Wil Chin – VP, Marketing & Business Development, United Electric Controls Co (UE), in conversation with Industrial Automation. Excerpts…
United Electric Controls Co (UE)
Safety, Alarm & Shutdown Applications
United Electric Controls Co (UE) has a rich legacy of over eighty years in pressure and temperature switches, electronic transmitter-switches, and sensors. What is the broad range of products?
As a global supplier of devices for safety, we have taken approach to include every hazardous area approval for every major region of the world. This includes not only UL, Atex and IECEx but also country approvals such as PESO for India and KC for South Korea. Virtually every UE product has all approvals in the standard product, which allows Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to ship anywhere in the world without ordering specific models. We provide a host of products for low cost general purpose applications, robust devices for hazardous areas, and SIL certified units for critical safety applications as these must work at all cost. Our switch and transmitter product lines are segmented into two technologies; electromechanical and electronic.
Electromechanical is ideal for areas where power is not present while electronic devices provide diagnostics for commissioning and maintenance, reducing the total cost of ownership through the lifecycle of the product by reducing setup and programming to a matter of seconds.
How has the technology for these products evolved over this period? What is the USP of UEC?
Similar to instrumentation in the industrial automation space, many of our devices have entered the electronic era. Historically, the shift has been due to the quest for better performance, application flexibility, and diagnostics; however the notion of low cost access to data, intelligent data mining and smart solutions driven by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is accelerating the demand data that electronic devices provide. In the short term, the retirement of the older workforce and lack of a young replacement workforce is driving the need for more diagnostics to guide less experienced workers and reduce downtime while improving safety.
Unlike diversified automation suppliers, our resources are focused in core vertical markets and applications. Our small but innovative company works closely with safety professionals to solve critical problems that are urgent and pervasive with differentiated products not available anywhere else.
For example, with processes becoming more complex and dangerous in heavy process industries, there has been an increasing need for simple stand-alone safety system to increase protection coverage. Our digital One Series transmitter-switches with and without SIL certification can upgrade process safety in “brownfield” applications and improve safety in one field mounted box without added equipment.
Measurements in process industry are today are deployed plant wide. Are all these products compatible with major automation protocols and platforms?
UE products are used primarily for safety, alarm, and emergency shutdown applications that demand discrete, analog and/or analog with HART communications. Virtually all our products are compatible with these applications except our elite SIL certified Safety Transmitter that forgoes the HART output for safety reasons. Fieldbus communication protocols typically used in “greenfield” projects such as Foundation Fieldbus and Profibus are used for the basic process control system but are not used in the applications where our products are installed. There are Fieldbus protocols for safety applications such as PROFIsafe but only has limited adoption. Analog with HART protocol remains the leading communication installed and continues to grow. It’s been reported that it represents nearly 50% of the installed base while Fieldbus is in low double-digits and slowing.
In India SMEs are often seen as cost shy when it comes to high quality. What is the experience on this count?
The sell price of instrumentation in India is lower than any other region of the world. In the long-run, low prices cannot be sustained as suppliers cannot continue to cut cost by reducing budgets in R&D, service, and support. Devices used in large quantities, as in new projects, will be under price pressure as many suppliers go after the large Indian market as the home markets continue to be sluggish. Suppliers will be forced to overcharge for additions and added services that were not under contract to regain loss revenue. In this global marketplace, the price in India will likely be demanded by other regions of the world, which puts a further strain on suppliers and exasperating the negative effects to the supplier’s bottom line. The long-term outcome is that India may lose the automation technology lead to other nations that will pay for high quality and high performing products.
What is the nature of the company’s activities in India – any manufacturing or value addition happens locally?
UE has invested heavily in India but not in terms of manufacturing capability. We believe that demand in India will outpace other regions of the world in the mid-term. We have centralised operations in India that operate as an “office” that supports our comprehensive local distributor network authorised to sell UE products. 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. We support ISA and IEC in the Indian region with training, education, and sponsorships at many automation events.
How strong/effective is the after sales service?
Our philosophy is to provide quality reliable products that can last the life of the plant. We feel that less complex products are likely to fail less; however products stop working for a number of reasons and in the unlikely event that it does, we will get you a replacement immediately to keep your plant running and let the paperwork catch up later. Our award winning lean manufacturing facility in Watertown, MA USA has allowed UE to produce low cost products with the highest quality, reliability, and price appropriate for all regions of the world and deliver in 2 weeks or much less in an emergency.
What are the company's achievements? Especially in terms of breakthrough product launches?
UE has a rich history of innovations. More than seven decades ago we developed the first micro switch that is the basis of all electromechanical pressure and temperature switches today. We developed the first safety switch using embedded micro switches for the protection of equipment in hazardous area locations and expanded the product line to include patented electronic products for seamless plant upgrades without supplying power to the unit. This was later expanded into a completely new design certified by a 3rd party, for SIL 2 safety instrumented systems (SIS). All of the electronic devices have diagnostics with each iteration gaining more practical diagnostics to help customers reduce cost without the nuisance trips that smart devices can have.
We are most proud of our recent achievement, the Vanguard WirelessHART toxic and combustible gas detector.
What are the future plans, especially with the government emphasis on Make in India?
We are happy to see that Prime Minister Modi’s initiative is taking hold with India improving its ranking of doing business index from 189 to 130. While the Make in India rules and processes are fully vetted, we are in the process of evaluating everything from customer needs, demand, market dynamics, and the cost. We will take full advantage of “Make in India” initiatives by new government when the time is appropriate.