Blockchain: the future of food traceability?

20/04/2018
Shan Zhan, global business manager at ABB’s food and beverage business, looks at how blockchain* can be used to enhance food traceability.

“The Blockchain, can change…well everything.” That was the prediction of Goldman Sachs in 2015. There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about Blockchain, particularly around Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but just as the investment bank giant predicted, the technology is starting to have more wide-reaching impacts on other sectors.

A report from research consultancy Kairos Future describes blockchain as a founding block for the digitalization of society. With multinationals such as IBM and Walmart driving a pilot project using blockchain technology for traceability, the food and beverage industry needs to look at the need for the protection of traceability data.

The United Nations recognizes food security as a key priority, especially in developing countries. While most countries must abide by strict traceability regulations, which are particularly strong in the EU, other regions may not have the same standards or the data may be at risk of fraud.

Food fraud is described by the Food Safety Net Services (FSNS) as the act of purposely altering, misrepresenting, mislabeling, substituting or tampering with any food product at any point along the farm-to-table food supply chain. Since the thirteenth century, laws have existed to protect consumers against harm from this. The first instance recorded of these laws was during the reign of English monarch King John, when England introduced laws against diluting wine with water or packing flour with chalk.

The crime still exists to this day. While malicious contamination intended to damage public health is a significant concern, a bigger problem is the mislabeling of food for financial gain. The biggest areas of risk are bulk commodities such as coffee and tea, composite meat products and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labelled fish. For example, lower-cost types of rice such as long-grain are sometimes mixed with a small amount of higher-priced basmati rice and sold as the latter. By using blockchain technology in their traceability records, food manufacturers can prevent this from happening.

Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger technology that keeps a digital record of all transactions. The records are broadcasted to a peer-to-peer (P2P) network consisting of computers known as nodes. Once a new transaction is verified, it is added as a new block to the blockchain and cannot be altered. And as the authors of Blockchain Revolution explain, “the blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value”.

When records of suppliers and customers are collected manually, to ensure the end manufacturer can trace the entire process, this does not protect the confidential data of suppliers. Blockchain technology anonymizes the data but it is still sufficient to ensure that the supply chain is up to standard.

In the case of mislabeled basmati rice, blockchain technology would prevent food fraud as the amount of each ingredient going into the supply chain cannot be lower than the volume going out. This would flag the product as a fraudulent product.

Not only can it help to monitor food ingredients, it can also monitor the conditions at the production facility. These are often very difficult to verify and, even if records are taken, they can be falsified. A photo or digital file can be taken to record the situation, such as a fish being caught, to show that it complies with the MSC’s regulations on sustainably caught seafood.

The blockchain will then create a secure digital fingerprint for this image that is recorded in the blockchain, known as a hash. The time and location of the photograph will be encrypted as part of this hash, so it cannot be manipulated. The next supplier in the blockchain will then have a key to this hash and will be able to see that their product has met the regulations.

Food and beverage manufacturers can also use blockchain to ensure that conditions at their production facilities are being met, or any other data that needs to be securely transferred along the production line. While we are not yet advanced enough with this technology to implement across all food and beverage supply chains, increased digitalization and being at the forefront of investment into these technologies will help plant managers to prepare their supply chain against the food fraud threat.

* The Wikipedia entry on Blockchain!

@ABBgroupnews #PAuto #Food @FSNSLABS @MSCecolabel
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Why monitor dust?

17/04/2018
Josh Thomas of Ashtead Technology discusses the reasons for monitoring dust in the workplace.

Almost any place of employment can present a potential threat to health and safety from airborne particulates and aerosols. It is important to note, however, that dust hazards are not necessarily visible to the human eye and that the finest particles can represent the greatest threat because of their ability to travel deepest into the lungs. Effective monitoring is therefore key to the implementation of an effective risk management strategy.

There are two major reasons for monitoring dust in the workplace; to enable air quality management, and for regulatory compliance. The immediate effects of dust can be irritation to eyes, headaches, fatigue, coughing and sneezing. As such, poor indoor air quality can lower employee performance and cause increased absenteeism through sickness. In addition, particulates are known to create long-term deleterious effects, contributing to serious illnesses. In combination with outdoor exposure (to pollution form vehicles for example), the Government has estimated that 29,000 premature deaths occur in the UK every year as a result of particle pollution. This means that, particularly in urban areas, natural ventilation may not necessarily improve indoor air quality.

Dust-TrakEmployers are responsible for ensuring that staff and visitors are not exposed to poor air quality in the workplace, so it is necessary to conduct monitoring. Accurate and effective monitoring data can be used to check exposure levels and to help identify safe working practices.

Monitoring also helps to demonstrate compliance with relevant regulations. COSHH is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), employers can prevent or reduce workers’ exposure to hazardous substances by finding out what the health hazards are; by deciding how to prevent harm to health; by providing effective control measures; by providing information and training; by providing monitoring and health surveillance, and by planning for emergencies.

In order to evaluate workplace safety, monitoring data is compared with Workplace Exposure levels (WELs) which prescribe the maximum exposure level to a hazardous substance over a set period of time. Failure to comply with COSHH and WELs can result in financial penalties, prosecutions and civil claims.

Indoor air quality is affected by both internal and external factors. Air pollution may arise from external sources such as neighbouring factories, building and development activities, or from vehicles – especially those with diesel engines. Internally, air quality is affected by working practices and business processes. For example, dust may arise from raw materials such as powders, or it may be produced by processes that generate particulates; including dust, mist, aerosols and smoke. In all cases, internal and external, it is important to identify both the source and the seriousness of the problem, so that appropriate and effective mitigation measures can be implemented. These might include, for example, ventilation, process dust prevention, the management of shift patterns, personal protection equipment (PPE) and alarm systems.

Regulatory requirements to monitor
Under the British Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, employers have a legal duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees. Furthermore, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (GB) require employers to assess and control risks to protect their employees. A key element of this is the requirement to comply with the COSHH Regulations. The HSE says that exposure measurement is required:

  • For COSHH assessment, to help select the right controls
  • Where there is a serious risk to health from inhalation
  • To check that exposure limits are not exceeded
  • To check the performance of exposure controls
  • To help select the right respiratory protection equipment
  • To check exposure following a change in a process
  • To show any need for health surveillance; or
  • When an inspector issues an ‘Improvement Notice’ requiring monitoring

The COSSH Regulations include dust, mist, vapour, fumes and chemicals, but they do not cover Lead or Asbestos. Specific requirements exist for certain industries such as construction. Generally, WELs relate to particulate diameter because the health effects of particulates are heavily influenced by their size.

Inhalable dust is that which enters the nose or mouth during breathing and is available for deposition in the respiratory tract. It includes particles with a width between 2.5 and 10 microns (PM2.5 – PM10), and the WEL for this fraction is 10 mg/m3 as an 8-hour Time Weighted Average (TWA).

Respirable dust is the fraction that penetrates deep into the gas exchange region of the lungs. It includes particles with a width between 1 and 2.5 microns (PM1– PM2.5), and the WEL for this fraction is 4 mg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA. Lower specific WELs exist for particulates that present a greater threat to health. For example, Silica dusts have a WEL of just 0.1 mg/m3 respirable dust as an 8-hour TWA.

The costs of non-compliance
In addition to the enormous numbers of premature deaths that result from exposure to outdoor air pollution, there are also numerous well-documented instances demonstrating the harm caused by exposure to indoor pollution from dust, smoke, aerosols and vapour. For example, a 46-year-old cook developed breathing problems after working with flour in a school kitchen with poor ventilation. Her breathing problems became so severe that she could hardly walk and had to sleep sitting up. She became severely asthmatic and had to retire early on health grounds. With the support of her Union she made a compensation claim on the basis that decent working conditions were not provided, and the council admitted that it had not taken sufficient action despite repeated complaints. Consequently, the courts awarded the cook £200,000 (€230k) in damages.

In another example, between 1995 and 2004, a solderer was exposed to rosin based solder fumes and suffered health deterioration and breathing problems including asthma. An investigation conducted by the HSE found that the company did not have adequate control measures in place and failed to install fume extraction equipment. Furthermore, the company did not employ rosin-free solder until December 2003, despite an assessment having identified the need in 1999. The company was subsequently fined £100,000 (€116k) with £30,000 (€35k) costs, a punishment which attracted both local and national media attention.

Monitoring dust
A wide variety of methods exist for the measurement of dust, and the choice of equipment is dictated by the application. For example, it is obviously important to employ a technology that is able to measure the particulates that will be present. In addition, it will be necessary to determine whether monitoring should be continuous, at a single point, or whether portable instruments are necessary to check multiple locations. Monitoring might be conducted in a work space, or personal sampling might be undertaken in order to assess the exposure of an individual over an entire shift.

Personal Sampling Pumps represent the preferred method for workplace exposure monitoring where it is necessary to demonstrate regulatory compliance or where legal dispute is a possibility. An HSE document (MDHS 14/4) provides workplace exposure monitoring guidance for collecting respirable, thoracic and inhalable aerosol fractions. The samples collected by this process are analysed in a laboratory, which means that chemical analysis is also possible. However, the sampling method incurs a delay and incurs extra cost.

In response to the wide variety of applications and monitoring requirements, Ashtead Technology stocks a comprehensive range of monitors for both sale and rental, providing customers with complete financial and technical flexibility. As a TSI Gold Partner, Ashtead Technology provides a comprehensive range of maintenance and calibration services; helping customers to ensure that their monitoring equipment remains in optimal condition. Ashtead’s fleet of rental equipment includes large numbers of the latest TSI instruments, supported by the highest levels of service and technical assistance. Employing advanced light-scattering laser photometers, the TSI products are supplied with a calibration certificate and provide real-time, direct-reading aerosol monitoring and analysis of different particulate fractions in workplace, cleanroom, HVAC, fugitive emissions and environmental monitoring applications.

The TSI range of dust monitors is continually being developed to bring new levels of functionality to the market. For example, the new lightweight AM520 Personal Dust Monitor is able to measure and log PM10, Respirable (PM4), PM5 (China Respirable), PM2.5, PM1 or 0.8μm Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM), providing real-time audible and visual alarms, and running from a rechargeable battery for up to 20 hours. For outdoor applications, the MCERTS approved Environmental DustTrak is web-enabled, providing a quick and easy dust monitoring solution for applications such as building and development projects.

@ashteadtech #PAuto @TSIIncorporated

Robotics: A new revenue source for the taxman?

16/04/2018
Robot tax? A tax on robotics is as absurd an idea as a tax on pencils. As Britain’s political parties discuss a potential tax on automation and robotics, Nigel Smith, managing director of Toshiba Machine partner, TM Robotics, explains why slowing down the machine economy would lead to a productivity disaster.

The world’s first robot tax was introduced in South Korea last year. The tax was created amid fears that a rise in automation and robotics was threatening human workers and could lead to mass unemployment in the country. But, this so-called robot tax was not actually a tax at all. Instead, the country limited tax incentives for investments in automation, lessening the existing tax breaks for automation.

Calling it a tax was simply rhetoric delivered by its opponents. Essentially, it was just a revision of existing tax laws. Regardless of its name, South Korea’s announcement sparked several debates as to whether a robot tax would be advantageous in other countries.

At the time, Bill Gates famously called for a technology levy, suggesting that a tax could balance the Government’s income as jobs are lost to automation. The levy was suggested to slow down the pace of change and provide money for Government to increase job opportunities in other sectors.

Taxing robots?

Fewer workers, fewer tax contributions
While most manufacturers and those operating in the robotics sector would disagree with the idea of a tax on robots, the debate does raise questions of how we tax employment in Britain — and how technology could affect this. The obvious fear at Government level is that if we replace people with robots, we reduce national insurance contributions, lessening a Government’s ability to support its people.

As an alternative, perhaps the answer to this problem is switching to a system where, rather than paying tax per employee through national insurance contributions, NIC was formulated based on a company’s overall operating costs. Using this method, NIC could take account of the impact of all forms of advanced technology, not just robots.

That being said, we are not tax experts at TM Robotics. However, we are experts in industrial robots. We sell industrial robots to manufacturers across the globe and advise them on how robots can increase productivity, efficiency and in turn, create new jobs.

Creating, not destroying jobs
Much of the debate about the potential robot tax has focused on the threat that robots and automation pose to humans. However, we should remember that robots don’t always replace a human job, often they work alongside people to reduce the risk of injury — particularly in the supply chain.

Consider this as an example. TM Robotics recently introduced a robot box opening cell to its range of industrial equipment. This type of automation would typically to be used by companies like DHL and UPS who are delivering product directly into manufacturing plants and retail warehouses to allow them to reduce the risk of injuries from knives. In this instance, a robot tax would undermine a company’s ability to deliver a safe environment for its workers.

The bottom line is that robots create jobs, they don’t take them away. This is supported by the British Government’s recent Made Smarter review on digitalisation in industry. The review concludes that over the next ten years, automation could boost British manufacturing by £455 billion (€525 billion), with a net gain of 175,000 jobs.

Robots are tools and they will create work, especially new kinds of work — taxing them would be a tax on net job creation. Instead of implementing a tax on robots, we should actually be providing tax breaks for companies investing in robotics.

@TMRobotics #PAuto #Robotics @StoneJunctionPR

Helping provide reliable flood protection in Switzerland.

11/04/2018

Extreme weather is becoming increasingly common throughout the world, making flooding a growing threat. Flood defence measures have traditionally been based on mechanical equipment, but innovative automation technology can now be used to provide greater protection for people and the local environment. AWA – the Office for Water and Waste in the Swiss canton of Berne – is using this latest technology to regulate water levels at the region’s Brienzersee, Thuner and Bielersee lakes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“Water level regulation must protect people from flooding and prevent damage – ideally in an economically justifiable way,” said Dr Bernhard Wehren, head of maritime regulation at AWA. “Some of our important control operations are particularly time-critical, but until recently, we relied on dataloggers that only sent the different measurements we require every few hours or so. Now, thanks to the new state-of-the-art technology we have implemented, this happens in real time. It is therefore very important that the data communications technology supports this by reliably meeting all the challenges and requirements of our unique mission-critical communications infrastructure.”

Modernising facilities
To help provide the most reliable flood protection, AWA decided to modernise its water regulation facilities for the lakes, encompassing four historic locks, the large Port of Bruggweir and accompanying hydropower plant, and a flood relief tunnel. Due to the increasing demand for the availability of more data, AWA also decided to upgrade all the measurement stations with state-of-the-art technology. The measurement stations play a crucial role in regulating water levels in the lakes.

When developing a plan to modernise the equipment, great attention was paid to both operational safety and system redundancy. There was a need to address the obsolete electrical engineering at Port of Brugg. This would include the conversion of all existing drives and the renewal of the energy supply, a large part of the cabling and the control and monitoring elements for the five weirs. Regulation and control technology also needed attention. Not only was there a need for redundancy in the event of a device failure or a line interruption, but also in case of communication disruptions, such as interruptions to the internet connection.

BKW Energie AG was appointed as the technical service provider and after a thorough review of suitable data communications technology companies, they chose Westermo to provide its robust networking solutions for the project.

Fast communication performance
“Crucial to the selection of Westermo was that their products met our high standards and requirements for the project. This included fast communication performance, multiple routing ports per device, high MTBF periods, extended temperature ranges and very low power consumption,” said Rénald Marmet, project engineer at BKW Energie. “Another factor was the operation and parameterisation of the networking hardware via the WeOS operating system. Also, the extremely efficient and time-saving update capability provided by the WeConfig network management software, which enables the central configuration and management of all Westermo devices.”

The main control network incorporates the AWA control centre in the capital, Berne,and further control centres at the water locks, Thun and Interlaken, each with one SCADA server and redundant controller. The control centres connect to 29 substations (measuring points). Eight SCADA clients access these servers. There is also a SCADA server located in the hydropower plant, providing BKW employees with access. The hydropower plant part is monitored by the BKW control centre in Mühleberg.

Westermo networking technology allows all data to be transferred in real-time between the participating sites. Should an emergency arise, this enables those responsible to take the appropriate measures immediately to ensure the best possible protection against flooding. Also, maintenance and software updates for all the installed Westermo networking devices can be performed easily and quickly with just a few mouse clicks.

In total, Westermo provided thirty of its RFIR-227 Industrial Routing Switches, twenty-seven VDSL Routers, twenty-fiveMRD-4554G Mobile Routers, thirty-five Lynx 210-F2G Managed Ethernet Switches with Routing Capability, thirty-six L110-F2G Industrial Layer -2 Ethernet Switches, and over eighty 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps SFP fibre optic transceivers via multimode and single-mode fibre for distances up to 80km.

Greater network redundancy
The three control centres all have two firewall routers connecting them to the internet providers and enabling them to receive or set up the IPsec and OpenVPN tunnels. There are also two redundant Siemens Simatic S7-400controllers installed in a demilitarized zone (DMZ) and a WinCC SCADA server connected to the local network. The AWA SCADA station has the same design, but without the control functionality.

BKW took care not only to create network redundancy, but also to set up redundant routes to the internet providers. The VDSL routers use the service provider Swisscom, and the MRD-455 4G mobile radio routers are equipped with SIM-cards from Sunrise. The heart of the main network – the three control centres and the AWA control centre- are linked by IPsec-VPN Tunnels and Generic Routing Encapsulation(GRE) and form the automation backbone via Open Shortest Path First(OSPF) technology.

The result of this is that even should there be simultaneous connection failure to an internet provider in one location and the other provider at another station, or the total failure of one provider, communication between all centres, the connected remote stations and the remote access by BKW or AWA is still possible.

For increased safety, the external zones are segmented further. The service technicians can connect to the control centres through an OpenVPN tunnel and have access to all measuring stations on the network.

There are two different types of measuring stations. The high availability station consists of two completely separate networks. Each PLC is installed ‘behind’ a Westermo Lynx 210 device, which acts as a firewall and establishes the connection to the control centre via an OpenVPN tunnel. The redundant internet access is provided either via a VDSL router, which is connected to Swisscom, or a MRD-455 with Sunrise as the provider. A ‘standard’ station has only one PLC with a Lynx 210 acting as a firewall router and building the VPN tunnels in parallel via the two internet routers.

Security requirements
As well as network redundancy, security was also part of the requirements to guarantee high communication availability. The network implemented by BKW and Westermo provides the necessary security in accordance with recommendations found in the BDEW whitepaper and IEC-62443 standard. The outstations not only form their own zone, but other areas are also segmented where necessary. The network for the SCADA servers in the control centres is also decoupled from the backbone using two VRRP routers.

The flood defence system now has one of the most modern data communication systems in Switzerland. Explaining why this is so important to AWA, Dr Bernhard Wehren said: “Protection against flooding must be guaranteed at all times. Depending on the meteorological or hydrological situation, the availability of the required measured values is critical. Because access to the measuring stations in the extensive regions of the canton is generally very time-consuming, network device failures and communication interruption must be kept to a minimum. It is therefore extremely important that all components of our communication systems meet the highest standards, offer extreme reliability and can be upgraded to meet new requirements.”

“We were able to simplify processes, make them secure, redundant and transparent for the engineering department via VPN connections. This contributes significantly to the simple, safe and efficient maintenance of the system,” Rénald Marmet said. “Thanks to the extensive cooperation with Westermo network engineers, we were able to create the ideal solution that meets all requirements and was delivered on time. Westermo’s reliable networking technologies have given AWA and BKW the opportunity to build individual data communication solutions for critical industrial applications, while providing scalable, future-proof applications. The solution also offers all involved a high degree of investment security.”

#Switzerland. @Westermo @bkw #Environment #PAuto

Bob Lally – Piezoelectric sensing technology pioneer.

27/03/2018

Molly Bakewell Chamberlin, president, Embassy Global LLC pays touching tribute to an important instrument pioneer and innovator. She acknowledges the help of Jim Lally, retired Chairman of PCB Group in preparing this eulogy.

Bob Lally (1924-2018)

During my earliest days in the sensors industry, at PCB Piezotronics (PCB), I can still remember the excitement which accompanied publication of my first technical article. It was a primer on piezoelectric sensing technology, which ran some 15 years ago in the print edition of Sensors. About a month later, I recall receiving a package at PCB, containing both a copy of my article and a congratulatory letter. The article was covered in a sea of post-it notes, filled with new insights and explanatory diagrams. I recall marveling at the sheer kindness of anyone taking such time and interest in the work. I’d sent an immediate thank you, then received yet another encouraging response.  From that time onward, nearly each time I’d publish an article, another friendly envelope would arrive. I’d look forward to them, and the opportunities for learning and growth they’d offered.

As I’d soon come to know, those envelopes were sent by none other than PCB Founder, Bob Lally, who passed away last month at the age of 93. For me, Bob was my PCB pen pal, who along with his brother, Jim, helped me to develop a real appreciation for piezoelectric sensing technology. They made it fun. I also had the privilege of learning quite a bit about this kind, brilliantly complex and insightful person who was so helpful to me. To the sensors industry, Bob’s technical contributions were legendary. What is less known about Bob, however, were his equally remarkable histories, first as a decorated veteran of WW II; and later, as an innovator in STEM.

After graduating from high school in 1942, Bob entered military service, as part of the United States Army which helped liberate mainland Europe during World War II. His service was recognised with two Bronze Stars for bravery. When the hostilities ended, Bob returned home, and was able to benefit from a special U.S. government program which funded the university education of military veterans and their families. This benefit allowed Bob to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. He graduated with high honors, as University co-salutatorian, in 1950. Bob also later continued this commitment to lifelong learning via studies at both Purdue and the State University of New York at Buffalo (NY USA).

Bob’s first engineering job upon graduation was as a guidance and control engineer at Bell Aircraft Corp. (Bell) in Buffalo, (NY USA). This a position in which he would serve for four years. He worked in test flight control systems R&D for experimental aircraft, glide bombs and guided missiles. He also supervised the inertial guidance group. It was from his work at Bell that Bob first learned about the application of piezoelectric sensing technology for the dynamic measurement of physical parameters, such as vibration, pressure, and force. That technology was first developed by Bob’s colleague, Walter P. Kistler, the Swiss-born physicist who had successfully integrated piezoelectric technology into Bell’s rocket guidance and positioning systems.

Original PCB Piezotronics facility in the family home of Jim Lally, ca 1967. Bob Lally, centre background, is operating a DuMont oscilloscope in the Test department.
Jim Lally, left foreground, leads the Sales department.

In 1955, Bob and some of his Bell colleagues decided to form what was the original Kistler Instrument Company. That company sought to further commercialize piezoelectric sensing technologies for an expanded array of applications and markets, beyond the aerospace umbrella. In addition to his role as co-founder, Bob remained at the original Kistler Instrument Company for 11 years, serving as VP of Marketing, while continuing his roles in engineering, production, testing, and sales. Upon learning that the company was being sold to a firm out of Washington State, Bob decided to form PCB Piezotronics. Established in 1967, PCB specialized in the development and application of integrated electronics within piezoelectric sensors for the dynamic measurement of vibration, pressure, force and acceleration. The original PCB facility had rather humble beginnings, with all sales, marketing, R&D and operations running from the basement of Jim Lally’s family home.

IR-100 Award plaque, presented to Bob Lally, 1983.

It was also in this timeframe that Bob became world-renowned for his capability to successfully integrate piezoelectric sensing technology into mechanical devices, setting a new industry standard for test and measurement. He was awarded multiple U.S. patents for these innovations, including the modally-tuned piezoelectric impact hammer, pendulum hammer calibrator, and gravimetric calibrator, all for the modal impact testing of machines and structures. The modally tuned impulse excitation hammer was further recognized with a prestigious IR-100 award, as one of the top 100 industry technical achievements of 1983.

Bob was also renowned for his successful commercialization of a two-wire accelerometer with built-in electronics. That concept was marketed by PCB as integrated circuit piezoelectric, or ICP. Bob’s 1967 paper for the International Society of Automation (ISA), “Application of Integrated Circuits to Piezoelectric Transducers”, was among the first formally published technical explanations of this concept. As Bob had detailed, the application of this technology made the sensors lower cost, easier to use and more compatible with industrial environments. Subsequent widespread industry adoption of these accelerometers created new markets for PCB, such as industrial machinery health monitoring, and formed a major cornerstone for the company’s success. In 2016, PCB was acquired by MTS Systems Corporation and employs more than 1000 worldwide, with piezoelectric sensing technologies still among its core offerings.

Beyond Bob’s many R&D accomplishments, he is known for his invaluable contributions to the establishment of industry standards and best practices, as a member of the technical standards committees of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Society for Experimental Mechanics (SEM), and Industrial Electronics Society (IES), among others. Bob also served on the ISA Recommended Practices Committee for Piezoelectric Pressure Transducers and Microphones, as well as the ASA Standards Committee for Piezoelectric Accelerometer Calibration. Many of the standards that Bob helped to develop, as part of these committees, remain relevant today.

Upon retirement, Bob remained committed to the education and training of the next generation of sensors industry professionals. He often gave tutorials and donated instrumentation for student use. Bob later continued that work as an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati. In the mid-2000s, he began to develop an innovative series of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) educational models. Each was designed to provide a greater understanding of various sensing technologies, their principles of operation, and “real life” illustrations of practical applications.

STEM sensing model, with adjustable pendulums, by Bob Lally.

Among Bob’s final works was a unique STEM model consisting of three adjustable connected pendulums. That model was used to illustrate the concept of energy flex transference and the influence of physical structural modifications on structural behavior. Bob continued his mentoring and STEM work nearly right up until his passing. He did so with unwavering dedication and enthusiasm, despite being left permanently disabled from his combat injuries.

In addition to co-founding two of the most successful sensor manufacturers in history and his many R&D accomplishments, Bob’s generosity of spirit shall remain an important part of his legacy. I, like many, remain truly grateful for the selfless and meaningful contributions of Bob Lally to my early professional development, particularly in my technical article work. It is an honour to tell his story.

• He is survived by his son, Patrick (Kathi) Lally of Orchard Park, New York; his grandson, Joshua Lally; his surviving siblings, Jim, MaryAnn (Wilson), and Patricia; and his many nieces, nephews, friends and colleagues.

• Special thanks to Jim, Kathi and Patrick Lally for their support and contributions to this article.

• All pictures used hear are by kind courtesy of the Lally family.

Methane detection in mines.

21/03/2018

Mining is big business, with the world’s 50 largest mining companies worth a total of 1 trillion dollars (€0.81 trillion). Worldwide, the mining industry is responsible for the direct employment of 3.7 million people, with over 150 million indirectly supported by small-scale mining operations.  Many other sectors, such as high-tech industry, are also entirely dependent on mined supplies of materials.

Guardian NG detects methane

There is inherent danger in creating and operating within subterranean tunnels which results in a high mining date rate, over 5 deaths per day due to mining accidents recorded in China alone. This is a worldwide problem, with high-profile incidents in the last 10 years occurring in New Zealand, Russia and the US among others.

The most common source of mining accidents, particularly in coals mines, is an explosion of methane gas. Methane is a colourless, odourless gas which is trapped in mines as part of the coal formation process. As coal is formed from compressed plant matter methane is produced as a by-product then, when rocks are excavated, methane is released into the local atmosphere with potential deadly consequences.

Methane Explosions in Mines
Methane explosions in mines are the result of the concentration of a methane leak in a closed environment. If methane reaches a critical concentration in the air, which is between 5 to 15 % it can react with the oxygen to form carbon dioxide, water and heat. This reaction needs a source of ignition to begin. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an open flame, sparks from mining processes, or a high localised temperature (over 600 °C) on hot equipment, can be enough to cause an explosion.

The pressure wave created by a methane explosion is often more dangerous than the initial explosion. The waves can displace large amounts of coal dust, spreading highly flammable particles throughout the air. The dust can ignite as part of a chain reaction, spreading flames along the mining shaft, consuming any available oxygen to further fuel the fire and generating large amounts of toxic gases.

Safety Measures to Avoid Methane Explosions
Methane release is unavoidable in coal mines as it is always present. The problem with methane explosions is not just restricted to active mining sites either. Many abandoned also leak methane gas, potentially into residential areas where it can still reach high enough concentrations to be at risk of explosion.

The risk of methane gas accumulation in mines means that gas sensing is an essential part of any mining safety network. To reduce the risk of methane build up, ventilation equipment is used in mines to keep methane concentrations below the explosion limit.

Sensors can be placed at ventilation exits to mine, measuring the outgassing of methane to determine that the methane concentration in the mine itself is not close to critical methods. External sensors are also important to monitor the release of methane to the environment surrounding the mine.

In order for gas sensing to be an effective safety measure, the gas sensors used must be able to detect low methane concentrations at a high reliability.

The Guardian NG for Methane Detection
One sensor range that is suited to the critical safety issue of detecting methane outgassed from mines is the Guardian NG series from Edinburgh Sensors. Capable of detecting methane concentrations between 0-1%, these infra-red based sensors are sensitive enough to detect even the smallest of leaks.

The Guardian NG series is designed as an easy-to-use, standalone gas sensor that can continually monitor and log methane concentrations in conditions where the gas is present between 0 – 100 % volume, with the most sensitive sensor being able to detect between 0-1%. The sensor has an impressively rapid 1.5 minute warm-up time and is capable of operating in a range of conditions varying from 0 – 95 % relative humidity and 0 – 45 °C.

What makes the Guardian NG series particularly well-suited to mining applications is they can be easily integrated in to existing ventilation equipment. As the sensor itself is electronic and could generate sparks, it should be situated on the surface of the mine measuring gas concentrations released from the mine vents. This provides a guarantee that ventilation systems are working and can also be used to monitoring the off-gassing of old mining sites.

Infra-red sensors offer some advantages over the traditional heat of combustion sensors that are typically used for mining applications and are commonly used in other areas where methane detection is required as methane absorbs infra-red light very strongly at characteristic wavelengths. They also offer faster response times and potentially have longer service lives than heat of combustion sensor alternatives.

One huge advantage of IR sensors in safety applications is the fail-safe nature of the technology. If the IR lamp, and therefore the sensor, fails then no signal is received by the detector, which is an equivalent effect to the sensor detecting a high methane concentration. As a result, a full alarm would sound, notifying staff that the sensor has failed and there is a potentially dangerous situation.

With its sensitivity and accuracy for methane detection and short response time of less than 30 seconds from sample injection, the Guardian NG series offers one answer to the critical safety issue of explosion prevention in mining.

 

@Edinst #PAuto

Connecting, communicating and creating in Netherlands.

14/03/2018

The country of the Netherlands is where the Rhine enters the sea. It is a country which has physically built itself out of the inhospitable North Sea. Often called Holland – which is the name of one (actually two) of its provinces – it even more confusingly for the English speaking world inhabited by the Dutch speaking Dutch. If you really want to know more about Holl.. er sorry, The Netherlands watch the video at the bottom of this piece.

Although not officially the capital of The Netherlands, Amsterdam is, The Hague is the seat of Government and official residence of the King. It was selected by the Emerson User Group as the venue for their European, Middle East & African assembly, refereed to as #EMrex on twitter. These assemblies – can we say celebrations? – occur every two years. The last was held in Brussels, the capital of the neighbouring Kingdom of the Belgians and of the European Union. An sccount of happenings there are in our postin “All change at Brussel Centraal.” (18/4/2016)

Lots of pictures from the event!

The size of this event was in marked contrast to the Brussels meet which was overshadowed by the terrible terrorist attacks in that city only three weeks earlier which presented transport difficulties. This time there were over one thousand six hundred delegates filling the huge hall of the Hague Convention Centre.

Another difference referred to in many of the discussions both formal and informal were the two great uncertainties effecting all businesses and industries – the possibility of a trade war with the USA under its current administration and nearer home the aftermath of the BREXIT decision – the exit of the British from the largest economic bloc on the planet. Many developments have been put on the long finger pending clarification on these issues.

Mary Peterson welcomes delegates

Why are we here?
This event continued in the vein of previous meetings. The emphasis continuing to move to perhaps a more philosophical and certainly a more holistic view of how the automation sector can help industry. This was made clear in the introductory welcome by Novartis’s Mary Peterson, Chair of the User Group, when she posed the question, “Why are we here?”

“This is a conference for users by users.” she said. It is a place to discuss users’ practical experiences; continuing our profissional development; learning best practice and proven solutions and technology roadmaps. But above all it presented an opportunity to connect with industry leaders, users and of course Emerson experts.

For other or more detailed information on happenings and/or offerings revealed at this event.
News Releases

and on Twitter #EmrEx

The emphasis is on the totality of services and packages not on individual boxes. Emerson’s European President Roel Van Doren was next to address the assembly. We should know our plant but be unafraid to use expertese and knowledge to keep it fit for purpose. Monitor the plant constantly, analyse what is required and then act. This means seeing how the latest advances might improve production. This means harnessing the “new technologies.” In passing he drew our attention that Emerson had been recognised earlier this year as ‘Industrial IoT Company of the Year’ by IoT Breakthrough.

The path is digital
A very striking presentation was given by Dirk Reineld, Senior VP Indirect Procurement with BASF. He brought us to the top of Rome’s Via de Conciliazione on 19th April 2005. We saw the huge crowd looking towards the centre balcony as the election of a new pope was announced. He then moved forward to the 13th March in 2013, the same place but what a difference in such a short time. This time it seemed that everybody had a mobile phone held to take photographs of the announcement of the election of Francis. All we could see was a sea of little screens. He used this to emphasize a point “We are underestimating what is happening & its speed.” This is not helped by a natural conservatism among plant engineers. Change is happening and we either embrace it or get left behind. It is becoming more and more clear that in front of us “the path is digital!” He presented some useful examples of digitalisation and collaboration at BASF.

PRESENTATIONS

Registered delegates have access to slides from the main presentation programme. These slides are available for download via the Emerson Exchange 365 community (EE365).

Emerson Exchange 365 is separate from the Emerson Exchange website that presenters & delegates used before Exchange in The Hague. So, to verify your attendance at this year’s conference, you must provide the email you used to register for Exchange in The Hague. If you are not already a member of EE365 you will be required to join.

To access the presentations, visit The Hague 2018 and follow the prompts. The first prompt will ask you to join or sign in.

Something in this particular EmrEx emphasised how things are moving and those unprepared for the change. Among some of the press people and others there was disappointment expressed that there was not a printed programme as in previous years. This correspondent is used to going away into a corner and combing through the printed agenda and selecting the most relevant sessions to attend. This was all available on line through the “Emerson Exchange Web App.” This was heralded as a “a great preshow planning tool.” All we had to do was enter a link into our our web-browser on our phones and away you went. Yes this is the way to go certainly and although I am inclined to be adventurous in using social media etc I and some (if not many) others found this a step too far to early. It was not clear that a printed version of the programme would not be available and the first hour of a conference is not the best time to make oneself au fait with a new app.

Having said that while many of the journos took notes using pencil and paper they were not adverse to taking photos of the presentation slades so they could not be said to qualify as complete luddites!

Terrific progress but…

Rewards of efficiency
This event was being held at the same time as CERAWeek 2018 in which Emerson was an important participant. Some Emerson executives thus made the trans Atlantic journey to make presentations. One of those was Mike Train, Emerson’s Executive President who delivered his talk with no apparent ill effects. In effect he was asking a question. “Just how effective is progress?” Yes, we HAVE made phenomenal progress in the last 30 years. “Modern automation has made plants more efficient, reliable and safer, but, the ‘Efficiency Era’ is reaching diminishing returns….Productivity seems to be stagnation while the workforce is stretched.”

He postulated five essential competancies for digital transformation.

  1. Automated workflows: Eliminate repetitive tasks and streamline standard operations.
  2. Decision support: Leverage analytics and embedded exportise.
  3. Mobility: Secure on-demand access to information and expertese.
  4. Change management: Accelerate the adoption of operational best practices.
  5. Workforce upskilling: Enable workers to acquire knowledge and experience faster.

Making the future!

Making the future
The next speaker was Roberta Pacciani, C&P Manager Integrated Gas and Upstream Technology with Shell. She is also President of the Women’s Network at Shell Netherlands. She spoke on leveraging the best available talent to solve future challenges. I suppose that we would have classified this as a feminist talk but of course it isn’t. As the presenter said it is not so much a feminist issue as a people issue. “Closing the gender gap in engineering and technology makes the future.”  This was a useful presentation (and in this correspondent’s experience unusual) and hopefully will be helpful in changing perceptions and preconceptions in STEM and our own particular sector.

As partof EmrEX there is an exhibition, demonstration area. Delegates may see innovative technologies applied to their plant environment. They meet with experts about topics such as getting their assets IIoT ready or how to use a Digital Twin to increase performance and explore options to prepare their plant for the future. As a guide – printed as well as on-line – the produced a Metro-like guide.
Using this we could embark on a journey through products, services and solutions where Emerson together with their partners could help solve operational and project challenges.

One of the most popular exhibits was the digital workforce experience. Here we visited a plant and were transported magically to former times to see just how different plant management is now and particularly with the help of wireless and digitisation.

It happened!

One of the good things about this sort of event is the opportunity to meet friends for the first time though social media. Sometimes one does not know they are attending unless the tweet something. Thus I realised that an Emerson engineer was present and so I went looking for him in the expos area. This it was that Aaron Crews from Austin (TX US) and I met for the first time after knowing each other through twitter & facebook for a frightening ten years. Another of these virtual friends, Jim Cahill, says, “It hasn’t happened without a picture!” So here is that picture.

The following morning there were a series of automation forum dedicated to various sectors. The Life-Sciences Forum was one which was very well attended.  Ireland is of course a leader in this sector and we hope to have a specific item on this in the near future. Emerson have invested heavily in the national support services as we reported recently.

Each evening there were social events which provided further opportunities for networking. One of these was a visit to the iconic Louwman Transport Museum where reside possibly the largest collections of road vehicles from sedan chairs through the earliest motor cars up to the sleekest modern examples. These are all contained in a beautiful building. The display was very effectively presented and one didn’t have to be a petrol-head – and believe me there were some among the attendance – to appreciate it.

It is impossible to fully report an event like this in detail. One can follow it on twitter as it happens of course. And there will be copies of many of the presentations and videos of some of the sessions on the website.

The Emerson User Group Exchange – Americas will continue “spurring innovation” in San Antonio (TX USA) from 1st to 5th October 2018. It looks exciting too.

We promised at the top of this blog an exposé of the country often called Holland in English –


So now you know!

@EMR_Automation #Emrex #Pauto