The future of CCD image sensors: Are we seeing the end of an era?

30/03/2015
Sony recently announced its intention to close its 200 mm CCD wafer line in Kagoshima and to stop the manufacture of the majority of Sony’s industrial CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors.

Mark Williamson, Director – Corporate Market Development of Stemmer Imaging, explains how machine vision users and his customers are affected by this decision.

Mark Williamson

Mark Williamson

Question: CCD sensors have been the key enabler of the imaging and machine vision market, with Sony being the largest vendor of CCDs to this market. What has driven this decision?

Williamson: Before the CCD arrived video cameras were based on tube technology which were free running only and came from the broadcast industry. When CCD technology launched it became possible to add specialist features in cameras to enable triggering and hence the ability to synchronise to the production line. This enabled the explosive growth of industrial vision which developed into the industry we know today. However, while Sony CCDs have the largest market share in industrial imaging, the biggest market for image sensors has been larger markets such as consumer cameras, mobile phones, CCTV and broadcast. The importance of the CCD to mankind was recognised by a Nobel prize in Physics in 2009. In the last few years there has been a big shift from CCD to CMOS in these high volume markets which has left the CCD wafer line very underutilised even with the high number of machine vision sensors sold. This makes the factory no longer financially viable.

Question: Historically CCD sensors have outperformed CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) sensors in terms of image quality. Will Sony’s decision reduce the availability of high image quality sensors?

Williamson: Absolutely not, CMOS has traditionally had a reputation for lower image quality, however recent sensors have surpassed the image quality of Sony CCDs in terms of noise and dynamic range. This, coupled with the numerous advantages of CMOS sensors such as speed, lower power consumption, less support electronics and the elimination of tap balancing is the natural evolution of technology. The higher end CCDs from ON Semiconductor (formerly Truesense and Kodak) and the full frame CCDs used in professional photography from Teledyne DALSA are still available for high end applications although over time CMOS will affect this market segment also.

Question:  Are there other advantages of CMOS over CCD technology?

Williamson: From a manufacturing point of view CMOS sensors can be built on standard wafer lines which utilise mainstream manufacturing capacity and competition. From a technical point of view the ability to mix sensor and support circuits on to one device simplifies camera design and allow additional features to be integrated. Multiple regions of interest, and linear scaling of frame rate versus readout region provide application flexibility and high dynamic range modes, additionally the reduction in oversaturated image bleed makes the cameras more tolerant of changing illumination.

Question: What is the share of CCD cameras compared to CMOS cameras Stemmer is selling today?

Williamson: In 2010, 22 % of cameras we sold were based on CMOS sensors. This has risen to 58 % in 2014 with 32 % of cameras using Sony CCDs and the remainder other high end CCDs. With nearly all new camera designs using CMOS the prediction is that in a further 4 years the natural shift would make the CMOS market share approximately 80 %.

Question: What is your expectation of how Sony’s decision will change that ratio in the future?

Williamson: Although Sony has announced the closure, production will not cease until 2017 with the last deliveries in 2020 or even later, depending on the sensor model. This time scale is designed to follow the natural declining trend which is expected to continue and maybe slightly accelerate. With the attractive price: performance ratio of new CMOS cameras new designs are expected to use CMOS anyway.

Question: What are your plans with regards to the announcement?

Williamson: While Sony CCD availability will continue until at least 2020 the camera manufacturers will need to commit to quantities much earlier. Each camera manufacturer may choose to take a different approach, to commit to stock sensors or asking customers to make future commitments. Stemmer Imaging are liaising with all our camera manufacturers to agree their policy and we will communicate this policy if it has any effect on availability to customers. Some models will be available even after 2020.

Question: What is your advice for imaging and machine vision integrators and users that have used CCD cameras in the past?

Williamson: If you build an OEM product that utilises a CCD camera we believe there is no immediate need to change the camera. If there is any risk of your particular camera being made obsolete we will inform you normally with 6 months notice under our End of Life programme. However when selecting a product for a new application we would recommend selecting CMOS sensor based cameras as availability will be longer and also the price: performance ratio will be better. If CCD capability is important remember CCD sensors are available from other companies.

Question:  Are Sony leaving the machine vision sensor market by discontinuing its CCD sensors?

Williamson: Sony have been innovating with CMOS sensors for some time and are investing significantly in expanding their CMOS wafer production capability. They have announced their first CMOS global shutter sensor family under the Pregius name aimed directly at the imaging and machine vision market. The first model named IMX174 is already shipping in a number of our cameras and outperforms the Sony CCD equivalent. With a clear roadmap of further models we will still see Sony sensors in the machine vision market.

Question: Which other players are in the imaging and machine vision sensor market?

Williamson: Over the last 10 years we have seen many small companies launch CMOS image sensors addressing the low cost or high speed market where CCDs could not compete. In recent years a number of these have become significant providers through a combination of innovation and acquisition. While Sony has been the dominant supplier of CCDs to the imaging and machine markets this dominance is not evident with CMOS giving more market choice . Key players besides Sony are ON Semiconductor, CMOSIS, e2v and Teledyne DALSA. Our direct relationship with Teledyne DALSA allows us influence over their sensor strategy so customer needs are valuable input.

Question: With so many manufacturers and sensors how do I choose what?s right for my application?

Williamson: Like any product each manufacturer’s design has advantages and disadvantages. Stemmer Imaging has an in-house EMVA 1288 camera testing facility which is used to characterise cameras and hence the sensors beyond the spec sheet. With this capability, our immense knowledge of sensor and camera technologies and access to the largest number of camera manufacturers and possibly all sensors relevant to our market we are well placed to advise customers as to the sensors and cameras that are best suited to their application. When you are ready to migrate to the new generation of CMOS sensors we are here ready to assist.

• See also: What is the difference between CCD and CMOS image sensors in a digital camera? (How stuff works!)

Increased Activity in Multiple End-use Industries Rejuvenates Global PLC Market!

24/01/2015
Competition spurs innovation in technology and pricing

The global programmable logic controllers (PLC) market witnessed a strong decline in growth in 2012 due to the uncertain economic scenario in the developed world, most notably in the mature markets of North America and Europe. Since 2013, however, the market has witnessed positive growth across all regions. In particular, emerging regions such as Asia-Pacific are displaying uptrends due to increased activity in the construction, water and wastewater, and power industries.

typplcNew analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Global Programmable Logic Controllers Market, finds that the market earned revenues of €8.92 billion ($10.37 billion) in 2013 and estimates this to reach €12.55 billion ($14.58 billion) in 2018. The study covers services, software, modular input/output modules, programmable automation controller as well as large, medium, small and nano PLC. In the coming years, the small and medium PLC segments will be instrumental for market development.

In Europe, the need to enhance efficiency, comply with regulations as well as improve safety and control capabilities are driving the uptake of PLC. Market progress in the rest of the world is primarily fuelled by the desire to optimise assets, engage in reliable process planning, and achieve operational agility.

“With increasing customer demand and intense competition among tier-one companies, the global PLC market is poised to witness a surge in technology and pricing innovation,” said Frost & Sullivan Industrial Automation & Process Control Industry Analyst Karthik Sundaram. “Market participants have been developing products with new design and control functions that surpass traditional definitions.”

For the innovative wave to have a definite impact, boosting the security features in PLC hardware, software, and the network infrastructure should be a key focus area. As cyber security influences end-user perception of PLC, addressing threats will be equally important for continued market expansion.

“PLC manufacturers must offer robust support services, roll out cost-effective products, and communicate winning value propositions to customers,” advised Sundaram. “They should also strive to expand their geographical presence and refine their domain expertise to taste success.”


#WWEM14 “better, bigger, busier!”

21/11/2014
It is harder than ever to prize people away from their desks and laboratories these days, so it is all the more gratifying that WWEM continues to grow, with this year’s event attracting 15% more visitors than WWEM 2012 – that’s consistent growth with every event since the first in 2005.

Running over 2 days in early November, WWEM 2014 was an outstanding success, with sustained growth in every event since the first WWEM in 2005. “In comparison with the last WWEM in 2012, visitor numbers were up by 15% and even though the size of the exhibition was increased by 12% we were still unable to accommodate several potential exhibitors,” reports organiser Marcus Pattison.

WWEM2014WWEM 2014 focused on Water, Wastewater and Environmental Monitoring, and is comprised of a wide range of activities that are designed to update and inform anyone in the water sector with a professional interest in testing and monitoring. “WWEM 2014 was different,” explains Marcus Pattison, “previous WWEM events have included Conferences, Workshops and an Exhibition, but this year’s show also included a number of specialist forums, seminars and a demonstration area, and I believe that this is the major reason for the event’s continued growth. 30% of the exhibitors were so pleased that they re-booked during the show and it is clear that there will be an influx of new exhibitors from those companies that visited WWEM 2014 as delegates.”

Conference: ‘Regulation Updates for Process Operators’
The first day’s conference provided delegates with the latest information on the regulations, technologies and methods that are required for testing and monitoring the environmental emissions of regulated processes. This included advice from Rick Gould on how to obtain a good score in the Environment Agency’s Operator Monitoring Assessment (OMA) – a systematic tool for auditing the monitoring provisions required by legislation. Focusing on water quality monitoring, the Agency’s Andrew Chappell outlined many of the challenges faced by those responsible for this task and explained how the MCERTS scheme has underpinned the quality of monitoring. He also provided an update on the development of a CEN standard (BS EN 16479:2014) for automatic samplers and water quality monitoring equipment, and explained that this could be superseded by an ISO standard.

MCERTS is operated on behalf of the Environment Agency by Sira, and the British Accreditation Service (UKAS) accredits Sira to undertake MCERTS product and personnel certification. Sira’s Emily Alexander explained that whilst monitoring technology has advanced considerably, instrument performance has not always improved at the same rate, which underlines the need for independent testing and certification. Andy Godley from WRc then explained the testing procedure for instruments, both in the field and in the laboratory. Emphasising the need for robust traceable test programmes, Andy said: “Test plans should be agreed as early as possible and variations should be discussed as soon as they occur.”

Finally, Nick Richardson from Siris Environmental outlined ‘the Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ of flow monitoring installations. His presentation featured photographs of good installations in addition to a broad selection of those that left room for improvement. The most common errors highlighted were: non-MCERTS compliant design; over-sized or under-sized installations; poorly designed access for maintenance; installations that are difficult to verify or calibrate, and installations at which the wrong system had been deployed (e.g. weir on inlet).

Laboratory Conference: Accreditation, Innovation and Communication
The second day’s Conference was hosted by the BMTA (British Measurement and Testing Association) and was aimed primarily at managers and senior staff in environmental laboratories, but the techniques and quality procedures discussed were also of interest to staff in other types of laboratory. The presentations dealt with the methods of achieving quality and consistency in sampling and in laboratory measurements, and the speakers represented the national accreditation body, UKAS, large water companies and commercial laboratory-based organisations.

Speakers from UKAS explained that all accredited laboratories should participate in proficiency testing where such schemes are available and relevant to their scope of accreditation. They also provided an outline of TPS 47, the UKAS document on Participation in Proficiency Testing Schemes, which describes the evaluation of participant performance against pre-established criteria by means of inter-laboratory comparisons.

Hazel Davidson from Derwentside Environmental Testing Services (DETS) then explained some of the issues relating to good sampling technique and described how lower limits of detection can be achieved by improved techniques, advanced instrumentation and by using larger sample volumes.

Professor Clive Thompson and Paul Gribble from ALcontrol delivered a presentation entitled: ‘Sampling and analysis in relation to the Priority Substances Directive 2012/39/EU’ in which they explained that some of the environmental quality standards limits that have been set are unrealistically low, “almost to homeopathic levels!” they said. Highlighting the enormous cost incurred by testing for extremely low levels of a large number of compounds, the speakers called for more realistic regulations. “Regulators should liaise with analysts when setting limits, and a group of accredited laboratories should be established to work together to develop achievable standards (similar to MCERTS).”

Explaining the advantages of a new mobile sample tracking technology Kyle Norris from the Water Quality Sampling Team at Northumbrian Water, and Sam Goddard from CSols Ltd gave a presentation on ‘Remote Sampler’, a secure mobile data capture system. Each water sampling technician operates remotely with a handheld device linked through a central hub to a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). The system improves sample data quality by reducing transcription errors while allowing existing accredited sampling procedures to be followed.

South West Water, in collaboration with the University of Portsmouth and Natural Resources Wales, have developed methods using the Chemcatcher™ passive sampler to monitor for a range of acid herbicides including Mecoprop and MCPA, and the molluscicide Metaldehyde in surface waters. This subject was addressed by Lewis Jones, South West Water’s Future Quality Obligations and R&D Manager, who outlined the development of a Chemcatcher-based sampling method for the monitoring of polar pesticides in water.

In the final presentation, Bob Poole from Thermo Fisher Scientific explained how today’s laboratory software can be applied to deliver a fully automated, efficient and intelligent approach to sample receipt and scheduling, resource management, collecting, processing and acting upon results, and securely managing the vast amounts of data produced.

BMSS Seminar
A further laboratory seminar was organised by the Environmental and Food Analysis Special Interest Group, EFASIG, which is a special interest group of the British Mass Spectrometry Society (BMSS). Entitled ‘The application of chromatography-mass spectrometry to environmental water analysis’ the seminar ran in the afternoon of the first day at WWEM 2014. Nine speakers from academia, commercial laboratories, instrument manufacturers and industrial companies provided short presentations focusing on specific environmental analytical challenges.

Flow Forum and Apprentice Competition
Hosted by Oliver Grievson from the Water Industry Process Automation & Control Group, the morning of the first day saw Instrumentation Apprentices from Anglian Water, Thames Water and Welsh Water gather at the Flow Forum where they were given a variety of scenarios/challenges to complete. They were then sent off into the exhibition to talk to the plethora of suppliers that held the key to their questions.

Oliver Grievson then described the experiences that he had gained from a programme of 80 flow meter installations during 2012. This demonstrated that the main cost was with the installation of flow meters rather than the flow meters themselves. Following this a presentation by Simon Richardson of Siris Environmental demonstrated where installations have typically gone right and wrong. He highlighted the case of a flume at Coltishall Wastewater Treatment Works which was an ‘ideal’ installation, and also cited others where installations were less than ideal.

WWEM2014Eight different suppliers then gave presentations on traditional technologies such as ultrasonic and time of flight flow measurement to the newer technologies involving microwave, laser and radar. The eight presentations covered ultrasonic level, time of flight ultrasonic, Coriolis mass flow measurement, radar non-contact area velocity, radar level, area velocity, laser non-contact area velocity and microwave flow measurement.

An open question session finished off the Flow Forum with an opportunity to discuss the various technologies presented as well as any other burning issues concerning flow measurement. Summing up, host Oliver Grievson offered to set up a permanent flow forum if it was desired by the water industry as a whole.

The Instrumentation Apprentice Competition resumed in the afternoon, with the contestants set tasks by the three sponsors – ABB, Partech and Siemens. The apprentices were asked to: diagnose (pre-arranged) faults in an electro-magnetic flow meter; change the seal on a Turbitech turbidity monitor, and programme an ultra-sonic level meter over a V-notch which had been provided by Siris Environmental. The final task of the competition was the WRc hosted Question & Answer session, at which Andy Godley posed questions that tested both their technical and practical knowledge of instrumentation. The sponsors and supporting organisations then marked and assessed the performance of the teams and the winners were announced at the WWEM 2014 Gala Dinner. The Apprentice Competition was won by the Anglian Water team of Matthew Stephens and Harry Power with the team from Welsh Water, Will Williams and Alexander Smith, coming second. The remaining two teams from Thames Water (Darren Ewer and Kayne Chamber-Blucher) and Anglian Water (Harry Myers and Dominic Prime) shared third place.

Commenting after the event, winner Matthew Stephens explained that his apprenticeship with Anglian Water started with a year at college, followed by three years of block release. “I found the tasks very interesting,” he said. “As a result of my training I found the practical tasks relatively simple, although the technical questions were more challenging. We came to WWEM not really knowing what to expect but it was great to see so much of the industry in one place, and a walk around the exhibition was a good learning experience.”

A separate seminar was also run on PROFIBUS, a fieldbus communication technology, focusing on its application in the water, waste and environmental sectors, and Merck Millipore delivered a special session on the possible ban of the manufacture of COD tube/cell tests.

Smart Water Forum
This session began with a dissemination workshop from UKWIR. The study, which was completed by Jacobs, examined the trends in wastewater instrumentation, process automation & control and described the needs, trends and barriers that the UK water industry faces, including a resistance to the use of instrumentation. Oliver Grievson (Water Industry Process Automation & Control), who hosted the Forum, then gave a presentation on the future of instrumentation and its worth in AMP 6, giving examples of “Smart Solutions” that are available now.

Laurie Reynolds of Aquamatix described the Internet of Things and its place in the Water Industry, and how the way in which instrumentation data is currently captured and processed is set to change from a distributed network to a more dynamic way of working.

James Dunning from Syrinix then explained that in order for Smart Water innovations to be adopted by the industry, an improved financial approach needs to be taken. Providing a case study on pressure transients within the water distribution network, James explained that the cost of instrumentation is far outweighed by the losses that pressure transients can cause.

Tony Halker from Intellitect Water then described the involvement of miniature sensors and sonde technology in the Smart Water4Europe Project. Tony explained that the measurement and visibility of water quality in the potable water distribution network, between the treatment plant and the customer’s tap, is something the industry has sought for decades.

International Exhibition
The core WWEM exhibitors come back time after time, but as the importance of the event continues to grow, new companies from all over the world are drawn in with each show. This year, the exhibition was bigger than ever, featuring over 130 stands representing more than 250 of the world’s leading providers of test and monitoring equipment and related services.

WWEM2014As a specialist event, the aisles of the WWEM exhibition are populated by visitors with a professional interest in testing or monitoring in the water sector, so feedback from the exhibitors was unanimously positive. “Great venue, well organised, well attended, great leads, what more can I say?” said Jeremy Smith from Aquamatic. Nigel Grimsley from OTT Hydrometry agreed: “WWEM 2014 was very good for us – we received some excellent leads and held some very interesting discussions with key players in the water and weather monitoring sectors. Our flow monitoring products, the new HL4 water quality monitoring system and the Pluvio2 raingauge were particularly popular with visitors.”

Emphasising the importance of the event as an opportunity to meet the whole industry, Steve Tuck from PPM said: “WWEM is an ideal opportunity for knowledge transfer and networking amongst the water community.”

From a laboratory equipment supplier’s perspective, Natalie Barton from SEAL Analytical said: “We launched a new discrete analyser at WWEM so we were delighted to meet so many customers and prospects from commercial, utility and research labs.”

Xylem Analytics launched three major new products at the show. Expressing his delight, General Manager Darren Hanson said: “WWEM 2014 was a particularly important event for us, and with a focus on water testing and monitoring almost every WWEM visitor was interested in at least one of the new products. The new YSI ProDSS is the most advanced portable multiparameter instrument that we have ever developed and was the subject of a well-attended workshop, as was the new WTW UV-VIS sensor range. We also took advantage of the demonstration area to explain the advantages of the IQ SENSOR NET wastewater treatment plant monitoring system.”

Over 80 Workshops!
The Workshops ran almost continuously throughout the 2 days and covered an enormous variety of subjects within the overall testing and monitoring theme. These included flow monitoring presentations covering technologies such as laser, ultrasonics, clamp-on, magnetic flow and integrated flow and pressure metering. Water quality workshops covered the measurement of almost every parameter of interest including TOC, turbidity, pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, trace metals, organic loading and toxicity. These presentations included handheld instruments as well as continuous and remote monitors, and also addressed data collection techniques and data management software.

Many of the process monitoring workshops examined common operational issues such as chemical precipitation in wastewater treatment, flood defence and asset monitoring, real-time sewer and CSO monitoring, and leakage monitoring and management.

Two of the eight workshop rooms were dedicated to gas detection and monitoring and these presentations covered technologies such as PID, NDIR, electrochemical and pyroelectric sensors. Workplace exposure, instrument calibration and the creation and certification of calibration standards were among the themes of these workshops.

Laboratory analysis was a common theme of many workshops. For example, a presentation by CitySprint examined the challenges faced by sample couriers and another looked at AQC charting software. Laboratory accreditation was also addressed in addition to specialist subjects such as the preparation of inorganic standards, complete ion analysis, TOC, COD, total cyanide and toxicity testing. There were presentations on automated pH and turbidity testing in addition to seminars on lab robotics. One of the speakers also provided a comparison between online and laboratory analysis of TOC, ammonia and BOD. With US EPA approval for the ChlordioX™ Plus, Palintest delivered a workshop entitled ’10 things you need to know about the monitoring of total residual oxidants’.

Instrumentation Demonstration Area
This year and for the first time, WWEM included a Supplier Instrumentation Demo area. WRc hosted this area which, over the 2 days, saw 25 companies provide demonstrations of their technology to those attending the exhibition. Everything from sample preparation technology through to toxic gas detection was demonstrated highlighting the breadth of technologies on show.

WWEM2014Leo Carswell, Head of Technology at WRc, comments: “WRc were delighted to be the first host the new ‘Demo Lab’ which has been a huge success and offered delegates the hands-on experience that is often lacking at exhibitions. The high quality of these demonstrations showed the passion and enthusiasm that suppliers have for their technologies.”

British Water & WWEM 2014 Innovation Exchange
Running throughout the first day of WWEM 2014, this event brought together Water Companies, their partners, and representatives from other water-using industries with British Water members and non-members to identify technology needs and explore available and potential solutions. The day included concurrent workshops on Water Monitoring, Wastewater Monitoring, and Environmental Monitoring, led by British Water, Black & Veatch, and J.Murphy & Sons respectively. The participants included Affinity Water, Bristol Water, United Utilities, Yorkshire Water, Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, Thames Water and many of the industry’s key contractors.

Gala Dinner
Following a black-tie dinner, MCERTS instrument certificates were awarded to ABB, BioTector, Endress+Hauser, GE, HACH LANGE, Krohne, Mobrey, Nivus, Partech, PPM, Pulsar, Siemens, Sirco Controls, Teledyne ISCO and YSI. MCERTS inspector certificates were awarded to Aaron Hiden and Phil Rose from Critical Flow Systems, and to Simon Richardson from SIRIS Environmental Flow Surveys.

Reflecting on the success of WWEM 2014, organiser Marcus Pattison said: “In this internet age it can be difficult to prize people away from their desks and lab benches. However, it is important to remember that there are 3 ways in which people find new opportunities: active searching, opportunity creation and fortuitous discovery. People can actively search on the internet, but they only usually find what they are looking for, whereas visitors to WWEM events are creating opportunity; they are actively seeking and finding information that they need, and they are also creating opportunity for fortuitous discovery – finding something that they weren’t necessarily looking for!

“I hope that every visitor to WWEM found what they were looking for, networked with key industry professionals and returned home tired but content in the knowledge that they had invested their time wisely. I look forward to helping them to do so again at WWEM 2016 on 2nd and 3rd November.”


Analysis of motor control centres market.

11/11/2014

The increasing level of industrial automation is fuelling the global demand for motor control centres (MCCs). A MCC is an assembly of motor starters or overload protection devices such as contractors and/or overload relays that are connected by a common power bus bar so as to control several motors. Intelligent MCCs (iMCCs) – with remote diagnostic capabilities as well as features such as loss detection and predictive maintenance – are gaining traction especially in the oil and gas, mining, water and wastewater, and chemicals industries due to its ability to minimise maintenance costs, reduce equipment downtime, and ensure operator safety.

fandsNew analysis from Frost & Sullivan Analysis of the Global Motor Control Centres Market, finds that the market earned revenues of $4.06 billion in 2013 and estimates this to reach €4.13 billion (US$5.12 b) in 2018. The study covers low- and medium-voltage MCC.

While iMCCs are boosting overall market revenues, regular MCCs are witnessing a decline in revenue share due to the standardisation of safety features and performance. This has lessened differences between competitors’ products and resulted in price-based competition. In addition, the preference of end users in Russia, India, China and Southeast Asia for switchgears to control motors and for overload protection in the medium-voltage segment is dampening MCC market growth.

“As the percentage of customers that purchase higher-priced iMCCs is expected to rise in the long term, the fall in MCC revenues will not be a concern much longer,” said Frost & Sullivan Industrial Automation & Process Control Senior Research Analyst Krishna Raman. “With iMCCs set to play an important role in the future of the market, manufacturers have to focus on rolling out these products. Manufacturers must develop iMCCs that can be easily integrated with other communication networks to allow customers to move to an integrated enterprise ecosystem.”

In order to succeed globally, MCC manufacturers should also be able to meet multiple standards such as International Electrotechnical Commission and National Electrical Manufacturers Association. For tier-one companies that have already forayed into new regions, the maintenance of a robust product line and an extensive sales network will be key focus areas.

“Ultimately, high-quality, reliable offerings will help establish a strong brand name globally,” noted Raman. “To achieve this, MCC manufacturers need to possess sound technical skills and a thorough understanding of end-user requirements.”


Viva España! A look at manufacturing in Spain!

19/09/2014

The Spanish saying “a grandes males, grandes remedios” is the equivalent of “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Even as the recession was taking a heavy toll on the fourth largest economy in the Eurozone, the Spaniards remained optimistic. And it seems their hard work and energy is finally starting to pay off, because Spanish manufacturing has significantly picked up in recent months.

An_SpainnEuropean Automation provides industrial automation spare parts to many Spanish companies from across industry sectors. In recent years, they have seen a dip in demand from the area, but the good news is that since the middle of last year, the number of orders from Spain has been on the rise. Regions like Catalonia and the Basque Country and industries like automotive and metal processing, have taken the lead in this slow, but steady recovery process.

Let’s talk economics
The fact that Spain’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 1.2 per cent in 2013 is not particularly encouraging. However, this year’s predictions show a rise of one per cent. While it’s hardly an impressive figure, it is good news, especially in the context of falling labour costs and increased private investment in capital equipment across industries.

Historically, Spain is one of Europe’s largest manufacturers. It is still the second largest auto manufacturer in Europe, a leader in the production of canned goods and fourth in the production and exports of machinery and tools.

In February 2014, manufacturing production in Spain increased by 4.3 per cent compared to February 2013. In March 2014, the good news flow continued, as manufacturing activity in the country of the great Miguel de Cervantes expanded at its fastest pace since April 2010.

According to the Markit research group, the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) of Spain has grown again in March, from 52.5 in February, to 52.8. Any score above 50 on the PMI index suggests that the industry is expanding, which is excellent news, because it reflects a slow, but stable strengthening of business conditions.

Industry heroes
Although the Spanish market is extremely varied and – some might say – painfully fragmented, certain regions and sectors are showing obvious signs of recovery. Madrid, Catalonia and the Basque Country in particular, have had excellent trajectories.

Catalonia is the most important region in the Spanish economy, providing around 20 per cent of the country’s GDP. Its most prolific sectors are life sciences, with biotechnology and research and development projects leading the industry, alongside the automotive, chemical and food and beverage industries. International trade shows like the Mobile World Congress, the Smart City World Congress and the third largest food show in Europe – Alimentaria – attract powerful investors to the region, confirming it as a vibrant hub for manufacturing and innovation.

Much like Catalonia, the Basque Country is a very different entity from the rest of Spain, both culturally and economically. The number of technical clusters in an area the size of Scotland is truly impressive, with the main priorities being renewable energy, advanced engineering, life sciences and ICT.

Strong Spanish growth estimates are just one of the many indicators that the struggling Eurozone state is finally stepping away from the recession. However, it’s not quite time to “para baillar la bamba,” just yet. Now is the moment for strategic investments and innovative solutions – a time to seize growth opportunities and leave the recession behind.


Automation survey results announced.

09/09/2014
Professionals express positive outlook for automation in Ireland now and in the future!

The Automation Market Survey,organised by Irish company SimoTechnology, specialists Manufacturing Information Systems for regulated industries such as life sciences and food & beverage, has been published. The survey ran from 10th June through 5th August 2014 and Pat Desmond, Managing Director, expressed himself satisfied with the number of responses received.

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The survey incorporates a wide representation among the automation community of practice, primarily in Ireland, with participation from a good variety of employers, employees, and contractors at different levels across the main industry sectors.

“Significantly, the survey results would indicate an overall positive outlook in the industry at present with industry professionals and engineers expecting this outlook to continue for the foreseeable future or to improve further,” says Pat Desmond.

Among the results of note are:

  • Job security or prospects are reported as improved among Staff (46.15%) and Contractors (46.15%) and Employers/Owners/Directors (53.33%).
  • Job satisfaction is reported as generally high with 74.36% of Staff and 69.23% of Contractors being Satisfied with their current roles
  • For those considering a move the key motivators are
      – Contractors: Remuneration and Location
      – Senior Mangers: Career Progression and Remuneration
      – Staff: Job Security, Location and Career/Technical
  • The Most Challenging Aspects of working in the automation field are reported as Excessive Workload/Unrealistic Demands by 60.26% of Staff and 46.15% of Contractors. Among Employers/Owner/Directors Travel Away From Home is reported as the most challenging aspect of their roles by 46.15% of respondents.
  • In the technical skills required in the industry the areas of most shortage are reported as Process Automation, Data Historian/Reporting and MES with long delays (1-4 months) in sourcing candidates or no suitable candidates being reported by some Employers/Owner/Directors in these fields.

Request your own copy of the Automation Market Survey 2014


Labhair liom! Speak to me! Parle-moi! Languages in marketing automation!

18/08/2014
With a work force that boasts 20 different nationalities and 17 languages, the industrial automation spares supplier, European Automation is keen to show its support for any programme promoting learning new languages. Indeed, its recent linguistic placements and support for the British government initiative encouraging businesses to identify the benefits of employing postgraduate language students, is reflected in its endorsement of the European Day of Languages

Our planet has over 7 billion people who speak between 6,000 and 7,000 different languages. In Europe alone there are more than 225 indigenous languages, which only amount to three per cent of the world’s total. “Now how bad do you feel that the extent of your multilingual capabilities is speaking louder and more slowly when abroad and extensive use of hand signals?” In celebration of all these tongues and dialects, the 26 of September is European Day of Languages.

LTnahEEuropean Day of Languages promotes linguistic diversity as a tool for achieving greater intercultural understanding and encourages events designed to showcase the benefits of multilingualism.

European Automation knows all about the importance of speaking the lingo when it comes to international business. 82 per cent of their sales currently come from exports and thus it’s essential that we not only speak in terms that our customers understand, but also remain aware of cultural differences.

LTnahE_Logo“With a work force that boasts 20 different nationalities and 17 languages, we feel that we’re not doing too badly on the linguistic and cultural diversity fronts. We regularly organise days celebrating different nationalities – these consist of staff bringing in different foods, playing music and generally getting into the spirit of multiculturalism.”

Their special days are not too dissimilar from the range of events promoting the learning of languages scheduled across the continent for European Day of Languages. Those who wish to be involved the can organise their own event and submit it to the European Day of Languages’ page; there’s even a prize for the most innovative idea. Here is the full list of what’s going on and how you can enter! 

sprachrLanguage can often be a barrier for companies looking to export and can seriously impede a company’s growth. When our customers call from different parts of the world, they are put through to a native language speaker with relevant cultural knowledge. This eliminates communication problems and creates an authentic relationship between our customers and our sales team. Needless to say, in any language, the benefit of this is huge/énorme/riesig/ollmhór/огромный… well, you get the gist.

Therefore the need for more language specialists in companies like European Automation is crucial.

On May 6, British business secretary Vince Cable announced a new initiative, which encourages companies to identify and employ postgraduate students with relevant language skills for key overseas markets. European Automation strongly supports the initiative and have actively sought to nurture local linguistic talents.

They recently rewarded three Newcastle College (GB) linguists a two week placement at European Automation after they beat off fierce competition. All three had to apply for the placement by interviewing first in English and then in their chosen second language, earning themselves the chance to put their skills to the test in the working world.

According to the research that sparked the initiative to recruit more multilingual postgraduate students, as much as €60 billion (£48 billion)  is lost in international sales because of poor language skills and cultural ignorance. Talking louder and enunciating (whilst pointing, always remember to point!) may be fine to communicate with the hotel barman in Lanzarote, but it certainly isn’t good enough for businesses looking to succeed when exporting abroad.

“So what have you got planned for the September 26? Why not take a leaf out of our book and embrace a different culture, or more than one for that matter, in the spirit of European Day of Languages.”

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Demand for accurate, lightweight test & measurement sensors set to increase!

07/08/2014

Test and measurement is a prerequisite for constant innovation and improvement in the development and manufacturing space. In turn, monitoring various operating conditions such as acceleration, pressure, temperature, magnetic field and frequency range while performing test and measurement tasks automatically necessitates a variety of sensors. As innovations in testing methods gather pace, the development of sensors used in test and measurement applications too will pick up.

tandmNew analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Sensors in Test and Measurement, finds that the market earned revenues of €820m ($1.10 billion) in 2013 and estimates this to reach €1,14 billion ($1.53 billion) in 2020. The aerospace and defence as well as automotive industries will generate the maximum revenue due to the large number of applications involved, and the high cost of sensors used. Meanwhile, the installation of wind turbines, owing to the intensifying focus on renewable energy, will present opportunities for sensors in testing wind turbines. Product testing in consumer electronics is another avenue that promises high growth.

“As product design and development become more complex, the need for highly accurate, sophisticated sensors for test and measurement applications will increase,” said Frost & Sullivan Measurement and Instrumentation Senior Industry Analyst Sankara Narayanan. “The shift to smaller, lighter structures will also drive the demand for smaller, lighter electronic components, including sensors.”

However, innovations in core sensor technologies have not kept pace with developments in other areas such as instrumentation and sensor packaging. To expand market scope, proven experience of having met the requirements of demanding test and measurement end markets will be critical. Further, easy-to-use, dedicated sensor solutions that provide state-of-the-art measurement and monitoring will be mandatory irrespective of the end market.

It is important for sensor manufacturers to offer a wide configuration of sensors to support multiple applications. Maturing into a one-stop shop by supplying test equipment and associated software along with sensors will help vendors appeal to a larger consumer base.

“Moreover, sensors used in test and measurement are put to extreme working conditions involving high temperature and pressure,” noted Sankara Narayanan. “Therefore, manufacturers must be able to deliver both on-site and local technical, repair and calibration services to stamp their authority in the global market.”


Modest component growth predicted in Britain!

11/07/2014

British distributors expect modest growth later in the year, even though growth in the Britain and Ireland electronic components markets remains lacklustre, according to the May market statistics released by the Electronic Components Supply Network (ECSN), the professional community for the electronic component supply chain.

Adam Fletcher

Adam Fletcher, Chairman of the ECSN, commented, “Anticipated growth in the second quarter does not appear to have materialised, which has led to a slight increase in inventory. Our distributor members are expecting a modest increase in growth in the second half of the year, which appears to be realistic since no significant events or increased demand drivers are currently visible.” He believes that a very similar pattern is being played out in electronic components markets world-wide.

The full ecsn market statistics are available to all members. They show a slight decline in the Book-to-Bill ratio and in overall bookings compared to April 2014 and also to May 2013. Semiconductors increased slightly over the period, passives declined slightly, emech was flat and component assemblies declined.


Automation market survey!

12/06/2014

Possibly one of the hardest sectors in which to get a complete picture is Automation in any country. The reason is the complexity of the industries and processes which include automation as an important part. Indeed some surveys we have seen seem not evan to have a basic understanding of the discipline. EU_IR_4321

Here in Ireland the baton has been taken up by Simotech a company which does have the requisite extensive experience in all aspects of Automation and Manufacturing Instrument Systems.  It is a comprehensive and well designed questionnaire specifically aimed at automation professionals, either European Union passport holders or those who are licensed to work within the EU. Pat Desmond, the MD at Simotech, who has himself many years experience at the coal face of automation in Europe and elsewhere, explains, “The last decade has seen major changes in the Automation industry with significant peaks and slumps in the market. General indications are that the industry is experiencing growth again over the past 18 months.”

The why!

The survey objective is to benchmark the state of the Automation industry in Ireland. It plans to be the most comprehensive insight into the views of employers, employees and suppliers. It is hoped to help all in the automation community of practice, employers, employees, and contractors, to understand the current automation marketplace for engineers. It will help to understand career expectations, salary expectations, locations, technical capabilities, and the career paths into automation and migration into more senior positions.

• Engineers: It will help them gauge where they are with their career expectations, salary benchmarking against their peers, business growth forecasts, the most popular locations for engineers and much more.

• Employers: It will help them understand what motivates the automation engineering community, remuneration benchmarks, how to attract the best engineers into the best positions. It will also assess the sentiment for growth across various industry sectors, etc.

The survey should take no more than six minutes and is simple to complete with no open ended written responses required. Obviously the success of this survey will be dependent on getting a wide spectrum of engineers and employers across all industry sectors, so participants are encourged to share thesurvey link with their colleagues and employees. Automation Survey!“Your privacy is important to us. We guarantee that no personal or systems information will be recorded as part of this survey,” says Pat Desmond.

Reward

As a Token of our appreciation participants have the option to enter into a draw for an Apple iPad mini on completion of the survey. To enter the draw, simply forward the entry form at the end of the survey and we will send you on the complimentary report when published and enter you into thedraw. We respect corporate giving policies so we will also make a donation to Unicef in lieu of those who do not wish to enter the draw.