EMC problems could lead to lost business.


If you were to tell your boss that a fifth of your output was being wasted and could not be accounted for, I doubt they would be too impressed. Where would you think the wasted output was coming from? Most managers would blame human error in their workforce, but they could be jumping to conclusions. Here, Keith Armstrong, global electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) expert at EMC Standards looks at a case where radio frequency interference (RFI) had a significant detrimental impact on a business.

emc_picA large manufacturer of industrial fasteners, working in partnership with a major customer, agreed to install a packaging cell. This contained an automatic weighing machine that filled plastic packets with fasteners and a radio frequency (RF) welding machine, which sealed the packets. For financial reasons, the two machines were purchased separately, however the cost implications of this decision later became much more significant.

Both machines were supplied, installed and tested successfully. However, when the manufacturer used both machines at the same time, the weighing machine suffered more than a 25 per cent error rate caused by RF interference from the welding machine. This significant error translated into a substantial amount of wasted power output. In an eight-hour shift, the packaging cell should have packaged £20,000 worth of fasteners, however the automatic weighing machine was so inaccurate that it could have given away £4,000 worth of fasteners.

As the electromagnetic environment was not considered at the start of the procurement process, the facilities managers were not aware of the interference that would be caused by the RF welding machine. They also failed to specify EMC requirements in the contracts for both machines, stipulating only that they should meet all legal requirements. As this was not specific to EMC, the manufacturer could not complain to the suppliers about the loss caused by the RF interference.

It was only by bringing in expert technical assistance that the manufacturer was able to resolve the problem. However, by this point, it had lost six weeks production, suffered additional costs and had lost credibility with its major customer, which could have led to a loss of future sales.

This is only one example of where a business failed to consider EMC issues early in the design process and experienced a series of problems. Many facilities and plant managers are often unaware of the issues and regulations that surround EMC until it is too late and by then they have caused serious problems.

EMC Standards offers advice and resources for those who not only want to learn more about EMC, but those who need to learn more to protect the credibility and performance of their business. After all, it may be easy to blame human error for wasted output in a factory, but the human error could be yours for not considering EMC earlier in the process.

Diverse attendance at production conference


For geographic reasons, not to mention crass pecuniary ones, we more often that not have to miss many of the important assemblies of automation professionals held to a large extent in the neighbouring island to the west of Ireland – America!

The WBF 2011 NA is a case in point. Held by WBF, the organisation formerly known as the World Batch Foundation, this year it happened in the state of Delaware and we had to be content with following it on twitter and the occasional facebook sharing. WBF is the organisation for production technology and is dedicated to supporting the process automation and operations needs of the technical and management professions in process manufacturing. The group facilitates the interchange and development of information and knowledge in order to help its members succeed and to exert a positive influence on industry.

The intrepid fingers and thumbs of Control’s Walt Boyes, Automation World’s Gary Mintchell and the very much out there inbound marketeer from DomesticatingIT, Jon DiPietro, helped us follow what was happening.

Bloggers row at WBF 2011

In this excellent photo (taken by an Emerson undercover agent on site and transmitted to Emerson’s on-line wonderkind, Jim Cahill who released it into cyberspace), we see the trio sitting at the back of the hall – where else – blogging furiously!

But enough of this levity what did they say. Well the conference tweets were hash tagged #wbf2011na. Walts however were conveniently gathered together on his SoundingOff blog “2011 WBF NA Conference in Tweets“. Walt had however more responsibilities besides tweeting and blogging. He also had the duty of inducting three distinguished professionals  into the Automation Hall of fame. These were John Berra, retired CEO of Emerson Process Management,  Dr Maurice Wilkins, vice president of global marketing services for Yokogawa Electric Corp. and Dr Sigurd Skogestad of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Gary Mintchel wrote All about batch-WBF Conference in his Feed Forward blog. “There’s an excellent turnout for this year’s conference. Great examples of using ISA88 and thinking up front leading to faster startups and better operations and documentation.”

There were enligtening keynotes on two of the days, one from V.P. and Chief Engineer, DuPont (Retired) Jim Porter (on Smart Plants – Creating sustainable competitive advantage). One of his points that impressed Jon was ‘To reduce catastrophic risk, minimize the “little things” that grow into “big things!”‘ The other keynote was from former Emerson Process Management Chief John Berra, (Sharpening the Tools – Small Victories Mean Big Improvements). Walt tweets, “Berra says global mfg is back. PMI higher than 50. China growth obvious- US not stopping growth either!” Good news eh?

These keynotes may be viewed on the WBF – Production Technology Livestream site. They are both very well given talks with lots of stimulating ideas and thoughts well worth viewing and listening to.

The conference itself seemed to be quite well attended, which is good news but of perhaps more interest was expressed in one of Gary’s tweets, “There is great diversity of gender, nationality, age at the conference. That is encouraging!”

These conferences are an important facit of keeping up with technologies, techniques and the people who make and use them.