08 January 2001
Oil holds powerful wild card in Europe
The European control and instrumentation (C&I) market in 2001 is likely to be characterized by steady growth rather than dramatic changes in technology or huge construction programs. The use of Internet-based systems for control will continue to increase, and the most interesting aspect of this is wireless communications: the use of mobile phone and similar technology for communication and control.
Wireless Application Protocol will bring Weblike functions to mobile telephones, increasing the possibilities for remote intervention by production and maintenance staff.
Users are rapidly accepting the concept and buying wireless control systems, which often combine with fieldbus and similar protocol instrumentation, said Risto Lehtimäki of Finland's Neles Automation. The first systems debuted only five years ago.
The next step, said Lehtimäki, is to integrate this with systems to capture knowledge and optimize the performance of plant operators and maintenance personnel.
Two other factors are likely to influence the European C&I market in 2001: oil prices and microplants.
People protest oil prices
The surge in oil prices in 2000 led to increased consumer prices, which in turn led to widespread consumer protests across Europe. Some blame part of the rise on a shortage of refinery capacity—forgetting that only three years ago they were complaining of excess capacity in Europe.
In fact, the contributory problem is as much a lack of refinery availability. The time between major overhauls has been pushed too far, and failures are getting more frequent. There are signs that refinery operators may reverse this trend, consequently shortening the procurement cycle for major equipment buys.
Add to this the need to increase refinery efficiency—often by improved C&I—and there seems every likelihood of a boost to the C&I market.
Disruption of fuel supplies by protesters is also forcing refinery operators to rethink their distribution strategies.
Look for an increase in petroleum product pipelines and storage and distribution points.
No shipping chemicals
Another exciting prospect for 2001 is the growing use of microplants, which will provide small quantities of chemicals at the point of use. These are becoming increasingly popular for processes that may involve hazardous intermediates, thus removing the need for transport or storage of hazardous substances.
"Microplants will contribute significantly to the introduction of novel processes in the pulp and paper industry," said Neil Turner of the U.K.'s Warwick International.These novel processes that help reduce hazardous inventory, such as Warwick's PeroxyBoost, are becoming more and more common in fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and water treatment. However, microplants bring their own control problems.
Instrumentation and control elements are now on a scale more usually associated with aerospace hydraulics or the semiconductor industry, and response time requirements are an order of magnitude faster than in more conventional process control.
Look for unfamilia r names to enter the process C&I market.