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Coriolis technology fueling chemical industry transformation

March 14, 2022
A Control Amplified podcast with Don Fregelette, Vice President, Chemical Industry, Emerson

It's been 45 years since Micro Motion debuted its first Coriolis meter, and back then, the chemical lab industry was the first to recognize the advantages of direct mass flow measurement. But over the years, Coriolis technology and complementary instrumentation that Emerson has assembled has proved the worth of this technology in many other dimensions. In this episode of Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast, editor in chief Keith Larson is joined by Don Fregelette, chemical industry vice president for Emerson's Automation Solutions Business, to discuss the range of applications and benefits Emerson's chemical manufacturing clients are realizing through this technology.


Keith Larson: Back when Micro Motion debuted its first Coriolis meter, now some 45 years ago, the chem lab industry was really the first to recognize the inherent advantages of direct mass flow measuring. First, it was all about the ability to precisely control the molecular ratio of reagents, which, after all, is what chemical reactions are all about. But over the intervening years, Coriolis technology along with a range of complementary instrumentation technologies that Emerson assembled to serve the needs of chemical manufacturers, it really proved their worth in many other dimensions as well.

Hello. My name is Keith Larson, editor in chief of Control magazine and ControlGlobal.com, and welcome to this Solution Spotlight episode of our Control Amplified podcast, sponsored today by Emerson. Joining me today to discuss the range of applications delivered and benefits brought to bear on behalf of Emerson's chemical manufacturing clients by instrumentation technology is Don Fregelette, chemical industry vice president for Emerson's Automation Solutions business.

Welcome, Don, and a real pleasure to talk with you today.

Don Fregelette: Hey, thanks, Keith. I'm excited to be here. I mean, I look at the chemical industry and my job today, and it couldn't be a better place to be. I mean, you look at all the things that are going on, and I just see the entire industry reevaluating itself. And, you know, thinking about how to re-innovate itself. So, I'm excited to be here.

Keith: Great. Great. Well, maybe just to start things off, speaking of re-innovating and reimagining the chemical industry, can you review for our listeners what you see as some of the key challenges that are really demanding the attention of the chemical industry now as we enter the, what, 2022, gosh, well, into the 21st century now?

Don: Yeah. So, you get confused with COVID, right? So, yeah. Actually, I mean, if you think about just operations, in general, I mean, traditionally have always seen three things that have been consistent with challenges, and one is safety. And even though we've been dealing with it for a long time, I mean, in 2020, I think there were something like 3,500 deaths around the world in the chemical industry. So, it's still a challenge, and it's still a high level of focus. Quality, to deliver quality products. And when you look at the specialty chemical industry today, and you think about the fact that they're being pushed into all of these new creative formulations, you know, being able to drive a consistency in their product really means everything to them. Speed and, I mean, just look at the supply chain. So, we're all trying to figure out how to do a better job at meeting the customer demands on getting the product to them on the right time and in the right speed. And then the two new ones that I think that everyone's really seen is you see all the stuff going on with the government and consumer demands around what are you doing for sustainability? And then the last one is, I mean, the economy is heating up, we hear about inflation. I mean, in the chemical industry, like everyone else, is getting hit with net material inflation. So, I mean, there's a higher level of focus right now, and just what are they doing to improve their operating margins? So, I think those are probably really the big ones.

Keith: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You know, those are some of the demand, certainly for the industry overall. How is it reshaping things when it comes to instrumentation, which is kind of where you grew up and where you've been focused for many years is on the devices out in the field? How is it changing their priorities there when it comes to the instrumentation?

Don: Yeah, I think it's interesting, because, I mean, you look at some of the basics, like safety, and I talked about that, and they've always looked at it from a functional side. So, now they're starting to look at some of these areas, like safety and reduce cycle times, and just look at it differently. So, it goes beyond functional, and they look at their people and they look at their assets, or, you know, they're trying to figure out how to do a better job at meeting the regulatory requirements that are changing daily. But I think a couple of things that are the big ones is, as you look at the requirement coming from the consumers today, and this needs to speed up innovation, they're trying to figure out how to move from the lab to the process a lot faster. So, when you look at that, you know, automation and access to information, right, this digital transformation or digitizing your business, I mean, people call it different things, but maybe it's all the same, but it just means how do I get more meaningful information? From our perspective, as an instrument company, it's, you know, everyone's looking at diagnostics now and what can they do, and how big of a difference that makes. And quite honestly, I mean, all of them have an expectation that we're supplying more analytics from our data, and it's just not the data. So, there's a lot of great things that are going on that shaping how we are developing our products, and what we're looking at.

Keith: Well, certainly accuracy and things like high quality were certainly out-of-the-gate differentiators for Coriolis technology from the very start. But can you give some examples of other performance aspects for Coriolis technology that really have continued to differentiate Coriolis technology amongst all the various flow measurement technologies that are out there?

Don: Yeah, absolutely. And it's funny to start with accuracy because even internally for years, that was everything, it's like, "What can we do to get another, you know, tiny percentage out of our product?" But I think, today, and what we've seen over the last 10 years, one is just a range of applications that we can get involved with. You know, traditionally you think about pressure, temperature and corrosive environments, as how you expand out. But, I mean, we look at, one of the major complexities, multiphase flow, right? So, you've got air entrained in liquids, and it happens a lot. And it's always been the bane of the flow industry. But today, I mean, we now have products that we've come out with that do a tremendous job of being able to do those measurements, and I think so, just the ability and the applications we can do diagnostics, and it's just not things, like, you know, smart meter verification, or coding detection. But, I mean, it's even incorporating historians into the devices that you can mix and match a couple of the pieces of information you get, or the data you get into something that can tell you, you have air in your line. And then I think a lot of people are looking at applications. So, you know, software, I think that's where the big things are going to move for a lot of our industry is into the software stage, and, you know, whether it's better managing your batches or instead of reading density, getting to a concentration measurement. I mean, those are the types of things that I think are really making a difference beyond accuracy when you look at, especially Coriolis.

Keith: Yeah, and I think some of those diagnostics have moved beyond. You know, used to be the instrument diagnostics was the main focus, but really looking at process diagnostics now, with the broader array of information that you can get about what's going on in your process, not just what's happening to your transmitter approach.

Don: Absolutely.

Keith: Yeah. Also, as you mentioned, you know, always getting more accurate, and obviously, the Elite Series meters were a big part of that as well. Do you find that the advent of more affordable meters, like your F-Series, has that made a difference in terms of expanding the application envelope as well?

Don: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think in a couple of different ways. But, I mean, if you think about it, and for chemical industry, we kind of look at a good split being 70/30, where, you know, really 70% of the devices or the measurements you probably can get away with, you know, what we would refer to as a core value level product. And the accuracy, I mean, it needs to be good, but it's not as critical as some of the other aspects. And so, for years, I mean, people thought the Coriolis was overkill, and they liked some of the benefits that you would get, you know, the direct mass measurement, multivariable, no moving parts, all that kind of stuff. But it was just overkill for them. So, I think the advent of this lower tier and value tier, core tier, whatever people want to call it, I think it's really made a big difference in the adoption. And then you add that to things like the shift to two-wire transmitters,  and a lot of the hurdles that the technology used to have, I think had been wiped out, you know, with things.

Keith: And the two-wire transmitter also makes it easier to sub one in for another technology without totally rewiring your process.

Don: Absolutely.

Keith: That makes a lot of sense.

Don: Not that that crossed my mind, but absolutely.

Keith: Well, continuous processes in the chemical industry are obviously a huge application but batch applications too seem to be a really great fit because of the rangeability, and relative to other flow measurement technology. Can you talk a little bit more about the advantages of Coriolis when it comes to more batching type applications?

Don: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, I kind of think of any gear, right, I mean, batching brings a different set of complexities. And especially when you look at specialties chem, you know, it is the primary method for producing the products. In many cases, but I think Coriolis can help in three areas. One is the fact that, you know, is customers look to reduce their lead times. Yeah, I do believe Coriolis has the ability of improving both the batch cycle time and batch predictability, which is critical as we talk about supply chain and managing that. And I'll give a couple of examples of these here in a second. I think another one is, you know, out of spec batches, reducing waste, improving energy efficiency. I mean, it doesn't sound like these things go together, but when you really look at it, and you look at batches, those three things go hand in hand, and I think they really help in...you know, and Coriolis, where that helps is just providing better insight into how to improve your batches and the production. And then the last one is safety and compliance.

So, you know, maybe at least one example, and two if you're interested, but, I mean, one example that comes to mind is, you know, a lot of times in the batch world, to facilitate and save costs, what they'll do is a customer will have multiple recipes and multiple feed lines coming in through one single line eventually, and then that will be dispensed into the batch reactor. Traditionally, they'd use volumetric measurement and no density factor to really take into account, you know, the change of products. And we've seen this with a number of customers. And a lot of times, even though it's not a totally manual process, yeah, there's a little bit of manual intervention that does occur. What we've seen, and what our customers have seen is an inconsistency in their batches because of this. And, you know, in some cases, they're even seeing the wrong product being batched in and having to throw away the entire batch. So, what we've seen, and in some cases where customers have moved from a mass meter or to have mass meter within their batch chain, and they've used density as a way of checking that feed ingredient to make sure that it was corrected, and what they thought was being delivered was. Between that, and the stuff we have with batching, it's really helped speed up the delivery system, reduce scrap, and if you think of it from, you know, the fact that a lot of these have to heat up, it's actually even saved additional energy costs. And we've seen, you know, return on investments in less than two or three months in many cases, because of that.

Keith: It's powerful. Another aspect...

Don: Great stuff.

Keith: Yeah, I was going to say that's another aspect of batch applications is really, you know, trying to figure out when your reaction is done and be able to gauge those kind of endpoints, which, obviously, Coriolis probably can't do that very well. But you've also got insertion meters for density and viscosity. Can you give some examples of how those instruments are being used to really help ensure product quality in the chemical industry? Or, you know, overshooting, overcooking your ingredients, or preventing it?

Don: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you look at them, both are qualitative measurements, so even though there's that quantitative piece, they're really trying to measure the quality of the product. So, a lot of times they're used to help confirm reaction times, or to confirm the degree that a process is actually converted over. I mean, we see that a lot in reactors. And so, like, if you take viscosity in example, I remember we were working with a manufacturer in Spain and they had a polymerization process, and basically, they looked at viscosity, as, you know, the way of determining when the process was complete. But in this case, I mean, what I remember is that the viscosity changed really rapidly and, in fact, I mean, they had like a 20-second window to produce the optimal level of the product. And if they missed that window, and they couldn't quench it, then they were screwed and the product was wasted. And so what they ended up doing is putting in just a simple fork viscometer. And literally in three months, they were able to increase the number of batches and reduce their waste just by using that as the indication of when their batch was done.

Keith: Sure.

Don: And density is similar. I mean, people will use density. Actually, what they'll do is a lot of the densitometers today will come out with a concentration measurement. And they'll use that concentration as a way of determining the completion of the product, and really controlling and, in some cases, just pure out controlling the process off of that concentration. So, yeah. I mean, other than, you know, some of the more traditional views, I mean, they are using insertion type devices that work just like a Coriolis meter to help the process.

Keith: You know, my favorite application for the insertion style of density is fermentation, of course, more in the food and beverage or beverage specifically industry. But that's my favorite.

Don: Twenty-five years of making wine, I agree with you completely.

Keith: Absolutely. Absolutely. You want to get that percentage alcohol just right, no doubt about it.

So, you mentioned a little bit about smart meter verification earlier. And that's, you know, you were kind of ahead of the curve back in 2010 when Emerson first introduced that. But it's now a merge, obviously, key initiative for manufacturers of all stripes and the chemical industry, certainly, is no exception. It's really set the tone for leveraging diagnostic information from instrumentation. Can you talk a little bit about smart meter verification, what it is, and how it's continued to really evolve here over the years?

Don: Yeah, yeah. I mean, so to maybe...you know, let me just start with the questions people are usually trying to answer, like, you know, is my process running as designed? Am I meeting my internal ISO standards? Or is the meter working properly? I mean, that's what people are trying to figure out. And for the chemical industry, or for Coriolis meters, similar to a lot of inline meters. In the past, the only two ways they could do that was, one, calibration, which, you know, really says that I'm taking and looking at my flow and comparing that to a signal produced, or the other way was validating it, which means you basically need to compare it to another sensor. But either way you look at it, it required you taking a meter out of the line and actually doing a comparison, and having your process shut down. And you're right, I mean, meter verification was a complete game-changer.

And maybe, you know, you have to explain it a little bit. A good way to think about it is, Coriolis, even though it's really complex, I mean, it actually follows one of the most simple systems in the world, just a simple spring system, where you have kind of a mass hanging on a spring, right? And if you go back to college, or high school even, you might remember it was a simple formula, but one of the things in the formula was just a spring constant, right? And that was kind of buried in there. And buried in that constant was a thing called the stiffness factor, and that was for the spring. And so, if the mass is the same, and your period changed, the only thing that would, kind of, cause that was the stiffness factor in that spring. Well, it's the same thing for Coriolis, except that we have tubes instead of a spring. And so, what we do is we measure the stiffness of those tubes or that spring when we do our initial calibration. And then as you go through and either hit a button or send a signal to initiate smart meter verification, it will go back and it'll do a stiffness check-in and it'll correlate it back to that original calibration. And if it's changed, then we know something physical happened to the tube, I mean, whether corrosion, erosion, or something like that. So we know that happened. So, no question. I mean, what it's meant for us is, you know, today where people used to have their pull the meters out on a frequent basis or on a periodic basis, that period is either extended quite a bit, or it's been eliminated altogether. And, I mean, there's a lot of organizations that recognize meter verification today. And so I think that's critical.

Keith: Yeah, absolutely.

Don: And then the only other thing that I want to say about meter verification that's different than when we originally launched it is, I mean, when we originally launched, it was primarily focused on verifying the flow, but today, I mean, it does so much more. I mean, from, you know, looking at, is there coding on the meter? I mean, do the electronics work? You know, it combines with the historian and the product to figure out, if you've moved the meter, are the flow conditions really ideal for that particular sensor? So, I mean, there's a ton of other stuff that's come along with meter verification, than when we first introduced it. So, it's been a breakthrough for the industry and really helped in the adoption of the technology.

Keith: Yeah. Are there other types of non-process variable information that chemical industry clients are leveraging in their GX initiatives, more broadly speaking, maybe not just with Coriolis, but across the instrumentation spectrum that you find from your perspective?

Don: Yeah. I mean, you look at it, and internally, we kind of break it into things like loop integrity, device health, process intelligence, or process connection. So, you kind of look at it that way. And from loop integrity and device health, I mean, for Coriolis at least, it's that's really our meter verification. And that's the primary thing that we have. But if you look at, like, for our Rosemount pressure transmitters, I mean, they actually have the ability to detect increased electrical loads, so you can figure out if there's something going on with your wiring to the transmitter. So, it really helps understand the integrity of that loop.

From the process intelligence side, you know, as we mentioned, I mean, that's kind of where Coriolis shines because of the multi variables. And everything you get, you can combine in our historian, and even with our meter verification, you look at drive gain and density and it can tell you very specifically if you have entrained gas. We know what we need to be looking for, and it says that, or we now have variables that will allow us to look at the batch and determine, what we actually did versus what they wanted us to do, and to adjust the timing of the batch. And an algorithm actually looks at that to minimize things like overshoot or coding, right?

So, there's a ton of stuff that people are using today to better understand what's going on in the process. And then process connections, I mean, probably the best known that most people think about are things like plugged-in pulse lines or pressure transmitters. So, there's just a lot of stuff that's going on. But beyond that, I think the other thing that's really gone on, and on our side, we have these things called insight applications, where people are now taking all of the bits and pieces from the different devices and they're saying "Hey, I know I have a problem in a heat exchanger, I know I have a problem, I know if I see this, that this should be able to tell me." And we're now introducing these applications that say, "Okay. Look at this pressure, temperature, and flow, I see, you know, there's definitely something going on that looks it's definitely falling. You know, here's what you need to do." And we're doing that for more and more process, or unit operations than we've done in the past. So, there's a lot of unique things there.

Keith: Yeah. So, really being able to go kind of in that then no more open architecture, kind of sensing through combinations of instrumentation data parallel to the control system and do diagnostics that way.

Don: Exactly. Exactly.

Keith: That's really cool. You mentioned from the very beginning, you talked about sustainability. Maybe specifically in the context of reducing greenhouse gas emission, it's really, I think, almost displaced predictive diagnostics for preventing unscheduled downtime. It's kind of the killer app for industries' digital transformation initiatives, certainly an urgent cause. Emerson's instrumentation technologies certainly play a big role there in providing greater visibility and accountability, but they're also being used in more active roles such as metering up green hydrogen for transportation applications, as well as amine-based carbon capture processes. Can you share with our listeners a little bit more about how its Emerson instrumentation technologies are making a difference and how they fit into Emerson's larger sustainability commitments?

Don: Yeah. I think I saw, and maybe it was out of "Chemical Week" or something, but it was a recent survey that noted about 85% of the chemical companies out there had some kind of sustainability initiative that they were working on.

Keith: Yeah, that seems low.

Don: I know, I know, I think it's... I know, given what you read in the news these days, I think you're probably right, it's probably in the high '90s. But Emerson has a three-prong focus on sustainability, really, it's greening of, which is what are we doing internally. Greening by, which is what we do with our customers and for our customers. And then greening with, as we invest in university programs and other programs that are out there to figure out how to come up with new technologies that help in the sustainability area. And so, for us, and if you think about the investments customers are making, you kind of break them into some categories. You know, the regulations and emissions management. So, if you think about it from that end, one of the biggest things you're hearing about today is carbon capture, right? And today, one of the most effective methods is you're just using an amine-based absorption process. And the great thing is for instrument technology, this is something that we know, I mean, we do it and we do it well.

And the most important things around there around energy efficiency, and being able to understand the mass balance around the absorption process. And, you know, you look at the stuff that we talked about, density and viscosity, and specifically here density, you know, being able to understand the conversion using a concentration measurement. So, I mean, if you look at that, or you get into SEMs or PEMs, I mean, there's a tremendous number of things that we have as an organization that are really driven towards that. Probably the most important is, you know, with Madeline on the line is the fact that, you know, from a Coriolis perspective once you capture it, you got to transport it. And the custody transfer of carbon dioxide is an ideal application for Coriolis, and it works very well. So, there's a tremendous amount of opportunities there. You got new energy sources, you know, solar, all those. And lithium batteries is a tremendous opportunity and a challenging opportunity, as people look at the types of chemicals that are used are very corrosive environment, there's a lot of need for flow, and there's a lot of need for qualitative measurements, like pH in order to really manage it.

Circular economy, so you got recycled plastics. And recycled plastics today, you know, traditionally mechanical, but, I mean, as people have been pushing more and more focus on increasing the percentage of recycled in that end product, mechanical isn't cutting it, and it won't. And so they're moving towards these chemical processes and, you know, whether it's bringing it back to the polymer or monomer, there's just a tremendous amount of things going on. And one of the things being looked at at the highest level today, or most frequently is using pyrolysis and pyrolysis reactor. So, earlier on, we talked about density and conversion, if you look at pyrolysis, you can either use a purely heat-based version, and that tends to be a little bit less efficient, or you can use catalysts. And a lot of people are looking at that today, but that adds cost. But if you can manage your conversion and you can look at the degree to which your catalyst has been spent, you can improve that efficiency. And so, a lot of people are engaging with us to understand how they can improve and optimize that process and in that pyrolysis reactor. So, there's a lot of things going on, I mean, that's just a few examples. And aim to talk about things like green feedstock which every consumer wants his clothes, or his pants, or his shirt made out of something that is greener than a petrochemical.

Keith: Right, right. Absolutely. That makes sense. It does.

Don: That's a lot of stuff.

Keith: Lots of work to do. I'm glad to have you guys working on the challenge, that's for sure. All right. Well, thanks so much, Don, for sharing your perspective with us today. We've pretty much run out of time. But once again, you've been listening to a Control Amplified podcast. Our guest today has been Don Fregelette, chemical industry vice president for Emerson. Thank you, again, Don, for joining us.

Don: Thank you, Keith.

Keith: And for those of you listening, thank you for tuning in. Thanks also to Emerson for sponsoring this episode. If you've learned something new and want to hear more, you can subscribe to Control Amplified at the iTunes store or a Google Podcast. Plus, you can find a full archive of past episodes of "Control Amplified" at our website, controlglobal.com. Thanks again, Don. One more time, signing off until next time, take care.

Don: Thank you.

For more, tune into the Control Amplified podcast.

About the Author

Control Amplified: | Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast

The Control Amplified Podcast offers in-depth interviews and discussions with industry experts about important topics in the process control and automation field, and goes beyond Control's print and online coverage to explore underlying issues affecting users, system integrators, suppliers and others in these industries.

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