, some water and energy companies are using the same approach to perform self-analysis on energy efficiency, potential weak points and the integration of legacy systems with new technologies. In a highly regulated and driven sector like utilities, maximising assets and being able to make predictions are worth a king’s ransom.


System integration challenges

System integration in this connected industry landscape comes with its challenges, so companies need to keep up to speed and get creative with technology. Keeping existing systems up to date and working properly is one of the main challenges of industry and big processes alike.

Finally, ensuring your system is secure from cyber threats and attacks is a new challenge fit for Industry 4.0. Connecting a system or equipment to a network is all fine and dandy, but it also brings vulnerabilities that weren’t there before.

Systems integrators relish a challenge and they’re very good at adapting to new technologies. For this reason, some systems integrators have started working closely with industrial automation, IT and security experts to help overcome the challenges posed by Industry 4.0.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about companies in utilities, manufacturing or transportation, the signs are showing that companies want to get more from their existing assets and are retrofitting systems more than ever.

Of course, retrofitting isn’t always easy. In many cases, upgrading a system without shutting it down is like trying to change the brakes on a speeding bus – impossible. However, unlike the bus scenario, there is usually a solution. All you have to do is find it.

Flexibility is essential for good systems integrators. Being familiar with a wide range of systems and working with different manufacturers is the best way to maximise industry knowledge and expertise, while also keeping up to date with the latest technologies. At Boulting Technology, we partner up with market leaders like Rockwell Automation, Siemens, Mitsubishi, Schneider, ABB and others, to design and supply tailor-made systems integration solutions for a diverse range of industries, processes and platforms.

The world might be getting smaller and we might be more connected than ever before, but some things never change. Relevant experience, partnerships and the desire to innovate are as valuable as they have ever been in this connected new world of Industry 4.0.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Energy supplies – a new paradigm?

In May 2016, Portugal ditched fossil fuels and ran solely on renewable energy for four consecutive days. Solar, wind and hydroelectric power exclusively covered the electricity consumption of the entire country for a whopping 107 hours in total. The feat is the latest of many renewable energy success stories and highlights the growing role renewables play in modern energy generation.

Here, Nick Boughton, sales manager of industrial systems integrator Boulting Technology, discusses how emerging technologies can provide a new answer to an old question: renewables are great, but what happens if it’s not sunny or windy?


Electricity derived from fossil fuels and nuclear has traditionally been a reliable option for keeping the lights on. However, in recent years, advancements in three areas have the potential to make renewable energy a much bigger player on the power generation scene.

Microgeneration

The role of the National Grid is changing. Traditionally, it relied on a few very large fossil fuel and nuclear power stations to supply electricity. Put simply, the grid received large input from a few sources dotted around the country. Today, as these larger power stations are being closed down, due to age or inability to meet forthcoming emission regulations, the supply mix is changing.

The grid still gets electricity from traditional power plants, but it increasingly receives power from many smaller-scale wind, solar and anaerobic digestion plants as well.

Earlier this year, as part of its target to self generate one third of its electricity requirements by 2020, Thames Water unveiled Europe's largest floating solar farm on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir at Walton-on-Thames. With more than 23,000 solar panels covering an area equivalent to eight football pitches, its peak output is 6.3MW and its projected annual output of 5.8 million kilowatt hours is enough to power 1,800 average homes.

While this is a significant contribution, it would take more than 600 similar sized solar farms to match Drax. With an output of 4,000MW, the UK's largest coal and biomass fuelled power station takes some beating. Drax does have the advantage of running day and night, seven days a week though.

Demand-side response

The main role of the National Grid is to ensure electricity supply meets the demand, known as balancing the grid. This brings us on to demand-side response.

Once upon a time, the National Grid had to rely mainly on supply side response – getting power generators to match demand. Demand-side response is a technology where customers are incentivized financially by the Government to lower or shift their electricity use at peak hours.

In a sign of the times, the biggest electricity user in London — or the Tube to you and I — recently announced it is signing up to a demand-side response network. This means when demand on the grid is at its peak, London Underground will use its back-up power supplies to ease strain on the grid.

There is still huge potential for demand-side response. Instead of merely sending signals to customers when they need to take action, automated processes could be put in place, by the grid or more locally, to trigger back-up power or turn off non-critical applications automatically.

In industrial power management environments, the same principle can be applied by using smart low voltage switchgear, such as the Boulting Power Centre. This means any building — industrial or commercial — can prioritise the order in which the switchgear turns off connections, if at all, and for how long.

Batteries

One of the concerns with solar and wind energy is that production is often at its highest, when demand is lowest. Therefore, storage is a key priority for eliminating waste and harnessing production potential. Battery storage isn’t new, but until fairly recently, batteries were big, heavy, expensive and had a limited lifespan.

Leveraging car and mobile phone developments, modern battery storage systems offer a much more attractive proposition. Looking only a few years ahead, battery storage will be commonplace not just at grid level, but on industrial sites, office blocks and domestically. The Tesla Powerwall is an example of an innovative solution applicable to most homes.

With viable and scalable battery storage options and demand side response, renewables and microgeneration can join the top table of electricity generation, previously dominated by nuclear and fossil fuels sources. With this kind of progress, it’s not too hard to imagine Portugal’s 107 hours being beaten quite soon!

Monday, 20 June 2016

Inspiring stories

The UK currently has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than ten per cent. When we consider Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus are leading the way with nearly 30 per cent, it's time for the nation to up its game. National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) is celebrated every year on June 23 to help raise the profile of women in engineering and focus on the array of career opportunities available in the industry. 

Luckily, the UK has its fair share of role models when it comes to engineering. Here, Anna Sleziak, senior process control engineer at systems integrator, Boulting Technology answers questions about her career progression as a female engineer in the UK and how she thinks NWED is inspiring those at the start of their working life.


When did you first know that you wanted to be an engineer?

I originally attended school in Poland, where I was encouraged to take a more traditional, academic route when it came to a career. I enjoyed most subjects, but particularly excelled at mathematics, so thought that a career in banking would be a good fit for me.

My older brother was already attending university and I enjoyed helping him with his studies, so from a young age I knew I wanted to work towards a degree. One week into my banking course I realised my skills were actually better suited to my brother's degree. As you might have already guessed, this was engineering! Fortunately, my university allowed me to swap courses and I haven't looked back since.

Do you think there are many role models for women who would like to go into engineering?

There is such a huge push for both men and women to pursue careers in engineering now because of the skills gap in the country.

 NWED is celebrated all over the world, so we are lucky enough to hear the stories of some incredibly talented female engineers for encouragement and motivation.

When I was younger, it was a different story because women in engineering were few and far between. It's important for women to explore the different career routes available. If it hadn't been for my brother studying engineering, I would never have known the options available to me.

How do you think NWED encourages women to start their career in engineering?

NWED demonstrates the interesting job opportunities available to all genders. Engineering is a diverse world and every day can be different depending on speciality. It's not just dirty overalls and building sites, unless you want it to be.

If people don't know about the different careers that exist, the industry can't expect to attract new talent, male or female.

Why do you think many women still think being an engineer is a male's job?

It's all down to traditional stereotypes. When the majority of people are asked to picture an engineer, they think of a man. NWED challenges these perceptions and tells us that being a female engineer shouldn't raise eyebrows, but be accepted as normal in all businesses.

If you were talking to another female about your job, what would you tell her that may encourage her to think differently about engineering?

I'd tell her about the incredible support that the entire team at Boulting Technology offers. The company is forward thinking and doesn't consider me as an exception. I'm just one of the team.

I'd also tell her to ignore any negative comments that she might get. I've been extremely lucky, as I am surrounded by supportive people, but there are some that don't understand why women want to be engineers. If the job makes you happy, then pursue it.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

CDM 2015: how to comply

In April 2015, the main set of regulations for managing the health, safety and welfare of construction projects was replaced. The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) were last updated in 2007, so the most recent update has put several several notable changes into place. Here, John Ridley, programme manager at Boulting Technology, gives advice on how to comply with the CDM regulations when starting a new construction project.  


Importance of planning

One of the best ways to ensure compliance with the latest CDM regulation is to plan every aspect of the project before construction work begins. The previous regulation stated that principal contractors had to provide a construction phase plan (CPP) before any work commenced, but the 2015 regulation stipulates much more clearly what  contractors should consider in the initial stage of the project. The CPP should explain how health and safety is going to be managed throughout the project, taking into consideration the residual risks from previous projects on the same site.

The CDM client commissioning the project should include a list of site rules, along with welfare details. Emergency procedures should be in place, including a working supply of fire and/or gas alarms. All construction workers should have an on-site induction before work commences. This should also be outlined in the CPP.

If there are any specific health and safety risks related to the project, these should be explained in detail. For example, Boulting Technology carries out a lot of construction projects for the water industry, so we have to be aware of the risks of using chemicals employed to treat water facilities, as well as the risk from raw sewage and aeration lanes.

If there are any risks that cannot be eliminated, all parties need to be sure that they have been minimised as much as possible. This is why the CPP should be detailed and completely accurate. There should also be regular reviews carried out to ensure this.

Client responsibility

The new regulation also puts additional responsibility onto the client. To ensure success, the first thing a client needs to do is create a brief for the construction project. This should outline the main functionality and give reasons as to why the project is being carried out. It should also explain what the client expects from all parties during the project, including health and safety aspects.

The client is now responsible for appointing two duty-holders; the principal designer and the principal contractor, where there will be more than one contractor working on the construction phase. The client should also check that these people are carrying out their duties correctly. This could be achieved by attending regular meetings, carrying out on-site audits, or appointing a third party to advise.

Clients also have to notify the HSE if projects will exceed 30 construction days with 20 or more workers, working simultaneously on the project, or if the project exceeds 500 person days. Clients will be required to complete an F10 notification of work, which informs the HSE that a construction project is taking place. The notification identifies the responsibilities and details of the work that is to be completed.

As a result of submitting this notification, the HSE may come and visit the project before any construction work takes place. It will check that health and safety is being properly planned and if there are any breaches identified, it will investigate these too.

Remember, the HSE makes a decision on whether to audit the site based on the F10 document, so any discrepancies may affect its decision.


During the project

While carrying out the construction work, contractors should be made aware of their responsibilities from the start. Ensure the workforce is aware of the risk assessments that will take place during the project and if the work is being carried out over a longer period of time, continually remind workers of their duties by way of pre task briefing, method statements briefings and tool box talks, to name a few.

Communication between the client and all project stakeholders is vital, so the client needs to listen to the team carrying out the work, paying particular attention to suggestions on how to improve health and safety on-site.


Simplifying processes

Until 2015, clients were required to produce an explicit competence document before any work commenced. This was an evidential document that proved everyone appointed had the appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision to carry out the project.

This document has been removed from the latest regulatory standard to reduce bureaucracy. Although the legal requirement for a competence document no longer exists, Boulting Technology has found that most clients still follow this procedure, as it is best practice. The explicit competence document allows clients to fully consider their options when employing contractors, thus ensuring the “organisational capability” of all parties that are appointed.

The CDM 2015 regulation aims to make health and safety much clearer for the construction industry. Boulting Technology takes on-site safety extremely seriously, so if you would like more information on the tactics we use to ensure the safety of our employees, get in touch on 01925 720 090.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Technology and standards: a close connection?

Back in 1977, Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation made this bold statement - "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." Some argue that Olsen made this quip before the introduction of the personal computer (PC) as we know it, but within four years of Olsen's remark, the release of IBM’s PC gave his quote a permanent spot in the computing hall of shame.

Here Nick Boughton, sales manager of industrial systems integrator, Boulting Technology contrasts the relationship between technology and standards in the commercial and industrial spheres.

The majority of machines scattered around our offices and homes today are direct descendents of IBM's first PC. Of course, PCs existed prior to this; the Apple II and the Commodore PET came out in 1977 and the Atari 800 was released in 1979, but these systems used proprietary components and designs. IBM was in a hurry to release its version, so other companies' technologies were used, including a processor from Intel and an operating system from Microsoft.

While PCs and PLCs have the same basic architecture,
the evolution has been very different.
The PC's lack of proprietary IBM technology made cloning possible, and just one year later, Colombia Data Products released their clone, effectively creating the IBM PC as a standard that many others would adopt.

The industrial world

In industrial control, we are used to formal standards governing every day processes. For instance, IEC 61439 compliance has been mandatory since November 2014, so it would be wise for anyone buying or thinking of buying a motor control centre (MCC) to seek a supplier that meets all relevant parts of the standard.

Equally, it is beneficial for the communications between the MCC and the rest of the control system to include Fieldbus, Ethernet and wireless technology covered by IEC 61158-1:2014, IEEE 802.3, IEEE 802.11 and IEC61850.

Ethernet evolved with developments in office infrastructure in the early 1970s. Momentum gathered in 1979 when Digital Equipment Corporation, Intel and Xerox began cooperatively promoting it as a local area network communications solution. In 1983, the related standard IEEE 802.3 was published. Ethernet quickly became the network of choice in commerce.

Uptake for industrial control was limited to supervisory functions until the development of Industrial Ethernet (IE) protocols enabled real time control.  Fast forward to today and Ethernet is now, arguably, the network of choice for the industrial world.

PLCs

Although programmable logic controllers (PLCs) have been around for a decade longer than the IBM PC, the development cycle is much slower. This leads to lower sales volumes and a higher cost of change for the users. The PLC is still at a non- standardised point in its evolution, equivalent to the Apple II, Atari 800, Commodore PET era of PCs in 1978. However, there have been attempts to change this.

For example, in 1993 the IEC 61131-3 standard set down a unified suite of programming languages for PLCs. In 2005, the complimentary standard - IEC 61499 - followed by addressing system architectures. The aim of both standards was to enable interoperability in much the same way as the PC standard did, but they have largely failed. Most mainstream PLC vendors have a degree of compatibility, but true interoperability is unheard of between them.

One of the major contributions to the cost of change - when replacing old PLCs with new - is the need to rewrite the application code. In relative terms, the price of PLC hardware has fallen significantly. What this means for the end user is that they get a product that is faster, has more memory, takes up less space and probably costs less in real terms than the PLC being replaced

On the other hand, writing application code is still a relatively bespoke activity that requires skilled engineers. Where original system documentation has disappeared or never existed, it may be necessary to go back to the beginning of the software development lifecycle and create a new specification and code which needs to be tested and installed.

In many cases, mounting downtime or the possibility that no more spares are available, drives the end user to make changes.

While PCs and PLCs have the same basic architecture, the evolution has been very different. The PC became ubiquitous and interoperable in the 1980s, while the PLC is still lagging behind, despite all the years of diligent work on IEC standards.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Move over millennials, Generation Z is here

Over the past 20 years, technology has developed so quickly that many of us are struggling to keep up. When endeavoring to use the latest operating system or smartphone, we often reminisce to a time when the most advanced form of technology was the floppy disk. However, the generation entering the workforce this year is already accustomed to rapid technological developments, as it has never known a world without them.

Here Robin Whitehead, business development and strategic projects director at Boulting Technology explains how engineering companies and manufacturers should change their recruitment strategy as Generation Z joins the workforce.

Boulting Technology's well-practiced
mentoring programme supports graduate engineers
Generation Z includes those born between the mid-90s and early '00s. Unlike millenials, the majority of Gen Z has engaged with advanced technology from a young age. Gen Z has the inherent ability to engage with highly complex software and technology. The real question is: will this wave of technically astute employees have a positive impact on the electrical and manufacturing industries? And more importantly, will recruitment and training become easier because of Generation Z’s existing technical knowledge and ability to grasp new concepts?

Generation Z could bring an array of technological skills to your business, but to entice the new workforce, it's important to make changes to your recruitment strategy. At Boulting Technology, we know that our success depends on having the right people with the right skills. We regularly recruit apprentices, graduates and trainees, and this year is no exception. To prepare for Generation Z, Boulting Technology has taken to engaging with it in real life and on social media, as well as producing more dynamic online content that will inspire them to learn more about our industry.

It's likely that the next generation of workers will be more capable of carrying out various tasks, from the more traditional electrical equipment installation and maintenance, to managing social media accounts and producing technical content. Showing potential employees that these opportunities are available helps you stand out from other workplaces in terms of diversity and progression.

Research suggests Generation Z prefers in-person communication with managers and peers. They also show preference to well-defined chains of command and teaching-style leadership. Millennials may have an easier time managing Generation Z in the workplace than their superiors did with them. This is due to their shared characteristics, such as high levels of self-confidence, a desire to learn new skills and a 'can-do' attitude towards work. Employers can make the most of these similarities by offering new employees the chance to collaborate with a more senior member of staff.

Worryingly, 83 per cent of today's students believe three years or less is an appropriate amount of time to spend at their first job, and over a quarter of students believe they should stay in their first job for a year or less. To counteract these statistics, employers need to ensure Generation Z employees are aware of their opportunities to progress. They should put a structured training plan into place, which encompasses professional development and long-term career progression.

Boulting Technology has a well-practiced mentoring programme to support graduate engineers. They have capitalised on the depth and breadth of engineering expertise within their workforce to develop their graduates to a high level of expertise. This pro-active programme has seen their graduate recruits shine and develop their careers within Boulting Technology and staff retention is high.

This year, Generation Z will be entering the workplace and, if you don't recruit them, your competitors will. By adapting your recruitment strategy to suit younger job seekers, your workforce will become more diverse and technologically advanced.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Think of this when you say smart energy

When referring to modern technology, companies bandy the word "smart" around a lot, especially when talking about energy efficient devices. We have smart meters, smart grids and even smart cities. In November 2015, for the first time in history, the National Grid resorted to paying large companies to turn off their heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in an effort to keep the lights on in Britain. Here, the sales manager of systems integrator Boulting Technology, Nick Boughton, discusses a smarter approach to energy efficiency.

Nick Boughton, sales manager of
Boulting Technology
We are living and working in a post-industrial economy in which electricity consumption in commercial buildings is significantly higher than it was 25 years ago. Back then, offices comprised of the odd computer, lighting, a photocopier and perhaps a fax machine and that was about it. If it got too warm, you opened a window and if it got too cold, you put another jumper on.

In comparison, many modern offices are like mini data centres. HVAC, modern computers and servers are power-thirsty equipment that consumes energy especially at peak times of the day. When you think about all the technology parks around the country, made up of these types of offices, you could argue that the National Grid resorting to last ditch tactics is perhaps inevitable.

It is important to remember this is the first time the National Grid has had to implement this kind of emergency action. The reason given was that a number of old coal and nuclear power plants have been shut in recent years and while they have been replaced by new gas powered and renewable sources, the margin between capacity and demand is now much smaller. And if the margin becomes negative, someone’s lights will go out. The perfect storm is a cloudy day with no wind, when solar and wind sources generate less energy.

Two things are worrying about this situation. The first is that the money paid to companies to reduce energy consumption comes from levies on consumer energy bills. The users pay for this. The second is that according to some predictions, we will be relying less on coal and more on renewable energy, nuclear and natural gas in the future. In fact, earlier this year, the UK government pledged to phase out coal plants by 2025, which means the transition will happen sooner than expected. To make sure the UK is not caught unprepared, alternative power supplies need to be set up as soon as possible and more efficient energy management needs to be implemented in consumer and industrial environments.

This is where smart grids come in. Today’s smart grids use software to manage decentralised energy generation, transmission and distribution according to the demand. Despite the technology and systems being available, the National Grid felt it had to resort to paying companies to manually turn off their HVAC.

Gone should be the days of tactics like phoning power plants to up the generation because there is an advertisement break in Christmas Day's episode of Coronation Street and everyone has just turned the kettle on. Energy management needs to be smarter.

Instead of paying companies to manually turn off their HVAC systems, there is no reason why this cannot be done automatically. The infrastructure and technology is available and in some cases, already in place.

For roughly 15 years, high and medium voltage grid applications in the UK have been using smart technology. In this context, smart means the technology works from detailed analytics and adjusts supply to suit peaks or troughs in demand automatically. In recent years, we have also started to see intelligent technology introduced into low-voltage applications too.

Every building is equipped with low-voltage circuit breakers that control and protect the distribution of power for things like lighting, HVAC and IT systems. Traditionally, these have been straightforward on/off dumb switches based on tried and tested technology because they have to remain reliable over long periods. However, with the quest for greater energy efficiency and smarter control of low-voltage applications, more intelligent breakers are required in modern office environments.

Building operators have started using smart circuit breakers to have more control over day-to-day energy operations. Smart circuit breakers can act as a network analyser to monitor power quality and give warnings that allow for the protection of sensitive electrical equipment. More important on the energy efficiency front is that the latest circuit breakers manage the power flowing through them and keep it below set limits. They do this by automatically disconnecting non-priority loads, like HVAC, in the event of load peaks.

Energy efficiency and smart technologies go hand in hand and the wider the adoption of devices like smart circuit breakers, the greater the results for the environment. In addition, going without HVAC for an hour probably will not affect a company greatly. However, if power margins continue to stay low, we risk blackouts and manufacturing lines could suffer costly downtime. Definitely not smart.