Industry 4.0 and digital transformation solutions are a priority for pump, vacuum equipment and compressor manufacturers. The race to develop new business models has just started.
How can the process industry increase production speed and flexibility and also deliver greater product customisation? Conventional single-output systems are not really suitable and remain the domain of commodity production. Modular design is needed to meet the need for increased speed, agility and customisation.
The goal is repetitive execution of specific basic functions on the systems to minimise process and installation times. The fundamental concept is to define a proven solution as a standard and use it repetitively, creating a type of ‘copy and paste’ scenario with subsequent ‘plug and play’. This also makes documentation for validation easier.
Modular system design creates challenges for component manufacturers
Suppliers who deliver equipment for key subsystems (e.g., columns, pumps and compressors) are working on modular designs (skids) for new systems and system upgrades. In the future, engineers will be thinking in terms of functions, in other words modules and system solutions. This approach has the advantage that engineers do not always have to pay attention to every detail of components such as pump, vacuum and compressor systems.
Even more importantly, modularised subsystems facilitate reuse of proven, pre-designed solutions on new projects. Based on the Lego principle, new systems can be engineered by designing in modules with different functions for use with a wide variety of production technologies.
One of the characteristics of modularity is the ability to offer the same functionality on different models of a product line designed for different operating parameters, for example a family of pumps with versions which handle different volume flows and pressure ranges. This approach requires standardisation of technical components (this also facilitates qualification and validation in regulated industries).
KSB offers virtual impeller trimming which enables a user to directly change the rotational speed from a smartphone. In contrast to mechanical modification of the impeller, no intervention in the operating process is needed. This makes it possible to optimise energy efficiency if the actual flow/head point deviates from the expected value, or react to a system-related change of the operating point.
Pump customisation can be delayed until much later in the procurement process. The number of versions can also be reduced, and in the future that will have a major impact on pump selection. With rotational speed customisation, fewer model sizes will be needed to cover the entire parameter range with practically the same efficiency and NPSH. The version complexity of the hydraulics is reduced by more than 50%, and that saves time and money in engineering.
Multi-stage high-pressure pumps are a good design option for modular function blocks (e.g., Grundfos, Rheinhütte, Flowserve and Xylem). Operators can choose different combinations of pump sizes, materials, connections and features. Varying the number of pumping stages provides the flexibility to adapt the pump capacity to the chosen module size. The system manufacturer can operate the motor in the super synchronous range to alter the pump dimensions (more compact design).
In combination with greater standardisation, modularisation creates the possibility to configure simple pump solutions on the manufacturer’s homepage. Similar to the way in which engineers can now use a configurator to design a pump, users have access to virtual tools which initiate the actual production process (pump on demand).
Pumps and compressors: App in the cloud
In response to rapidly increasing energy costs, more and more electronic components and sensors are being installed on rotating equipment. However, that in itself is not enough to make the components Industry 4.0 ready. Data generation (big data) must be followed by data analysis and interpretation (smart data). Sensors provide data, microchips with on-board software interpret the data and actuators initiate the appropriate response.
Practical implementation of Industry 4.0 means that a system no longer operates exclusively under the guidance of a central process control system. Intelligence migrates to the field level. Smart field devices execute specific functionalities and optionally may monitor and control other technical equipment.
The next step is the digital counterpart in the cloud. The digital twin can access other data sources, or communicate over a network with other digital twins, e.g., as an active element in a cyber-physical system. Connectivity and interactivity are essential for Industry 4.0 readiness. The compelling benefits for plant operators are enhanced transparency and higher system availability together with increased productivity.
Here are three examples. KSB offers a Pump Operation Check app. This service allows the user to generate load profiles using the PumpMeter monitoring unit and derive action recommendations for increasing system efficiency and availability (to be executed with the PumpDrive variable speed system).
A chemicals app is available from Grundfos, which was developed in response to the problems encountered by customers in the water treatment and chemical distribution industries. Mix-ups can occur when containers are connected to dosing pumps. The chemicals app ensures that the dosing pump will only accept containers, which have been released for use via the cloud. Not only that, the app monitors the fill level of the container and can control replenishment with a new container.
Boge Kompressoren and Aventics have developed Smart Pneumatic Grid as a pathway to digitalisation. Intelligent networking of air compressors and compressed air consumers based on the OPC UA communications protocol supports monitoring, control and optimisation of the entire system topology.
The Smart Pneumatic Grid captures energy demand data right down to the individual consumer level and provides a transparent visualisation of the results, according to Aventics. Demand-based regulation parameters for Boge compressors can be derived from this information with minimal effort. The device also provides notification of increased air consumption (leakage).
Making conservative choices
The need for flexibility, a higher level of product customisation and faster product introduction continues to grow in the process industry. How pump and vacuum equipment manufacturers reconcile all of these demands remains at least for the time being something which the companies have to deal with on their own. Exotic solutions are probably not the best choice.
Users in the chemical industry tend to make conservative choices when they select equipment that plays a central role in the process such as pumps and compressors. A proven track record is more assuring than abstract claims. (This feature is based on a trend report from DECHEMA for ACHEMA 2018.)