The industry needs better ways to upgrade existing systems and maintain new systems to the highest level of performance”

A&C Today Interview

Wilkin Chin, VP, Research and Marketing, United Electric Controls Inc.

In an exclusive interview with A&C TODAY, Wilkin Chin, VP, Research and Marketing, United Electric Controls Inc., speaks to Jigar Patel about the company global market share, its milestone, breakthrough product, challenges in process industry, IoT and Connected Enterprise advantages and company's future planning in India.

United Electric Controls (UE) has expanded considerable market share in the United States, Europe, India, Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa, please brief its voyage from inception and share the company's milestone.

As a supplier of pressure and temperature switch and transmitter solutions for safety, alarm, and emergency shutdown applications for more than 80 years, our huge installed base in machinery protection systems across the globe has accelerated our growth into all developing countries. Our award winning lean manufacturing facility in Watertown, MA USA has allowed UE to produce low cost products with the highest quality, reliability, and appropriate pricing for all regions of the world.

UE expanded its manufacturing decades ago into Canada and Australia following the assembly and calibration model for many decades.  With deliveries of 2 weeks or less and improving delivery logistics around the globe, however, all UE manufacturing was eventually consolidated back to Watertown, MA for the entire world. Expansion into developing countries did not follow the typical path that focused in the largest regional markets, instead it was tied to regions with significant installed base of UE products, which started with Asia including China and India, and later into Europe, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Middle East, and recently into South America.  With a strong presence in Asia for decades, more than a quarter of our business comes from this region.

What makes the United Electric Controls different than other process automation component manufacturers in chemical, petro-chemical, oil & gas, and process Industries?

Our growth would not have been possible without the invention of the micro-switch which was invented here in Watertown, MA the key component for electromechanical pressure and temperature switch product lines.  Electromechanical switches and the new crop of digital switch products remain true to their function as a safety device, which provide the last line of defense when automation systems go awry. 

This sets us apart from suppliers of process measurement devices.  Our switches and transmitters are primarily used for safety applications that require a different set of attributes unlike that of process control devices.  

With processes becoming more complex and dangerous in heavy process industries, there has been an increasing need for simple safety systems as a stand-alone or as a complement to dedicated safety systems and basic process control systems.  Our digital One Series transmitter-switches with and without SIL certification can upgrade process safety in “brownfield” and improve safety in “greenfield” applications from the onset.   

Performance, profitability and processes are fundamental to maximize productivity at process industry. Could you please elaborate bottlenecks in process industry?

The biggest bottleneck is the threat of unplanned shutdown due to catastrophic accidents leading to loss of life and equipment, and harm to the environment.  Many plant operators have taken great strides to identify and reduce plant and employee risks but accidents continue to happen.  Today we have safety standards that recommend best practices and offer practical guidelines to reduce threats even further.  However, many older legacy safety systems requiring upgrades go undone and the ones that have been upgraded are not routinely proof tested as much as they should be. 

Clearly the industry needs better ways to upgrade existing systems and maintain new systems to the highest level of performance.     

Any breakthrough value proposition product of United Electric Controls for process industry that made a difference?

Yes, our new line of One Series hybrid transmitter-switches is a breakthrough product.  Both the One Series for hazardous areas and the One Series Safety Transmitter providing SIL 2 or 3 certification for safety applications, have an embedded pressure or temperature sensor, logic solver, and safety relay that can initiate an emergency shutdown to bring the process or equipment to a safe state.  Having one device with the three functions, typically needed in a safety system, reduces setup time, human error, and cost while leading to a safer solution due to its simplicity.  With multiple outputs such as high and low current digital relays, analog output proportional to the measurement, and diagnostics, the flexibility of the device to solve critical problems is only limited by ones imagination. 

The comprehensive diagnostic coverage of these SIL certified devices can identify 98.8% of all of the potential failure modes of the device.  This reduces maintenance rounds or delayed inspections and allow the device to alert operators when maintenance is required. For safety applications, if proof testing is delayed, you can rest assure that 98.8% of potential failures will be caught by the device.

Going forward we see a need for better WirelessHART toxic and combustible gas detection instruments, and other devices. The battery life of power hungry devices like gas detectors only last for one or two years, much lower than the desired five year life required for industrial applications.  We have concepts in our R&D labs that can last significantly longer.

United Electric Controls announced a unique service to support companies that are evaluating their industrial switching needs. Could you please highlight more on this initiative?

Today's generation of switches offer electronic platforms that reduce setup and programming to a matter of seconds. A user interface on the local LCD provides simple prompts that allow users to program switch set points instantly without the need to remove the instrument from the process. Deadband and set point are now 100 percent adjustable, allowing operators to choose the desired range based on the application requirements. No longer are operators required to order and stock redundant devices in the event one failed in the field.  Users now have the flexibility of programming one switch to match many different process requirements.

With more than 80 years of evolution since its introduction, switch technology has changed significantly enough that common beliefs about switches are no longer true.  Problems, issues and performance of switches have long been rectified.  Our sales engineers, with decades of experience, can recommend appropriate models based on new technology advancements in switch design to solve problems in process, industrial, and OEM applications. Our experts can recommend the best solutions for extreme conditions such as mechanical shock, vibration, heat and high pressure.  Additionally, recommendations can include models with displays, high stability, field programmability, and device or process diagnostics.  Customers taking advantage of this service will acquire a better understanding of the new technology available to improve control and safety of their systems.

Our new line of hybrid transmitter-switches is a breakthrough product.

There are many intelligent pressure and temperature transmitters available in the open market. What makes the One Series Safety Transmitter a better choice for the diverse process industry. Could you please elaborate its unique selling points?

Typical process pressure and temperature transmitters only measure process variables.  They are designed to be highly accurate and repeatable far beyond what is necessary in safety applications that typically require 1-2% accuracy at best. Process transmitters, unlike the Safety Transmitter designed for Safety Instrumented System (SIS) applications, cannot analyze the measurement variable and drive a specific action.  Consequently, the signal must be sent to a trip alarm, local controller or the DCS to enable a desired action. 

To illustrate this, let's assume that a plant is upgrading a safety system that was “grandfathered” under the older IEC 61508 Edition 1 (2000) standard. In order to meet the changes to new standard, an upgrade to a new certified SIS is needed.  Using a traditional transmitter approach, the customer would need to upgrade the sensor and the safety system (IO, controller, safety relay) that typically controls a host of safety loops, making it logistically impossible to upgrade during a typical shutdown and turnaround. Using a multifunctional Safety Transmitter, a system can be quickly upgraded without affecting the other systems.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and Connected Enterprise technology adoption are essential for increasing safety of the plant, people and assets. What roles will United Electric Controls modern technologies play for the plant, people, assets and the future of manufacturing?

UE feels that the IoT initiative in the process industry will be adopted in a measured pace, however, we are developing wireless products with open communication protocols that will be the foundation necessary for the adoption of IoT. We expect that wireless process data will be transmitted to the enterprise level without going through the control system. 

Bypassing the control system, frees up the system to perform critical control functions.  When combined with data from pervasive sensors across the enterprise, the resulting smarter decisions will improve productivity.

Could please focus on UE’s expansion and marketing challenges in India and Middle East market? What are the company's most recent initiatives?

UE has invested heavily in India, Middle East, and Africa.  We believe that the demand in these regions will outpace others in the mid-term. We have centralized our operations in India for this area that operate as an “office” that supports our comprehensive local distributor network authorized to sell UE products.  From our office in Baroda, we organize technical shows, presentations and provide application and service support for customers and distributors.  The Indian office collects and transmits vital market information to corporate headquarters so products can be tailored to the specific needs of the Indian market.  

What are the future plans of United Electric Controls India? And how important will India be for global expansion of the company?

As competitive pressures mount and the response to customer demands increase, UE is investigating an alternative structure to move closer to our customers. The Indian market can become the most important in just a few short years.  Nothing is finalized yet but the next few years will be one of the most exciting chapters in UE's long history.

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