Modular Still Matters

The Process Analyzer Industry and One of Its Largest User Communities Must Get Away from Building "Steel Copies of Wooden Bridges"

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"When man invented steel, he did not build steel copies of wooden bridges." — Ayn Rand  From the mid-1940s through the mid-1990s, process analyzers were two- to six- cubic-foot devices, "wooden bridges," if you will. In the late 1990s, Siemens introduced the MicroSAM gas chromatograph ( to the European market and in 2004 to the North American market, as well as the dual-analytic chassis/single-enclosure spectrophotometer, the Ultramat 23. Suddenly, process analyzers were available in one to two cubic-foot devices (perhaps "steel copies" of those "wooden bridges"?). Other major analyzer manufacturers also introduced spectrophotometers offering this format around that same time. Only one other manufacturer has seen fit to offer a miniaturized process gas chromatograph to the hydrocarbon processing and chemical processing industries. This unit is the Calidas micro gas chromatograph by Falcon Analytical.

In 2002, a group of hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) and chemical processing industry (CPI) process analyzer personnel gathered and defined ANSI/ISA 76.00.02 (2002), which is generally referred to as the New Sampling and Sensor Initiative (NeSSI), Generation I. It defined a "universal mechanical format" for process analyzer "modular" sample conditioning system components. The process analyzer industry had entered the era of two- to six-cubic inch devices.

This group also defined NeSSI, Generation II (ConnI), as a Universal Connectivity Instrumentation Format for electrical data exchange and component control between process analyzer modular sample conditioning system components.

The process analyzer industry at this point in NeSSI development ran headlong into proprietary systems that channel purchases to a single supplier rather than systems for the universal advancement of the industry. For example, open standard formats are CANBus (IEEE 1451.6) or Modbus (ISA SP100.11a);  i-squared-C was adapted to a Siemens' proprietary version of this universal open standard.

Finally, the NeSSI group defined NeSSI, Generation III (AnNIE), as a Universal Analytical NeSSI Instrumentation Equipment Hardware Format, where the footprint is NeSSI Gen I; the connectivity is NeSSI Gen II; the analytical engine is miniaturized to fit within a 1.50-inch width by multiples of 1.50-inch length and, within reason, unlimited height (NeSSI Gen III); and the analytical performance is maximized by utilization of laser analytical light sources and ASIC PDA (1024 photo diode array) or other miniaturized analytical detectors. Examples include H2scan for a hydrogen-specific analyzer and TOC Systems for a component-addressable non-dispersive infrared (NDIR) spectrophotometer.

The process analyzer industry and one of its largest user communities (HPI/CPI) absolutely must get away from building "steel copies of wooden bridges." In this case, they must get away from building $250,000, NEC/NFPA explosion-proof, climate-controlled 8 ft x 10 ft x 9 ft analyzer shelters to house $25,000,  0.5 ft x 0.5 ft x 1.0 ft process analyzers.

The HPI/CPI communities must provide financial support for the NeSSI generation of process analytical equipment!

The operational model of the HPI/CPI process analyzer system must change. It must evolve from using a relatively expensive, infrastructure-intensive (explosion-proof, climate-controlled, walk-in) shelter/building to a relatively inexpensive integrated infrastructure (NeSSI-format, intrinsically safe, climate-adapted, at-line, 1.0 ft x 1.0 ft x 1.5 ft enclosure process analyzer system).

The maintenance model in this inexpensive integrated infrastructure field application would be an identical, relatively inexpensive NeSSI system available from the analyzer shop as a hot-spare, total-field substitution.

A multi-national refiner considered the NeSSI format and maintenance model for a large chemical plant expansion in Singapore (circa 2007), but ended up only using NeSSI Gen I (basic hardware items in  a 1.50-in. x 1.50-in. footprint) in its process analyzer systems for this major expansion project.

Why was this decision made? In this era of high technology devices, ultra-communication capability and Sarbanes-Oxley accounting principles. this decision came down to the classic conundrum of "the chicken or the egg." If this refiner  went with "the chicken," here being the process analyzer modular sample conditioning system components (Gen I) and the electrical data exchange and component control between process analyzer modular sample conditioning system components (Gen II), would there be future nourishment ("the egg")?

It managed its risk by applying NeSSI Gen I components. At this point in time, there were (and currently are) three major manufacturers producing NeSSI modular substrate basic  (Gen I) components—Circor, Parker and Swagelok —and using classic pressure and flow indication devices to populate the data generation function for control of these many (~400) process analytical systems.

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