UK manufacturing has been hit hard over the past 20 years by increased competition, lower prices and increased reverse engineering from overseas.
But despite the erosion of many industries, many new industrially focused technology companies have been established here. The fields of control and instrumentation systems, which are looking not just at the UK market but also at the global marketplace, have been particularly fruitful.
Around 40 per cent of today’s market is split between supply for UK manufacturing, with UK expertise for supply to overseas contracts accounting for the rest.
‘The UK is seen as a key technology leader in supplying and designing industrial automation, control and instrumentation and innovation,’ said Stuart Harvey, managing director of Silverteam, Hitachi’s UK representative.
Fieldbus, the range of different plant communications protocols, has for many years swung between the many established bus technologies, including Profibus, DeviceNet and Can-Bus. But the trend over the past decade or so has been for manufacturing and process industries to work towards a more unified and open industrial Ethernet solution for remote monitoring.
Key developments have included simplifying products with embedded server functionality like Hitachi’s EH-W10DR, a micro PLC with embedded web server.
Another key development is in wireless networks, with systems such as the MOXA N-Port serial devices that transmit point-to-point wireless serial data. It is possible to have a human-machine interface (HMI) connected to a PLC, but over a wireless connection.
C&I device pricing has finally gained some stability. Since the beginning of the decade these have generally fallen by about 50–60 per cent for proven technologies like inverters, PLCs and servos. There are also some key legislative and standards-based developments that are forcing reverse pricing trends.
These include the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directives, as well as vendor initiatives such as after-sales support levels.
In HMIs, the market is increasingly seeing trends towards full-colour TFT touchscreens with embedded Windows XP and SCADA developments for frontend control.
Large PLC systems are being developed into smaller remote IO systems, making life less complicated and providing greater choice.
Markets are changing and it is likely that over the next 10 years there will be dramatic growth in home technologies, including integrated intelligent houses with energy conservation and recycling.
Hitachi, for example, has introduced bespoke home automation products, to work with intelligent consumer products such as fridges that re-order automatically over the web and intruder alarms that take pictures automatically and broadcast SMS and e-mail warnings of alerts.
Temperature and pressure clearly are still vital variables to measure in practically all plants and factories. But, more and more, the devices and system suppliers are developing solutions for different measurement parameters, such as vibration, speed and velocity.
New legislation has led to an emphasis on measuring power consumption, as people are looking to save energy costs.
Endress+Hauser sees the biggest geographical opportunities for C&I equipment sales in the booming markets of Asia and the far east, especially China.
David Ineson, E+H’s business development manager, industry, said: ‘What we are selling in these relatively new markets does not really differ from our traditional western market sales. It’s the same devices, shifted geographically. And in Russia, particularly, there is less of a legacy situation.’
For E+H, the general pull for C&I technologies is from the automation sector. Higher margin industries, such as pharmaceuticals, are driving the market, said Iain Cropper, key account process manager, global projects.
While improving power management and efficiency and minimising a device’s footprint are seen as key to a C&I product’s development, such as a PLC, the ease of installation and backwards compatibility are often factors that determine whether it will sell.
‘The customer’s decision on a certain type of device is more to do with its effect on overall plant operations than, say, environmental considerations,’ said Ineson.
‘The ability of a device to enable production of a batch of product correctly the first time is relatively more important than efficiency or footprint. Factory managers wish to avoid having to remake a batch of product at all costs.’
E+H likes to differentiate its approach to developing solutions by its relatively high level of investment in research and development. Last year it invested nine per cent of its e850m (£580m) turnover in R&D.
Ineson added: ‘Generally with C&I systems we are measuring parameters such as temperature and pressure. Even the latest, sophisticated instrumentation devices still have to measure the classic variables. The latest E+H solutions target only key analytical functions: level, pressure, flow and temperature, which are variables that are often interdependent.’
Like many vendors, E+H makes a range of flow meters to suit different markets depending on their particular requirements ranging from the D Class ProMass 40-E model to the relatively new ProMass 83-F.
Invensys Process Systems announced its strategy for wireless communications in October. This centres around shared access point technology and common data and security models for all wireless devices — regardless of vendor or application.
Unlike other automation companies’ point solutions, Invensys said its approach provides the foundation to ensure appropriate levels of integration, robustness, and security for all industrial and enterprise wireless applications.
‘Wireless communications will provide a powerful new enabling technology for asset performance management,’ said Chris Lyden, vice-president of marketing at Invensys.
‘Wireless technology makes it possible to incorporate new strategic measurements and other data within our solutions that simply were either not practical or even possible to implement in a wired communications environment.’
The company’s wireless program manager Hesh Kagan said: ‘The good news is that more and more ingenious wireless devices are being introduced. The bad news is that most of these devices utilise different, vendor-specific wireless protocols, technologies, and access points to communicate with the wired communications infrastructure. This can make it very difficult to effectively utilise the data coming from these devices and virtually impossible to ensure appropriate security levels.’
Invensys worked closely with its partners and several large customers to develop its managed wireless network approach that uses shared access point technology for all devices and a common data and security model for all wireless frequencies and protocols, such as WiFi, WiMax, 802.15.4, RFID, ZigBee, VoIP, and proprietary protocols.
Kagan said: ‘With a standardised security model, we can now effectively manage the wireless infrastructure to help ensure appropriate levels of security and performance.’