Powering valves with digital power

Powering valves with digital power

7:36 AM, 6th October 2018
Dr. Andreas Widl, CEO, SAMSON AG
Dr. Andreas Widl, CEO, SAMSON AG.

In an interview, Dr. Andreas Widl, CEO, SAMSON AG with Chemical Today magazine deliberates on how a simple, common valve has dramatically changed its function to sieve information, communicate, self-diagnose any errors in the process chain and save millions for a company.

By Shivani Mody

Global trends in control valves, actuators and automation systems.

Every chemical plant is different and operated in different ways. But in future, there will be a lot more automation coming in and modular automation will be on the rise. Functional building blocks will help to significantly reduce capital expenditure. We also believe in a common software and hardware architecture for the future of automation with open standards for everybody who wants to contribute.

Today’s DCS (distributed control systems) are like monoliths, well designed for operational safety and security but with limited flexibility and heavily dependent on suppliers’ standard. This is the point where IIoT will change the game and distributed intelligence in a factory can be utilized. We need to gain data from the field to increase the operational performance. Over time, the strict separation layers of the automation pyramid will disappear and be replaced by an open architecture. We believe that all trends in automation will become much more effective and efficient and lower capital expenditure. Again, IIoT is a game changer.

Field devices, such as valves, pumps and sensors, will be connected, provide real-time data and support a continuous improvement process in the plant operation. In the future, every SAMSON valve will become an intelligent process node which is able to communicate, run self-diagnosis and provide process-critical information. The more valves you have distributed in the plant, the higher the swarm intelligence, the longer the valves run, the more you learn about the process. We consider our valves to be a major contributor to automation intelligence.

Design and materials used in manufacturing of valves.

Valves are exposed to higher pressures and higher temperatures, so we need to explore different materials and geometries to sustain. 3-D printing is an area where we see a lot of opportunities for SAMSON. It provides much more flexibility in manufacturing but also when dealing with complex geometries where traditional methods of manufacturing fail.

We work with ceramics which also has the potential to be used to manufacture new valves geometries and resist abrasive media. So, new materials will help to fulfill higher requirements when it comes to pressure, temperature and media.

Demands and requirements of manufacturers.

The usual demands are low price, on-time delivery and good service. A valve manufacturer always has to meet these three criteria. However, the industry is now slowly understanding that the function of a valve is evolving from controlling the flow of media to gathering information in the process by integrating sensors in the valves. As already stated, we want valves to be a system – a process node – which collects data and communicates with other devices. To do this, we as a valve producer, also have to become an IT company. We deal with the media and the information flow. These are big challenges which bring in big opportunities.

Market potential of valve solutions in developed and emerging markets.

The developed market is very conservative and traditional in its business approach. Operational safety and security remains the most important target. However, industry segments, such as oil and gas or pharmaceuticals, understand that the old way of automation sets hard limits when it comes to improving asset utilization and reducing CAPEX.

Traditional markets take a bit longer to introduce innovations, such as new valves, while in emerging markets, like India and China, we are already seeing a strong affinity towards new technologies and innovation. That is the reason why we are building up local expertise and workforces in both countries.

Automation opportunities in chemical industries in Asia-Pacific region.

We believe that there is a huge opportunity, both in greenfield as well brownfield installations. Again, the industry needs to digitize the manufacturing process through a large number of intelligent valves and positioners, use historic operational data from a database, add real-time data from the field and feed a predictive maintenance system such as SAM GUARD in order to reduce plant downtime. Digitalization is all about making things more transparent, efficient and predictable. Considering the billions of CAPEX installed in the Asia-Pacific region, the opportunities of improved automation are enormous and real.

Company’s valves business in Asia-Pacific.

SAMSON is a 111-year-old company. Our strategy has always been to be present where the customers are located. We have manufacturing plants in China, India, Russia, Turkey, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the USA. With regards to Asia-Pacific we cover the full region with local sales and service centers. This gives us ultimate proximity to understand our customers’ process and applications.

Asset management and digitalization.

Over the past three years, we have been focusing on innovation through digitalization. We have put in place a Chief Digital Officer and a department dealing with digital transformation, invested in various start-up companies, and built an innovation center in Frankfurt for 21 million euro with hundreds of valves, sensors and pumps to obtain real time data. Beside our profound competence in mechanical engineering and mechatronics, we need to expand our expertise in telecommunication, encryption and digital business models. We have to better understand the mechanics of digital marketplaces and the power of open-source development. And we need to learn how to handle internal and external data.

In order to increase the asset utilization of our customers we acquired the Israeli start-up company Precognize. Under the name SAM GUARD (SAM stands for Samson Asset Management) we offer a predictive monitoring and diagnostic system. Machine learning makes it possible for the system to detect anomalies in the plant in advance while monitoring thousands of control valves and field devices in the plant as well.

Indian companies adopting smart technology.

India has a strong affinity towards high technology. We are keen to run SAM GUARD in Indian plants and to have pilot installations of our latest valve generations as Indian top management is very open for innovation. We also see progressive trends in IIoT and artificial intelligence in India.

This trend also applies to China. China tackles its environmental challenges by detecting and measuring every emission, which generates big data. AI is used to improve plant management, processes, reduce emissions and also charge the originator. Considering the highly skilled, educated workforce, I am convinced that India will take advantage of IIoT and AI in order to improve process automation. We hope we can support this trend with our new valve generation and initiative in digitalization.

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