Home: Autumn 2011 › New thinking
19/09/2011 | Channel:
IT / Technology, Equipment
Utilities companies can learn some valuable lessons from the manufacturing sector, as Brian Holliday of Siemens Industry Automation and Drive Technologies tells Libbie Hammond
With AMP5, an aging infrastructure, the EMR White Paper, unpredictable oil prices and general economic uncertainty on their minds, companies in the UK utilities market have a lot to think about. However, Brian Holliday believes that many of the issues are synonymous with those facing manufacturers, and the lessons they could learn from the manufacturing sector are both valuable and available if they seek benchmarking opportunities.
Brian began: “My role gives me an insight into different industrial sectors, and it’s evident that although each perceives itself to be distinct, from a technology perspective, many issues are common. For example, the food industry has a product track and trace challenge, which isn’t dissimilar from the need to track and trace parts through the automotive supply chain for purposes of authentication or recall, or aerospace for similar reasons. So technology is often developed with one sector in mind, but others may benefit.”
Brian is divisional director for Industry Automation at Siemens, a business that has expertise in manufacturing and process control across the industrial spectrum, supplying industrial products and supporting its clients through consultancy, projects, service and training. Siemens is also broadly known in the utilities sector for its power, metering and security capabilities, but Brian explained how his division works with utilities.
“We supply and integrate a range of control, instrumentation, low-voltage protection and visualisation technology to the utilities sector, both through partner organisations and directly. In practise this means we may supply technology to water companies through procurement frameworks right through to implementing the control, safety and monitoring systems you would see in power applications or gas storage and compressor stations.”
He continued: “As a manufacturer, we already apply technologies used in other sectors into utilities, so a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) that is used in the production of motor vehicles, such as the MINI, is the same as that used in water companies for controlling site applications such as pumping and dosing.
“I think that water companies in particular are not so different from factories, in that there is a product in, a process, and a product out. It takes the right combination of people, process and technology to run the business well and consequently many of the principles used to develop the best factories, such as Lean methodologies and the appropriate application of technology can also be applied to drive significant business value in water companies.
“As an engineer, I enjoy exploring how technology can help drive business success and have been very pleased that at Siemens we enjoy numerous partnerships where we have been able to bring innovation and fresh thinking from one sector and apply it in others. I believe this was among the reasons why Red Bull Racing selected us to be its Green Technology Partner in 2010. In the water industry, I am proud of the partnerships we are developing with Dwr Cymru, United Utilities, Wessex Water and Scottish Water to name just a few, where we are working to help reduce both capital and operational costs through the application of distributed, digital systems.”
Siemens is the UK market leader for industrial controls, and in applying its technology in applications from food & beverage to defence, Brian identifies some of the common issues: “The common cross-sector themes driving technology investment are obsolescence management, cost reduction, operational efficiency, safety and regulatory controls & reporting. We work with our clients to address these through vertical market competence centres and technology innovations such as combining control and safety systems to reduce capital and service / support costs whilst meeting ever more stringent compliance requirements. Also, introducing wireless technology to industry, where users benefit from significantly reduced cable costs but need to know that connections can be as safe and secure as wired alternatives.
“Over the last few years industrial technology has benefitted from developments driven by the IT world such as high speed networking and digital connectivity, higher data storage capabilities and increasingly sophisticated visualisation products. However, we often see a disconnect at the interface between the plant and the enterprise, which means that businesses simply can’t make the most of the wealth of intelligence now available from smart, distributed devices and assets alongside the basic data available from legacy systems. However, I’m not suggesting this is straightforward given the perennial challenge in utilities of balancing obsolescence management with customer service and supply levels.
“Looking specifically at the challenges of the water sector, processes and industry norms that were set up to enable competition and the procurement of devices at low unit cost in return for promised supply levels arguably now serve utility companies with potential disadvantages when compared with unregulated sectors.
“As discrete and hybrid industrial technology has become more integrated, a new model has emerged that offers users similar levels of tight integration historically only available through proprietary DCS (Distributed Control Systems). To gain the benefit of integrated tools for commissioning, diagnostics and maintenance however requires standardisation at the system level and a long-term partnership contract with the chosen vendor who can work with users to address common technology, training, and service issues and hence help to reduce life time system costs.”
He continued: “I think that the future will see much more development of industrial software for the enterprise. Put simply it can be seen as sat-nav for your industrial organisation. Before you had sat-nav, you didn’t think you needed it, you had a paper map, you could work out where you were going, you might not know when you were going to get there and you’d have managed to get where you needed to go eventually. But the advent of sat-nav brought productivity gains, because it took less time to get where you were going, you made fewer mistakes and you had alternative routes built in. So, you can think of well deployed software as being the sat-nav of the enterprise, bringing in the intelligence and co-ordination functions that help you to automate not just processes, but the top-end management decision-making.
“In my division software is a strategic focus from the digital design and optimisation tools in our PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) portfolio to MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) for factory management to Enterprise SCADA systems (Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition) that scale up to address real time data on a massive scale (such as a ten million point system deployed at Cern), we are addressing enterprise applications at a strategic level.
“However, even at plant level many opportunities exist for software tools to introduce new levels of productivity and here we have invested around a billion pounds on the development of a Totally Integrated Automation Portal that takes the next fundamental step forward in the integration of all the industrial components required for plant commissioning, control and operation. Better collecting the data that feeds enterprise decision-making.
“Other key developments for us include technologies that help our environment and help companies satisfy regulators and although there’s not room to explore the topic in detail here we have a significant footprint here in the UK in water technologies, such as filtration and chlorination and gas analytics that measure exhaust gasses from industrial and utility processes to not only maintain process efficiency but also be able to read, retain and store data to satisfy regulators, from energy to water and so on.”
Brian also noted the imperative that Siemens, and the industrial control community need to improve at extolling the virtues of industrial technology to potential users. “I believe some studies have helped such as the work being undertaken by BARA (British Automation and Robotic Association) which received funding through the coalition’s Advanced Manufacturing Growth review in January. But automation technology is a leveller given the cost of running an automated plant is not so different in China compared to the UK once you take away core building and initial labour costs. Typically the UK has underused automation, but in automating processes, quality, and repeatability, and consistency can be improved alongside environmental performance. So if a plant is located in the UK, it can also benefit from the transportation infrastructure, education base and political stability we enjoy here too. I believe industrial technologists from all the engineering disciplines have to step up and be part of the answer when it comes to the re-balancing of our economy given its banking bias.”
2011 is also seeing a change for Siemens, as in October it is being restructured to accommodate a fourth sector, Infrastructure & Cities to reside alongside its Industry, Energy and Healthcare businesses. Brian noted: “The challenges of urbanisation are evident and this new sector approach represents an opportunity for Siemens to be more focused in bringing innovation to transportation and built infrastructure and to also address developing challenges such as smart grids and electric vehicles.”
Brian continued with further information on how Siemens is positioning itself in the ‘green’ infrastructure markets: “The whole organisation has been oriented towards its core strengths, with a much greater focus on innovating in the renewable sector.”
He illustrates this with the example that Siemens are introducing efficient new wind turbines that offer equivalent outputs by weight in the 6MW output class. “We see that as a key strength, one in which we are investing significantly in the UK in building wind turbines here and locating our global competence centre for offshore to onshore grid connections in Manchester. Additionally Siemens are investing in solar technology through acquisitions and technology development but recognise that other geographies will almost certainly take the lead in this space.”
As Brian talked about the very sophisticated technology that Siemens is creating, he noted that one real danger facing the UK is the current skills gap regarding training requirements for the engineers of the future.
“Over the last 20 years, the UK has underinvested in the development of engineering and technician level vocational skills with diminishing domestic applications for engineering degrees and apprenticeships all but disappearing. The result is particularly acute in the power industry, but age demographics for key engineering skills, are skewed to workers over 45.
“The country’s future need for technicians and engineers of all disciplines is broadly recognised by key stakeholders and in Siemens we are investing our time, effort and finance into working with government and key educational and engineering intuitions to address the problem. In practise, we are developing more graduates through initiatives like the E3 Academy and increasing apprentice numbers, particularly in key areas like our wind and gas turbine businesses. In fact, in the UK, Siemens are now the third largest apprenticeship provider after BAE Systems and Rolls Royce and we are seeking ways through our training contract to further help our industrial customers meet their skills needs too.
“One of the initiatives I think is particularly exciting is the re-introduction of technical academies and my business is actively supporting the Black Country UTC (University Technical College) which opens in September with an initial 120 students, and is providing a vocational alternative to GCSE/A-level education for 14-19 year olds. It means these learners will be exposed to specialist engineering teaching and equipment in an environment that brings them much closer to the realities of the workplace - including a full working day. Being supported by companies and a partner college and university, I believe gives this programme legs and I am looking forward to seeing the first cohort contribute to their local economy where I think they will be an incredibly valuable commodity.”
Brian explained further why investment in skills is also essential to the success of utilities: “Utility companies face similar challenges to manufacturers in keeping technology up to date, whilst becoming leaner but losing skills when experienced staff retire.
“Technology is also driving the need to up skill, a typical example being where today we employ people in meter reading but in future it’s evident that we need more technicians who can install and administer smart metering technology. There is a need HOLLIDAYfor employees and employers to recognise such issues.”
Brian concluded with a summary of the topics that Siemens believes are critical and makes an interesting proposition to readers of Modern Utility Management: “The key topics for us are skills, the deployment of plant technology to introduce efficiency for users and the top end linking of the plant or asset base to enterprise systems. Indeed, I’d like to extend an open invitation to readers to come and talk to Siemens, and to take a fresh look at how technology deployment can add business value through some new thinking.”