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Tue 24 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

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Command and control

UME talks to Steve Nicholls, president, Middle East & Africa for Emerson, about the benefits and challenges of process control and automation.

UMEtalks to Steve Nicholls, president, Middle East & Africa for Emerson, about the benefits and challenges of process control and automation.

How does your company serve the utilities sector in the area of process control and automation?

We're a global manufacturer of technological products and services, and one of the prime markets that we cover is power and utilities. We supply process control equipment, through to racking and storage solutions.

On a global basis the power and water marketplace probably represents between 10 and 15% of our worldwide sales.

What recent technical advances have you seen put to good effect in the region?

One of the challenges that we have in the Middle East is looming power shortages. It's a real issue. It was an issue for us when we built our facility in JAFZA South Zone in Dubai. We were somewhat limited by DEWA in the amount of power available to us.

So one of the things that we'd really like to talk to the utilities and the governments here about is ways of sustaining growth, but providing them energy efficient solutions.

For instance, the design of some of our motors are more energy efficient than some of our competitors, the design of our air conditioning systems are more energy efficient than other systems in the local market.

We would really like to talk to the regional governments about energy saving opportunities and reduce demand from utilities, particularly in power, to free up extra capacity to fuel the ambitious growth that organisations like DEWA in Dubai or SEWA in Sharjah have set themselves as targets.

Achieving the development goals in the region isn't just about rolling out more and more capacity, optimisation and efficiency should play a key part in that strategy.

In terms of process control we've got PlantWeb, which is about wirelessly having the capability to send instructions from the field to the control system without having to do any hardwiring. Also Scroll compressors from our Copeland compressors group which is a much more efficient way of compressing or cooling air for our air conditioning solutions. Those are our two big pitches that are really well suited for the Middle East.

What challenges do the regional utility providers face in applying the latest process control and automation technology?

It's about adoption. We find that in the Middle East if you can get to the right levels of people they become early adopters of cutting edge technology. It's quite difficult to get to those people though.

Quite often you are dealing with a foreign workforce who are here on a temporary basis and their job, and their challenge is to design a cooling plant, or design a power station, and then their job is over. We need to get to the senior levels.

There's a group of people who are early adopters. They're the ones with the Blackberry's and iPods early on. If these people are keen to embrace technology in the home then we find that are keen early adopters in the industrial space too.

The challenge is getting to the right person who understands what you are trying to provide, listens to that pitch, and then builds that in to the overall design and their plant standards.

You can generally spot these people in a room, because they rush up to you after a seminar session and want to discuss the subject matter in depth with you for another hour because they can see the potential and they're so tantalised by the technology.

Has the speed of roll out of projects meant that often these long-term factors are skimmed over, or the consideration rushed?

Absolutely. Particularly in the last four to five years, and particularly in Dubai because of the massive amount of projects that are on the books. There is a shortage of manpower, there is a rush to meet timing schedules, so it's been difficult.

One of the advantages of the global slowdown, is that people are pausing for thought, taking a deep breath, and really looking at and analysing opportunities, because they haven't had that opportunity in the last four years.

How can these challenges be overcome?

Showing people what the total installed savings can be early on will make a big difference. Our products may cost a little more, but its not the capital cost that's important, it's the overall package cost which incorporates the capital outlay, installation costs, the operating cost and the upkeep costs.

When our end users show what overall savings they've made then you get a very effective message to the market.

What technology currently under development could have the greatest impact for this region?

Wireless solutions within the process group is a great, great opportunity here. There are many measures that plant operations people should be making to learn more about the process that they haven't been able to in the past.

With wireless products we're able to install that at a fraction of the traditional, hardwired price. That allows the operator to get a much broader view of the process, and therefore optimise it.

Current market conditions affecting your business?

It's affecting everybody and we're not unique in that. We've had very robust sales over the last two quarters so we are quite happy with our results. We are seeing some projects delayed as the end users try to take advantage of lower costs.

In most cases the end user is going back to the engineering contractors or construction firms, and trying to get them to reassess pricing.

Steel has come down, cement has come down, labour costs are dropping in the project environment. So, renegotiating has slowed a few capital projects - it hasn't eliminated them, but it has slowed them down.

One of the advantages to a company like ourselves is that the products and assets that we sell need maintenance and upgrades, so even in a global capital market turndown, the requirement to maintain these products is big. That creates a very significant revenue stream for us.

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