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November 08
CSB Says Natural Gas Blows Inherently Unsafe

It may sound strange, but it is currently common practice power plant construction to clean pipes through natural gas blows, which essentially means blasting natural gas through a pipe to remove any obstructions. It certainly may be convenient to purge lines with your readily available supply of natural gas, but this gas can be vented into unsafe areas and find an ignition source. This was revealed to be the primary cause of the explosion at Kleen Energy in Connecticut earlier this year. According to this article in EHS Today, the State of Connecticut has now banned this practice. CSB is also making recommendations to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) to revise their existing codes to stop the practice of gas blows in favor of safer alternatives. CSB has more commentary on natural gas blows and the inherent risk thereof in its series of YouTube videos here.

August 18
OSHA Testifies on Worker Safety in Process Industries

OSHA deputy assistant secretary testifies before Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety on worker safety in energy production industries

This is some powerful testimony from OSHA on the state of safety in our country's refineries and chemical plants. Definitely worth a read.

"Not only are we finding a significant lack of compliance during our inspections, but time and again, our inspectors are finding the same violations in multiple refineries, including those with common ownership, and sometimes even in different units in the same refinery. This is a clear indication that essential safety lessons are not being communicated within the industry and often not even within a single corporation or facility. The old adage that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it is as true in the refinery industry as it is elsewhere. So we are particularly disturbed to find even refineries that have already suffered serious incidents or received major OSHA citations making the same mistakes again."

July 14
IHS CERA Report Shows Continued Increase in Refinery Construction Costs

IHS CERA does a very good report on capital project costs for process industries, and refining is chief among these. According to their latest report, "The costs for designing and constructing downstream refining and petrochemical projects rose 1.5 percent from Q3 2009 to Q1 2010, according to the latest edition of the IHS CERA Downstream Capital Costs Index (DCCI). It was the second straight increase for the index since prices bottomed out at 9 percent below peak 2008 levels– costs are now just 6.5 percent below peak 2008 levels." Check out the link for the full press release. 

July 01
Dept. of Interior Issues Directive on Stronger Offshore Safety

From US Department of the Interior. The moratorium on drilling in waters over 500 feet deep continues, but shallow water drilling is still go. Department of Interior has released a new set of safety guidelines that drillers must comply with if they want to continue drilling. You can read it all at the above link.

July 01
A Guide to the Automation Body of Knowledge

I just got my hands on a copy of the Automation Body of Knowledge, edited by Vernon Trevathan. It's a great compendium of all the most important aspects of automation in today's plants and facilities. The second edition is updated to include information on continuous emissions monitoring systems and other topics. I highly recommend it. It's published by ISA and you can purchase it at the link:

June 04
ABB Automation & Power World Brings Record Attendance

In the second year since merging the company's automation- and power- related user group meetings, ABB Automation and Power World managed to draw a record crowd of over 4,000 people – a 30 percent increase over last year's numbers. This is a clear indicator that the manufacturing economy and automation marketplace are back on track. Automation and Power World is perhaps the only user group meeting that brings the process and discrete automation domains (including robotics) together with power products spanning from switchgear to high voltage transmission and distribution equipment. This is fortuitous for ABB, since the worlds of automation and electrification are becoming increasingly entwined due to the substantial potential for energy savings, increased reliability and uptime, and reduced maintenance costs.

ARC also attended Automation and Power World in record numbers, as several ARC analysts and ARC President, Andy Chatha, gave presentations and moderated several sessions. Topics covered included a chat with ABB executives, integration of automation and electrification, smart grid, asset management, and control system migration.

A Record Turnout and Positive Momentum

As ABB CEO, Joe Hogan, stated in the keynote session, "Size can be a killer at times. The bigger you get, the further away you can get from your customers." This certainly was not the case at Automation and Power World. Even with record attendance, there was a lot of face-to-face customer contact and ABB personnel, from executive management to regional salespeople, were highly approachable and willing to talk and answer questions. There are not too many user group meetings where the company CEO presides over the proceedings, but automation and power are at the core of ABB's overall business and the company's obvious strategic commitment to these markets showed at the conference.

Hogan also commented on the overall positive momentum in the global economy and acknowledged that ABB was in a recovery mode. This is largely because the developing economies in China, India, and other parts of the world recovered most quickly from the recession and represent a huge part of ABB's overall business. Hogan has pointed out several times in the past couple of years that economic growth closely parallels population. (For example, China had the world's largest economy in the seventeenth century). The G-20 are expected to surpass the G-7 in terms of GDP by 2013. The US economy is back in positive territory with 3 percent GDP growth, but this may slow a bit when the effects of the stimulus are removed. Commodity prices have also bounced back, with copper at almost pre-recession levels, and world energy demand continues to grow at the rate of almost 30 percent through 2030. Carbon dioxide emissions, however, are also growing concurrently. Three-quarters of all emissions reductions in this period will come from energy efficiency measures and use of renewables.

Well Positioned for the Energy Efficiency Revolution

Industry, one of the largest consumers of energy, is ripe for innovation when it comes to energy efficiency. Sixty-three percent of electrical energy is used to run motors in industrial applications. ARC believes that Industrial energy consumption can be cut by almost 10 percent. ABB's strong position in both drives and in many of the world's most energy-intensive process industries, place it in a good position to take advantage of the energy efficiency revolution. The company's recent acquisition of Ventyx for over $1 billion (over four times revenues), enables ABB to provide a suite of software that, according to President & CEO of ABB Inc. USA, Enrique Santacana, "Provides the glue that allows ABB to track the flow of electrons from the point of generation to the point of use."

Reorganization Capitalizes on Strengths

Hogan also pointed out that ABB designed its recent reorganization to align the company more closely with its customers' business. ABB regrouped the Automation Products and Robotics divisions into two new divisions – Discrete Automation and Motion and Low Voltage Products. The Process Automation division remained unchanged except for the addition of the instrumentation business from the Automation Products division. The company has also made some other major organizational changes and acquisitions that have greatly expanded its capabilities. Re-cent acquisitions include the Jokab machine safety business and Sinai Engineering in Canada (a systems integrator).

ABB moved its process automation business headquarters to Houston, where it is building a large demo center. The company expanded its industrial park in Mexico, and located its Corporate R&D and Smart Grid Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. ABB also recently made an offer to increase its stake in its Indian subsidiary to 75 percent.

Peter Terweisch Shares Key Development Activities

In a special session for the media, Chief Technology Officer, Peter Terweisch, shared some recent and impending technology developments, many related to energy and the electrical side of the business. The world needs more power with lower emissions, and the share of electricity in the energy mix is increasing. ABB is applying this basic premise to its business strategy. ABB entered the solar inverter market, for example, based on its strength in drives technology.

Energy storage is often an issue with renewable energy resources such as wind power. ABB developed SVC (Static Var Compensator) Light Energy Storage capabilities to address this issue. Terweisch also announced that ABB would be building a new HVDC light cable factory in the US.

ABB excels in integrating automation and electrical assets through the IEC 61850 protocol. The company now has over 20 projects under way for integrated power and automation, and the approach continues to gain traction. In the process automation systems space, the 5.1 release of the 800xA system, happening soon, will (among other things) feature node virtualization.

WirelessHART Adapter and New Wireless Sensor Technology

ABB has launched a considerable wireless initiative, beginning with an alliance with Pepperl+Fuchs to offer a wireless gateway. The company showed its new loop-powered WirelessHART adapter that should be commercially available in the third quarter. Providing a reliable power source for wireless devices has been a persistent problem, even with increased battery life. ABB introduced a prototype autonomous temperature transmitter that utilizes new temperature differential-based technology for power. This only needs a 30-degree C. temperature difference, easily attainable using the low ambient air temperatures and high process temperatures in a typical plant.

Town Hall Meeting and Chat with Executives

The Town Hall Meeting was one of several meetings with ABB executives the company hosted during the week. ARC also hosted a Chat with ABB Executives, moderated by ARC President, Andy Chatha, as part of the "ARC Inside" forum within Automation and Power World. These sessions featured several members of the ABB executive committee. According to Gary Steele, Executive Committee member responsible for human resources, ABB was one of the first companies to feel the recession and it is one of the first coming out of it, particularly in businesses such as Discrete Automation and Motion. Now, the company has to balance the dilemma of cost and growth.

Veli-Matti Reinikkala, Head of Process Automation Division, commented on the affects various stimulus packages have had on regional economies. In China, for example, the stimulus package is winding down, but in ABB's view, many of the projects spurred by the stimulus were already on the table, but reallocated due to the stimulus. So, in China at least, the removal of the stimulus should not result in a slowdown of growth for the automation marketplace. As evidence, Reinikkala pointed to the growth in China's automotive sector. Sinopec, the Chinese petroleum company, plans to build 30,000 fast charging stations for electric vehicles, an opportunity for which ABB is well positioned to take advantage.

At the ABB Chat with the Executives, Andy Chatha asked each panel member to provide examples of how ABB provides superior value to its customers. Rick Hepperla, Region Division Manager for Discrete Automation and Motion in North America, pointed out ABB's structural changes and cost reductions, as well as the huge energy efficiency opportunities for customers. The recession hit process automation customers hard and Reinikkala pointed out that ABB has focused on services to help customers get more out of their plants, facilities, and assets without the need for large capital outlays.

Of Oil Spills and Volcanic Ash

No one was surprised to hear a question directed at the executives regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and what ABB can do to help in this crisis. While ABB does not specialize in oil spill mitigation or in selling blowout preventers, the executives acknowledged that the company would play a much larger role in process safety and overall safety culture in the years to come. ABB is already a major player in process safety and the company has considerable capabilities in remote operations management and remote monitoring. Minimizing the number of people required to man offshore oil rigs and reducing the space needed for things like power supplies and control systems are two areas where ABB will make significant contributions in the future.

Volcanic ash, while not as immediate a concern as the oil spill, caused a major disruption in the ABB supply chain recently with the shutdown of air traffic in Europe. ABB executives recognized that the company must further globalize its supply chain and distribution footprint, balancing issues of cost and risk.

A more agile supply chain is just part of ABB's efforts to become a more customer-friendly business. Part of this effort is the development of a new "Net Promoter Score" metric, where customers are asked if they are ABB promoters or detractors within their organizations. Determining who the promoters and detractors are (and why), provides a good basis for improving ABB's business. The company also reorganized its global account management and strategic accounts process and transitioned from 19 different ERP systems to a single system. This helped flatten the company's business unit infrastructure.

There were far too many tracks and presentations at Automation and Power World to mention here, but the overall content and quality of presentations was very high. ARC also hosted several sessions as part of the ARC Inside Forum at the event, covering topics such as energy management, control system migration, benchmarking, and integrated control and electrification. Automation and Power World continues to be the largest end user group meeting in the world of process automation, and the only one that integrates the worlds of power and automation into a single format.

June 04
How the Gulf Oil Spill Affects Process Automation, Safety, and Asset Management

ARC is not in a position to pass judgment on or assign blame for the tragic loss of life and environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. From our perspective, the primary questions that need to be answered now are, "What can we learn from this mishap?" and "How can the industry prevent a reoccurrence of this type of event?" We believe that the answers to both questions involve improved process safety procedures and the intelligent application of automation, asset management, and improved testing, operations and maintenance practices. The regulatory backlash already begun in the wake of this disaster will bring these and other issues to the forefront in the coming months.

The Regulatory Environment Has Already Changed

The regulatory environment has already changed in the wake of the oil spill. President Obama suspended deepwater oil drilling permits for at least the next six months and has ordered a halt to drilling off the Alaska coast. Leases issued to companies exploring for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and the coast of Virginia have been halted. The Minerals Management Service is already being overhauled, and the director, Liz Birnbaum, forced to resign after less than a year on the job. US Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, has already stated that wells not covered under the moratorium, "…will require certification of all blowout preventers, stronger procedures for keeping wells under control, a tougher inspection process, and expanded safety and training requirements for rig workers."

Offshore Exploration and Production Will Not Cease

The reality is that, our society is still highly dependent on hydrocarbons. As much as some would like to break this "oil habit," there seems to be no ready alternative. Hence, for the immediate future at least, we must continue exploring for and producing oil in increasingly remote and challenging environments to meet the world's huge appetite for energy.

Increased Adoption of Process Safety

Unfortunately, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is just one of many incidents in recent years in process plants and other industrial facilities that have cost many lives and have left environmental damage in their wake. Many of these incidents might have been prevented by appropriate application of a modern process safety system incorporating both safety instrumented system (SIS) technology and intelligent devices with remote diagnostics capabilities. The technology exists today to provide advanced, online diagnostics for everything from control valves to pressure transmitters, machinery, and even blowout preventers.

Market growth for process safety systems already exceeds growth in basic process control systems (BPCSs). On top of the many other highly publicized incidents in the process industries, the Deepwater Horizon incident could result in even more broad, sweeping regulatory pressures that could affect all process industries, not just offshore oil & gas.

The Role of Procedural Automation

Major plant incidents are usually the result of a confluence of factors, all converging at the same time to create an environment outside of the normal pre-operations testing environment. Most recent incidents in the process industries have some sort of procedural element associated with them. Either proper procedures were not followed, or no standard operating procedure was defined for the operator or maintenance person to follow. Many procedures in the process industries tend to be manual or guided procedures. While there is a place for these, the process industries can benefit greatly from a drive to automate many critical procedures, such as startup and shutdown.

The need for a procedural automation standard increases as the workforce continues to lose the highly experienced personnel who under-stand these procedures and there is no meaningful way to capture that knowledge to guide future operator/maintenance actions properly to prevent incidents. With strong support from the process automation end user community, the ISA 106 standards committee was recently formed to address this issue.

Improved Maintenance Practices

Just as there are procedural elements to most process incidents, poor maintenance practices also typically play a part. Increasingly, better adherence to maintenance practices and higher standards for maintenance will be required. Plant asset management (PAM) systems, combined with intelligent field devices, can help facilitate a proactive maintenance strategy and can even reduce maintenance costs, while helping to improve safety by identifying problems before they become unmanageable or by avoiding unnecessary trips to the field. Maintenance work practices, however, must be modified to take maximum advantage of all that PAM has to offer and this change can be challenging to institute.

Safety Culture

None of these measures are sufficient, however, without implementing a good safety culture. Regulations can be imposed and technologies adopted, but without a high regard for safety in all facets of day-to-day operations and the mindset to make intelligent decisions, bad decisions will still be made, corners will still be cut, and accidents will continue to happen. As we've stated many times, a good safety culture must be disseminated from the highest levels of executive management on down. It requires constant vigilance and a certain set of corporate values that must be continuously monitored and maintained.

May 27
ISA 106 to Create a Procedural Automation Standard for the Process Industries

I received the following message from Maurice Wilkins of WBF, who is also managing director for a new standard being developed by ISA for Modular Procedural Automation in the process industries. I am currently working on a strategy report that will be released by ARC in June on this very same topic. Most of the incidents that we have witnessed in the process industries in recent months involve some sort of procedural element where proper operating procedures were either not followed or not well defined. The drain of knowledgeable and experienced personnel in the process industries is only exacerbating this issue. ISA 106 aims to remedy this situation by providing a standard framework for automating procedures. Several major end users are already supporting this standard and I am positive we will see rapid acceptance because of the overwhelming need.

ISA-106 Procedural Automation in the Continuous Process Industries

Every year managing process operations becomes more challenging. With continued emphasis on becoming lean and streamlining operations companies are trying to improve plant performance with fewer resources. Additionally, each facility needs to meet health, safety and environmental regulations with increased pressure from corporate management for improvements. Adding to these challenges they also have to deal with the demographic trend of an aging workforce. Many of their senior operations personnel are retiring with less experienced operators taking their place.

When procedures have been automated in continuous processes, often they are implemented using ad-hoc design and programming techniques that yield difficult to maintain code. While this can provide short term operational benefits, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of these procedures is higher than needed due to increased costs to change and update the procedures over time and the lack of re-usable software modules. In fact a 2008 survey by the ARC Advisory Group indicated that continuous manufacturers are now seeing effective and repeatable transition management along with the use of sequence based operating procedures as a competitive advantage, but in the continuous process industries, there is no current standard they can use to base their procedures on. The safety aspect of automating procedures is a critical component and should also not be overlooked. The cause of some recent industrial accidents has been, in part, due to the lack of a good procedural based emergency shutdown or an abnormal situation putting too much pressure on an operator in a crisis, causing him/her to improperly perform procedural operations with disastrous consequences. It is known that procedure based recovery from abnormal situations is faster and more reliable than recovery based on random operator knowledge.

At present, the use of prompted and automated procedures is typically a rarity in continuous processes, due to the lack of general industry expectations and standards. However, with increased focus on operational excellence there are now more and more business drivers requiring increased safety, improved throughput, cost savings, knowledge capture, and improved capture of years of operational experience that will soon be lost to retirement.

Recognizing the issues, a proposal was submitted to ISA to form a new standards committee addressing procedural automation in the continuous process industries, using a modular approach in the same way as the ISA-88 standard does. Modularity can also provide companies the ability to standardize functions across plants, sites and the enterprise achieving corporate wide repeatability and reproducibility. This would help reduce engineering labor and cost, provide consistent operations, and lower TCO.

On April 15, 2010, ISA approved the proposal to form a new standard committee to address procedural automation in the continuous process industries: ISA-106. Dr. Yahya Nazer of The Dow Chemical Company and Marty King of Chevron will be co-chairs and Dave Emerson of Yokogawa the vice chair/editor. The aim of the committee is to develop an initial technical report as the basis for the new standard by June 2011. The first meeting of the ISA-106 committee is planned for June 9 and 10, 2010 in Houston. The new standard is already supported by several major manufacturers including Dow, DuPont, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell and Valero plus most of the major suppliers.

May 14
I Have Been a Bad Blogger Again

Yes, it has been a while, but I have been hard at work on several projects. Here is a preview:

I have been helping Dave Woll on the latest version of our Collaborative Process Automation System study, which is our view on what a process automation should look like and the functionality it should incorporate both as state of the art technology and functionality today and in the future. This study will be ready soon and chapters are already being edited.

Updating DCS Worldwide: The market dropped by about 7 percent according to my most recent estimates. That's more than I thought it would have dropped between 2008 and 2009, but the market is already making a strong recovery. However, we won't see the growth that we saw before the global recession hit. DCS Worldwide should be available by the end of June.

Modular Procedural Automation: There has already been a standards committee formed at ISA for this topic (ISA 106). ARC wrote a white paper for Yokogawa about MPA and we will be publishing a strategy report on this very soon.

Process Automation System Lifecycle Management Survey: A very successful ARC web based survey with over 100 respondents. ARC is looking at how users manage the overall lifecycle of their process automation systems, how they approach system migration, upgrade and migration justification, project scope, project execution, vendor relationships, spare parts strategies, and training.

I will be at ABB Automation and Power World next week with several other ARC analysts and we are having an "ARC Inside" mini forum at this event. I will be giving presentations on the topics of control system migration and lifecycle management and the benefits of an integrated approach to automation and electrical equipment.

Our most recent report on the overall health of the demand side of the automation marketplace has been released. Most of the leading economic indicators from around the world that are related to the manufacturing economy are still very much positive, although there is some cooling off in developing economies such as India and China, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

April 07
WirelessHART Approved by IEC as a Standard

From the HART Communication Foundation web site:

 (Austin, TX USA, 6 April 2010) — The HART®Communication Foundation ( is pleased to announce that the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has approved the WirelessHART® specification as a full international standard (IEC 62591Ed. 1.0). The unanimous vote on 26 March 2010 by the IEC National Committees of 28 countries confirms the broad global support for WirelessHART technology as the international standard for wireless communication in process automation.

"The overwhelming approval by IEC fulfills the request of users for a single international wireless communication standard that is supported by major automation suppliers," says HART Communication Foundation Executive Director Ron Helson. "WirelessHART technology has been confirmed by both users and suppliers to be a technically sound, reliable and secure solution for wireless communication in process automation."

A growing number of WirelessHART compatible products are available today from major global suppliers including ABB, Emerson, Endress+Hauser, Pepperl+Fuchs, Siemens and others. 

Released in September 2007, WirelessHART is an open and interoperable wireless communication standard designed to address the critical needs of industry for reliable, robust and secure wireless communication in real-time industrial process measurement and control applications.

WirelessHART is a backward compatible, evolutionary enhancement to the HART Communication Protocol, the leading communication technology for intelligent process measurement and control field devices and systems with more than 30 million devices installed and operating in process plant applications around the globe.

The IEC is the leading global organization that prepares and publishes international standards for electrical, electronic, and related technologies. IEC standards provide industry and users with the framework for economies of design, greater product and service quality, more interoperability, and better production and delivery efficiency.

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Larry O'brien