While politicians blather about various aspects of sustainability and climate, businesses have discovered it’s simply good business. The world searches for better, more plentiful, and safer fuels. Hydrogen is a good bet. Generating hydrogen turns out not to be so simple. However, process automation companies have focused engineering teams on viable ways to produce green hydrogen (hydrogen produced without negative inputs).
In this news, Yokogawa Electric Corp. announces that its subsidiary Yokogawa Australia has received an order from Monford Group Pty Ltd. to supply an energy management system (EMS) for the initial phase (“phase 0”) of the Yuri Green Hydrogen Project (hereafter, Yuri), which is constructing an industrial-scale renewable hydrogen production complex in Australia.
The Yuri project is being undertaken in the Pilbara region of Western Australia by Yuri Operations Pty Ltd, a joint venture between ENGIE Renewables Australia Pty Ltd and Mitsui & Co., Ltd. A consortium consisting of the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning (EPCC) companies Technip Energies and Monford Group Pty Ltd. is constructing these facilities, which will consist of an 18-megawatt solar power plant, an 8-megawatt battery energy storage system (BESS), and a 10-megawatt electrolyzer. Using carbon-free solar energy, this facility will be able to produce up to 640 tons of green hydrogen per year. The hydrogen will be used as a feedstock to produce green ammonia at an adjacent ammonia plant operated by Yara Pilbara Fertiliser Pty Ltd (YPF). YPF is a wholly owned subsidiary of Yara International ASA, which is one of the world’s largest producers of nitrogen-based mineral fertilizers.
For the control of the solar power plant, BESS, and electrolyzer, Yokogawa Australia will supply an EMS that is developed by Yokogawa Group company PXiSE Energy Solutions LLC. This EMS will be combined with an integrated control system (ICS) centering on the Collaborative Information Server solution that Yokogawa will also be providing for phase 0 of this project, under a separate contract*1. Once these systems are installed and integrated, the Yuri facility’s renewable energy production will be autonomously managed to ensure consistent stability and power quality based on the operating requirements of the adjacent ammonia plant, the weather, and other factors.
PXiSE’s grid control solutions have already been highly evaluated at a Horizon Power project in Western Australia*2. Horizon Power serves the largest power supply area in the world, and following a successful rollout in Onslow, the solutions will be adopted in 34 additional Horizon Power microgrids. Also, the ability of Yokogawa Australia’s Technical Excellence Center in Perth, Western Australia, to provide technical support and engineering services backed by many years of experience in providing cutting-edge solutions to a wide range of industries in Australia was also evaluated.
Commenting on Yokogawa’s participation in this project, Koji Nakaoka, a Yokogawa senior vice president and head of the company’s Energy & Sustainability Business Headquarters and Global Sales Headquarters, said, “In a world in which systems are becoming closely integrated, based on the system of systems (SoS) concept, we will contribute to our customer’s ESG management by offering high value-added solutions, including the integration of plant control and energy management systems to enable the timely control of complex power systems.”
My report from this summer’s Honeywell User Group included some new advances they are making with battery storage systems. The growth of wind and solar and other new forms of electricity generation that are not “always on” realizes better utility through methods of storing electricity to cover times when they are not generating. Honeywell’s new Ionic system steps up its utility.
Large-scale battery storage systems enable utilities to improve renewable power generation with an industry-leading battery management system
One of the first of its kind, Nuvation’s BMS provides users with significant flexibility and greater insights into the battery’s performance. The system is easy to install and maintain and offers a cost-competitive and reliable solution for commercial and industrial customers. Offering large-scale storage for renewable energy generation, Honeywell Ionic supports up to 1500-volt inverters to increase system efficiency and includes Nuvation Energy’s industry-leading battery management system (BMS).
“Energy storage is one of the fastest growing energy industry technologies in the world, and solutions like this will be critical to enabling governments and businesses to meet their carbon emission reduction targets,” said Michael Worry, CEO of Nuvation Energy. “Our collaboration with Honeywell will allow companies to take control of their own sustainability journey.”
With Honeywell Ionic, customers can add modular systems to increase capacity. Since Nuvation’s BMS is configurable for any battery, it can also support different batteries from those in the original BESS. A single system can combine batteries that differ by chemistry, performance profile, age, and state of health.
These solutions enable intermittent renewable generation like solar and wind to be stored and reduces sudden sags or surges in power supplied to customers. Many utility grids cannot add more renewable energy without storage to avoid the destabilizing impacts its large-scale integration creates. Honeywell Ionic will be used by both utilities “in front of the meter” and commercial and industrial customers “behind the meter” for a range of energy storage applications, including demand charge management, transmission and distribution upgrade deferral, energy arbitrage, and grid resiliency.
“Combining Honeywell’s energy storage technology with Nuvation Energy’s battery management has created an efficient large-scale storage solution that addresses users’ key pain points,” said Sarang Gadre, Vertical Leader, Infrastructure and New Energy, Honeywell Process Solutions. “By pairing Nuvation’s Gen 5 BMS with Honeywell Ionic, we are helping to address tomorrow’s problems, today.”
My career spans three technology/market cycles. I’ve seen the excitement of new companies, new technology adaptations, new markets three times. All as user and marketing/sales and writer/influencer.
I got involved thanks to a boss with the IT world in the late 70s. At the same time I started playing around with PCs—a Timex Sinclair that I wrote games and education aids for my wife’s 3rd grade class and a Radio Shack TRS-80 that I began setting my dad’s accounting business on. This was before 1980. The deep dive into automation for machinery came in the mid-80s. I’ve followed these passions ever since.
There were large and stimulating media around all three markets. Remember all the products in PC Magazine and its siblings in the 80s and 90s? When I switched to media in 1998 at Control Engineering, it also was packed with new products as many new companies sprang up with a new take on control platforms or software.
Then I experienced the consolidation and maturity of all three markets. IT magazines…gone. PC magazines…gone (maybe a couple on the web). Automation and control magazines are half the size of 15 years ago…and maybe even less. I saw it coming in 2013 when I left Automation World and struck out as an independent writer in the space.
The MacBook Air M2 I’m writing this on is faster and has more memory than the MacBook Air I had a decade ago. But really, it’s still the MacBook Air. Excitement in the PC industry has not been PCs but mobile phones that are really computing devices. There exist a few thriving companies in the industrial market right now—mostly software companies.
There is still innovation in each of the spaces. Certainly all the excitement of playing around with the tech is gone.
What is the next big question for each of these technology markets? Or, what big question will generate an entirely new technology market? Remember, the real reason humanity has developed new technology has been to solve a problem to help humanity (well, aside from gaining an advantage in war).
One interesting thing remains—sustainability. We made so many products enabling production and manufacturing that fouled the soil and atmosphere. Now engineers are taking the technology and using it to clean up the mess. I’ve had interesting conversations with Honeywell and Rockwell Automation and ABB. And even Siemens on the topic. As we forge into a world looking for cleaner energy than fossil fuels, theses companies will supply the technology to help entrepreneurs develop and market solutions.
I am a student of corporate strategy and messaging. The major automation companies intrigued me when they all switched from messaging their mission as automation to software. Now Rockwell Automation is messaging itself as the digital transformation company. I don’t know what that all means, but I’m intrigued.
Further, Rockwell Automation’s strategy during the past five-six years has emphasized acquisition and partnership over internal development. Think PTC, Plex, FiiX.
I’m not condemning, just observing. That’s what I do. Observe and think.
An important part of Rockwell’s strategy focuses on sustainability. Decades after radio personality Earl Nightingale proclaimed the benefits of hydrogen fuel, industrial technology companies are working on the problem of how to economically produce hydrogen.
Enter a collaboration. Systems Integrator Avid Solutions has announced a collaboration with Rockwell Automation to “accelerate and optimize the production of Green Hydrogen (H2) for companies worldwide.”
The news release cites Avid Solutions as specializing in delivering comprehensive Green H2 solutions for industrial producers. I remember the company in other market areas, but I’m glad to see it tackling this area.
“We are seeing many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), process licensors, and producers entering the Green H2 Economy. They need expertise to scale, as well as speed to market entry,” said Tom O’Reilly, vice president, sustainability, Rockwell Automation. “With more than three decades of expertise in the process industries and helping OEMs scale, Avid Solutions is uniquely suited to help new Green H2 clients implement best-in-class technology and ensure their business needs are met.”
Having previously collaborated on a variety of projects, Avid Solutions and Rockwell Automation have a track record of successfully supporting electrolyzer OEMs, H2 liquefaction licensors, licensors of long-duration energy storage (LDEH), and compressor OEMs in ensuring optimal and consistent outcomes. The two companies also assisted a leading supplier of Green H2 solutions to reduce project risk, integrate new technologies and overcome obstacles related to implementing OT.
“Clients developing Green H2 projects face many challenges. From compressed schedules to meet incentives, new processes, initial feasibility and budgeting, to project execution, producers and OEM providers need an experienced partner to rely on,” said Gordon Bordelon, vice president, operations and technology, Avid Solutions. “By leveraging Avid’s experience in Green H2, plant operations across multiple industries, OEM solutions, and our use of off-the-shelf technologies, we’re helping clients reduce time to market, CapEx as well as OpEx investments, and overall project risk.”
Honeywell engineers have been busy with a variety of sustainability technology applications. Beyond what I’ve written previously here is another initiative.
Honeywell announced an expansion to its Honeywell Forge Sustainability+ for Industrials | Emissions Management software application that allows industrial companies to measure and monitor both direct and indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of their operations.
The software application can collect data from Honeywell’s leading sensors and gas-cloud imaging cameras to measure direct GHG emissions, also known as Scope 1 emissions. The new capability aggregates data from additional sources to measure indirect GHG emissions from the purchase of energy, known as Scope 2 emissions.
Despite global efforts in decarbonizing the power sector, electricity and heat generation are responsible for over 40% of global CO2 emissions, one of the main types of greenhouse gas. Measuring, calculating and accounting emissions are key steps to abate emissions and are incentivized by the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. GHG emissions are also regulated around the world.
“Honeywell’s newly expanded solution provides customers with a more comprehensive view of their emissions and a critical tool toward meeting their sustainability goals,” said Ravikrishnan Srinivasan, vice president and general manager of Emissions Management at Honeywell Connected Enterprise. “Honeywell is uniquely positioned with its ready-now technology and experience to be the transformational partner that helps organizations accelerate their progress in achieving sustainability outcomes.”
Last winter I got sucked in by an advertisement from Verizon. My wife was due for a new iPad and could use a new iPhone. I was thinking about upgrading my 2-year-old iPhone. The ad looked like a good deal to trade in a bunch of stuff and walk out with new equipment. In the end, you never get the deal exactly as advertised because of nuances. But we did it.
I bet you’ve traded in a phone or two in your life. Ever wonder what happens to those old traded-in phones? You are about to find out.
A publicist I’ve known for a while who (unlike most these days) knows me and what I like to write about, pitched me a story about an actual user of automation. I said great, I’d like something beyond just a new feature in the software. Except the company was Assurant. I looked them up. An insurance company. In 25 years, I doubt that I’ve written about insurance once.
But she’s trustworthy and the application seemed appropriate, so here we are. A story about how a division of Assurant has built a big business taking in traded-in mobile phones and reinserts most of them back into the supply chain. If you’ve bought a refurbished phone, chances are it went through one of their facilities.
That’s how I wound up on a Microsoft Teams call with Brandon Johnson. He is the Senior Vice President of Engineering and Automation at Assurant, a leading global business services company that supports, protects and connects major consumer purchases. Johnson oversees all engineering and automation initiatives related to the mobile device lifecycle across 20 locations worldwide. His primary responsibility is to lead a team that implements innovative software and robotics technologies to enhance efficiency, safety, quality, and device value.
We’ll walk through the process they have developed for processing 15 million phones per year. Then we’ll look at how automation has improved workforce stability, worker safety, and throughput.
First, Johnson told me his background and education were industrial engineering and operations management. Automation was something he picked up along the way. Before automating anything in the processes at Assurant, though, he emphasized two things:
They don’t automate simply to replace workers
Every automation project must have a business purpose
So, what happens when your used phone hits one of their facilities?
Incoming material is all in boxes. There is no uniformity to the boxes. They must all be opened and the phones removed. The original process used people with razor box knives. These are a safety hazard (I know, I had a job using them once). The job also was not challenging which led to excessive attrition.
After phones are decartoned, they are provided with a QR Code ID. They proceed to a charging station as all need a minimum amount of charge for downstream processes. They go to a cosmetic grading station and then sorting into those who have potential high value and those not so much to those that will just be ground for recycling. Next comes a diagnostic test station where 65 tests are performed. Data cleaning comes next. This is a crucial step and Assurant is certified for data cleaning. They’ll perform and value-added repair if feasible. Then, on to the warehouse to be sold and shipped.
Automation has been added so far:
Machine to slit the incoming boxes and cartons. This changed the job from manual knives to a technician job. That job is more stable and has value-added skills
Cosmetic grading is highly complex and subjective. Assurant has developed a patented automation for inspection and grading the phones. Once again, a high-turnover job turned into technician roles leading to a more stable and trained workforce.
Diagnostics testing has been upgraded from a single workstation where they’d dump a bunch of phones on a person and they’d perform all the tests on a single computer. Now there is a flow to the system easing the bottlenecks.
A robotic feeder brings phones to the charging stations and plugs them in saving yet another rote job.
I asked about recycling the powder from groundup phones. They send to a third party who can extract the various metals from the powder for reinsertion into that supply chain.