Milestone Process Automation
Milestones in Process Automation From a Small Company to a Global Player in Process Automation
While the early days of Endress+Hauser were all about delivering reliable and accurate measured values, today the family company is driving digitalization and Industry 4.0 projects at high speed — always with a focus on the customer.
It is well known that opposites attract. And sometimes this can result in something really special. This is exactly what happened at the start of the 1950s in the Markgräflerland region in the southwest of Germany. In 1953, the young Swiss engineer Georg H. Endress and Ludwig Hauser, the experienced director of a Lörrach cooperative bank, laid the foundations for what is now the globally active full-service provider for measurement and automation technology. Endress had brought along innovative electronic level measuring instruments from UK company Fielden in Manchester. From a modern point of view, these were technical behemoths with electron tubes, a large steel housing and two meters of high-frequency cable, but at the time the equipment was cutting edge and represented the global state of the art. The young company was soon no longer content to merely distribute the Fielden units in Germany. Instead, Endress started to develop his own measuring devices: level testers (“Nivotester”) and silometers were launched — manufactured in an old carpenter’s workshop.
Soon after, the young company had grown to 78 employees and needed to relocate. At the new location in Maulburg, they added further methods for level measurement to the established capacitive measurement techniques: ultrasound, radiometry, conductivity and electromechanics. The new equipment had little in common with the devices from the early period. Transistors, first made of germanium and later silicon, replaced the bulky tubes. Another milestone was the separation of the electronics in the measuring probe from the signal processing in the transducer. This technical coup was enabled by the introduction of longer transmission cables and was implemented in 1964 for the first time in the Nivotester NC 70.
Just four years later, there was already great demand for Endress+Hauser units in the market, and the steady rise from a small craft business to an industrial enterprise began. This led to major changes in terms of the company’s structures, management and employee management. At the start of the 1970s, annual business targets were formulated, and codetermination within the company and IT systems were introduced. In terms of human resource policy, there was a stronger focus on employee self-initiative. Much of what was set out in the management guidelines from this era can still be found today in the guidelines and values catalog of the company.
The subsequent years were shaped by strong investments. Endress+Hauser founded other companies and made a number of acquisitions. The areas of business were expanded — an important cornerstone for the subsequent evolution of the company into a full-service provider of measurement and automation technology solutions, i.e. into what makes the “People for Process Automation” what they are today.
In the 1980s, the company unveiled an incredibly wide range of new products and product innovations. Humidity sensors, the magnetic-inductive flowmeter Autozero 2000 and the revolutionary fill level limit switch Liquiphant were real benchmarks that made the market sit up and take notice.
Microelectronics Open Up New Opportunities
The introduction of microelectronics opened up the possibility of brand new functions, e.g. continuous self-monitoring of the entire measuring system. Josef Kathmann, longstanding Head of Sales at the Endress+Hauser Technical Office in Hanover, is convinced that “these developments laid the ground work for our current broad portfolio, which enables us to operate as a full-service provider.”
No doubt, Endress+Hauser was often ahead of its time with many of its developments — to the point where the technology was sometimes received with a degree of skepticism. “When we launched the Liquiphant, a competitor told the dairy company that this limit switch would turn the milk into cream,” Kathmann still chuckles. However, the example also clearly shows how important the understanding of technology is and how important it is to have a good relationship with the customer. Sales expert Kathmann had his own ideas about how to explain the operating principle of the Liquiphant. In order to prove that it would reliably detect the boundary between foam and liquid, he was fond of inviting customers for a beer, at which point he would then give a “live” demonstration to show how well the measuring instrument worked in a beer glass.
At the same time, the first magnetic-inductive flowmeter (MID) with microprocessor technology was launched onto the market, followed soon after by the M-Point, the first straight-tube mass flowmeter, which was also capable of detecting gas trapped in liquids. “This device was completely new, and there was nothing comparable on the market yet. But experiences gained by our customers helped to shape its development. Products and users still benefit from this close coordination today,” emphasizes Kathmann.
Trust as a Decisive Success Factor
Despite all the innovations and new products developed during these years, for Kathmann there is another key success factor that stands out to him: “The trust in Endress+Hauser is the most important thing. Particularly with new technology, there are often situations in which not everything works perfectly. My guiding principle was always that I would never leave the plant until the sensor worked properly.” And the numbers back him up: 1989 ended with turnover of CHF 500 million — the company’s best year to date at this point. The company was already employing over 4,000 people all around the world.
The portfolio was expanded further still in close cooperation between customers and developers. Where Endress+Hauser only had one pressure sensor in its range in 1985, today the company can offer the complete spectrum, including a ceramic measuring cell for the trickiest measuring situations. The portfolio of temperature measurement instruments developed similarly — here again, the company started out with just one sensor on the market, and today it is a full-service provider and offers the full range. This development was recently crowned with the iTherm TrustSens, a self-calibrating thermometer that brought Endress+Hauser the Hermes Award 2018. With this unit, for the first time it is possible to perform process-dependent automatic inline calibration at very short calibration intervals.
The 1990s were shaped by the development of fieldbus technologies — and this is where the foundations for current Industry 4.0 projects were laid. “Suddenly it was possible to read additional information from the mass flow measurement devices, such as the density, temperature and viscosity,” remembers Kathmann. Ultrasonic sensors delivered the data in the form of curves directly to the display and thus provided answers to questions about how reliable a measurement was or where faults were occurring in the system. “That was a major leap not only for our customers, but also for ourselves. It gave us certainty that the measurements were working reliably.”
The success was reflected in the growth of the group of companies. In 1991, Endress+Hauser Flowtec took a state-of-the-art production plant into operation in Cernay in Alsace, while Conducta forged ahead in the same year with a new plant for pH electrodes in Waldheim in Saxony in eastern Germany. Two years later, the Deutschland-Holding division and the IT Center moved to a new building in Weil am Rhein. Maulburg was also expanded again. The subsidiary company PPE (Photo Print Electronic) constructed a second plant for PCBs in 1997 in Pulversheim, France and Flowtec built a large research and development facility in Reinach, Switzerland. The 1990s was also a time for a generational change in leadership: in 1995 Georg H. Endress passed the baton to his son Klaus Endress, who steered the course of the group of companies as CEO until 2014.
A Company for all Aspects of Automation
Thanks to the broad portfolio and the wealth of know-how in digitalization, Endress+Hauser started to receive more and more inquiries about full project planning and supply of systems, whether for calibratable dosing plants or fuel depots. The company responded by setting up Endress+Hauser Process Solutions AG in Reinach in Switzerland in 2000, which finally cemented the step from measuring instrument supplier to supplier of total automation technology solutions.
In the field of appliance-oriented solutions, the “People for Process Automation” offer, among other things, mechanical adaptations — e.g. the installation of bypass pipes or complete solutions for steam measurement and loading/unloading facilities for ships and tank trucks. Apart from engineering, this is also often about consultation and contact with the calibration authorities. This area also includes inventory management systems in tank farms for safe and reliable inventory measurements. The world of analysis solutions is also covered — starting from tailor-made analysis panels containing modules for pH and conductivity measurements and on to intelligent measurement containers.
The scope of tasks is extremely broad. “Our engineers look after all aspects of system integration — from basic and detail engineering to support and maintenance, along the entire lifecycle,” explains Peter Dietrich, Department Head of Automation/Digitalization at Endress+Hauser, underlining the key advantage: the company operates independently of control system manufacturers. A benefit here is the in-house, certified fieldbus laboratory. “This enables us to test manufacturer-independent automation solutions before we install them at the customer’s site. This saves time and relieves pressure during commissioning,” explains Dietrich. For around four years, Endress+Hauser has also been investing in the partnership program Open Integration, with which intelligent cross-manufacturer solutions can be developed.
Building Bridges to the Digital World
Since the turn of the millennium, the trend for global growth has continued apace. New production companies in China and India are strengthening the presence in the growing markets in Asia. Gas analysis and bioprocess engineering have now been added to the portfolio. In 2016, the competence centers for flow rate measurement technology in Reinach, Switzerland and for temperature measurement technology in Nesselwang, Germany and the Raman analyzer production facilities of Kaiser Optical Systems in the USA were all expanded. Together with partner Rockwell Automation, Endress+Hauser opened the first joint test center in Europe.
Today, Endress+Hauser has 14,000 employees who generate an impressive turnover of € 2.4 billion. Day-to-day work has long been dominated by topics like the Industrial Internet of Things — or IIoT for short — and digitalization across the board. “We started the preliminary work for Industry 4.0 more than 20 years ago with our digital fieldbus technology and the capture of all sensor-specific production data. For four or five years now this topic has been increasingly at the center of our focus,” is how Benedikt Schumann, Product Manager for Industry 4.0 at Endress+Hauser, describes the development. Here, it is particularly about the optimization of all non-productive steps relating to all aspects of the production process, i.e. the management of field devices or the introduction of intelligent maintenance routines.
Maintenance, for example, has long been seen as the least controllable cost item, so the aim is to make it more accurate, faster and better in future. Talking about current practices, Schumann explains: “Everyone knows the situation: when a critical error triggers the error message F105, for example, but you first have to study the documentation to find out what exactly this means in terms of the fault that lies behind it. With our online services, users now have access to all of the key information at all times. You not only get to see the error message, but the system also provides concrete suggestions straight away about what to do to remedy the problem.”
With this, Endress+Hauser is promising faster access to all the equipment data, with the asset management system holding data records for 30 million installed field devices. Dietrich is proud that “our rigorous approach of digitally capturing every field device for 20 years has paid off.” Alongside this static data, a whole range of algorithms have been developed to gain access to information not only about the sensor, but also about the process.
The best example is Heartbeat Technology that is being rolled out step-by-step by Endress+Hauser for all its measuring instruments. It supplies the so-called HBSI (Heartbeat Sensor Integrity) value, which can be used, for example, to detect corrosion and deposits. In this way, it is possible to identify difficult measurement points and optimize the maintenance concept accordingly.
Dietrich is certain that “by providing device-specific trend parameters via Heartbeat Technology, we have made a major breakthrough for predictive maintenance.” And, in the process, the technology has long outgrown its time in pilot plants. For example, in a plant manufacturing tar, the user will know exactly thanks to Heartbeat that the pipe is set to clog in 22 days and three hours and that it needs to be cleaned. In the past, the plant was shut down as a precautionary measure every 14 days.
The calibration of pH probes is also made easier thanks to Heartbeat, and it provides early reports of build-up on magnetic-inductive flowmeters — all measures that enable predictive maintenance.
Correct Distribution of Information
The data is bundled and presented by the online service Analytics. Once the plant has been captured, all information is listed — such as which devices are installed, when they were manufactured and whether they are possibly no longer manufactured by Endress+Hauser. In addition, it is also possible to define the properties of measurement points so that particularly risky measurement points can be specified, for example. “All of these pieces of information are available via a dashboard so that users can keep a clear overview of all the installed equipment,” explains Industry 4.0 expert Schumann.
At present, equipment data for over 30 million different measuring instruments is available in the Endress+Hauser database. In this way, it is possible to automatically create a digital twin with all the relevant documents, certificates and lifecycle information in the online service. The field devices also have the required connectivity so that — as well as the measurement values — the diagnostic and monitoring data can also be transmitted to the cloud at the same time. Every field device with a digital output can be integrated in the online services, and communications between sensor and cloud are customer-specific. For example, as per the NOA concept (Namur Open Architecture), the second channel can be implemented via gateways between the fieldbuses, but also via integrated WLAN or Bluetooth modules or via WirelessHart adapters.
Edge devices enable the connection to the cloud. The edge device forms the interface between the OT landscape and the IT landscape, where further processing of the data takes place with the aid of online services. As a result, it is possible to automatically capture digital field devices, for example. This method of access has been certified via audit (by the EuroCloud organization) and thus fulfills the security requirements of the process industry. All information and recommended actions can of course also be fed back into the standard workflows via the cloud interfaces.
The Analytics app generates an overview of the installed set of field devices and is supplemented by further apps. The Scanner app helps to capture measuring devices without installing an edge device. The Health app offers services for device diagnostics so that critical failures can be responded to as quickly as possible. The Library app enables integrated and traceable saving of documents for a measuring point, e.g. commissioning reports or calibration reports. The SmartBlue app was developed for mobile operation of field devices in areas that are difficult to access and in areas that are at increased risk of explosion. With this app landscape, users always have access to all data and recommended actions in real time both for commissioning and for maintenance.
There is a brand-new cooperation with SAP, with whom Endress+Hauser hopes to combine the strengths of a field device manufacturer with those of an ERP provider to build a bridge from the field devices all the way to the SAP system. “This will allow maintenance routines and workflows to be adapted and automatically integrated,” believes Schumann.
The declared goal is to become a technological pioneer for Industry 4.0 together with partners. There is certainly no shortage of ideas, whether that relates to augmented reality concepts or new business models. “There will be customers who are no longer interested in the sensors, who just care about the analysis supplied on a dashboard,” is how Schumann explains how the technology will pan out in the future. And whatever the technology of tomorrow will look like, for sales veteran Kathmann, the most valuable asset of Endress+Hauser is the trust its customers place in the company's knowledge.
“The world is becoming more complex, so from the point of view of automation technology we need to design it so that it is simpler for our customers.” The aspiration of the “People for Process Automation” is to find the best solutions for this in each and every situation.