19 Feb

Deciding When to Automate

Energy Usage In the January 2014 issue of Control Engineering Magazine, Mark T. Hoske makes ten predictions for the new year, one of which is more processes will be streamlined and add automation. Hoske expands on this idea by pointing out that return on investment is the highest when automation is applied to lean processes.

Un-optimized processes can unknowingly generate a lot of waste. Automating anything in such a system will likely have little benefit, if any. You can’t know if automation is the rights step to take if you don’t know whether or not you’re creating waste. The last thing any business needs is an automated system that uses too much fuel or materials.

The reason why Mark Hoske singles out lean processes is because they have already been optimized to such an extent that nothing is frivolous or wasted. Every asset in the system is performing its ideal job and producing ideal information. In such a system, it is easy to identify the areas which would benefit most from automation.

When you find the right engineering consultant, you don’t have to worry about the potential waste your current system is producing. The best in the business know the first step requires a look at the whole picture. There is no point in automating just for the sake of automation. The right partner will make sure you understand if what you want can accomplish your goals and if there are any methods that can accomplish them more efficiently.


17 Jul

Tablets in the Workplace


This photo, “Tablets stacked on the desk” is copyright (c) 2014 Intel Free Press and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

Tablets have turned into the latest tech tool, from the Samsung Galaxy note to the Microsoft Surface. Speculation has been around for a while about how these easily transportable devices may change the way we use technology in the workplace. We’ve all seen the commercials showing data, graphs and emails displayed on tablets. How accurate are those commercials, though? Synergy set out early this year to answer that question.

 Over the Christmas holiday season, we obtained an iPad, a Microsoft Surface and a Galaxy Note to see how our expert engineers were able to use these tablets in the workplace. While they all had their advantages and disadvantages, we recently decided to purchase Samsung ATIV Smart PCs for the rest of our engineers. This tablet runs Windows 8 on it and also has a detachable keyboard, much like the Microsoft Surface does.

The biggest benefit we have seen so far has been in our day to day note taking tasks. Whether it’s stepping into an office and jotting down a quick note or participating in project meetings, these tablets are great for note taking. Even more important to the engineers in the office, these tablets allow you to write just as you would on paper, meaning they can sketch their drawings and easily save them. No longer do we waste time flipping through a ton of notebooks trying to find that one special page. Instead, each set of notes can be saved and given a name, making them easy to find later.

While this certainly helps organization, it also has the fantastic benefit of reducing paper use. The result is similar to what we provide our clients through our solutions and services. Not only will we save money by needed fewer office materials, but we are also aiding the environment by using far less paper.

That is not the end for these tablets, which live up to the idea of mini computers in many ways. It’s extremely easy to access the internet or email through a tablet. While these are things you can do on many smart phones, the tablets allow larger views which can be important when view professional documents.

In the future, we intend to use the tablets for remote access to desktops in the office and on client sites. With this ability, we will be able to work on process control from wherever we are and without the need to have a laptop or desktop.

While we have found tablets to be a great asset to our work environment, with plenty of potential to grow in importance, the bigger question has yet to be answered. Can a tablet replace a computer? The answer really depends on the type of business you run. If you need something to type documents, check email and access the internet, a tablet may very well replace a computer. However, if you are doing heavy work with coding, drawings and large files, a computer is still necessary.

We look forward to the future of tablets. While they may not be at a point yet to replace computers, there is certainly great potential. Who knows what kind of powerful technology we’ll be carrying in our pockets 10 years from now.

13 Mar

New Elements of Life Cycle Cost

New Elements of Life Cycle Cost

BusinessDictionary.com defines Life Cycle Cost as the “sum of all recurring and one-time costs over the full life span… of a good, service, structure or system.” This is a term often used in our industry, where process equipment and boilers are purchased with the intention of running them decades into the future. The rapid pace of technology, along with growing environmental concerns, has added additional elements to the calculation of life cycle cost. For example, a product with a long life may become obsolete before its end. Another concern is environmental laws. While a systems may be compliant with emission laws right now, changes in the future could hold even stricter emission restrictions.

Upgrading typically requires the replacement of a few parts while maintaining a whole system or product. That is changing with technology’s ever increasing advancement. Upgrading can mean different things depending on the product you purchase. If advanced technology is already being sold in the marketplace, other products may become obsolete as the newer technology takes hold. In a few decades, an upgrade may require complete replacement of some equipment. The latest technology tends to have a higher cost, which much be weighed in terms of the product life cycle. More than likely, a plant is better off choosing the latest technology because it will take a significant amount of time before it becomes obsolete. In the end, less money will be spent throughout the life cycle with a product that remains at the forefront of technology for years to come.

Today’s cutting-edge technology, such as intelligent HMI and variable frequency drives, many benefits, which much also be taken into consideration. Greater efficiency, less maintenance and a smaller environmental footprint are all elements of new technology that save money in a system. Such benefits may be necessary in the future. Our culture has only become increasingly concerned about industrial emissions. It can be assumed, then, that the future will see a gradual tightening of restrictions on emissions. A sure way to avoid negative impacts from future emission restrictions is to ensure your plant surpasses current standards. Installing an economizer can be a simple and cost effective way to begin. In addition to reducing emissions, it saves fuel and energy cost by harnessing the energy that would otherwise be lost up the stack. For these reasons, Synergy’s Economizer Solutions provides the fastest return on investment out of all of our products. At the end of the day, any steps in upgrading or optimizing that can reduce emissions can also reduce the cost of running a system. Such ‘green’ elements should weigh heavy in any life cycle cost analysis.

When it comes to calculating the life cycle cost of your next big business purchase, remember to consider more than purchase price, maintenance and life. Additional concerns, such as environmental impact and whether or not the product will be obsolete in the near future should carry a lot of weight in your decision.

~You aren’t alone in this decision. Synergy’s expert combustion engineers are always available to provide advice on whatever project you may be planning. Contact us at 630–724-1960, extension 12.