Using digitalization to boost efficiency
As a valve manufacturer, Metso’s goal is to meet the customer’s current and future expectations, states Mika Nissinen, Vice President of the Oil & Gas business line. Those expectations, he continues, are often focused on getting the maximum availability out of their valves and systems. That’s why Metso can supply not just products, such as control valves, actuators and positioners, but also a whole suite of related services.
The mood at Metso is definitely buoyant as 2016 draws to a close. The past twelve months have seen the company make headlines for all the right reasons. Earlier in the year, for example, Metso received praise from the industry at large when it launched the Metso Neles NDX valve controller. This is, in fact, Metso's third generation intelligent valve controller, and the design team put top priority on issues such as product robustness, operational reliability and ease of use.
"The Neles NDX delivers benefits in so many ways. Here's just one example: it has been built with one of the market's largest air capacities. This means that in many cases the user will not need to purchase and fit additional instruments. This brings important savings as well as increased reliability of the installation as a whole," Nissinen explains.
Metso is also delighted about the market response to its expanded globe valve product line, which now includes products for both general and severe service applications. The valve range encompasses balanced and unbalanced configurations, comes with a wide range of trims, including severe service and noise reduction options, and is available in pressure classes up to class 2500.
"These valves are ideal for use in the key industries we serve, including oil & gas, refining, power generation, pulp & paper, etc." Taking a moment to reflect on Metso's comprehensive product range, Nissinen continues: "With our linear and rotary control valves plus the NDX, we feel we have a pretty unbeatable control valve offering for the market."
In addition to the tangible products, such as valves, actuators, positioners and the like, Metso has also developed some highly-acclaimed service products. These are all designed to help end users achieve real benefits. One of Metso's digitalized services is accurate mapping of the installed base by inspection of both Metso and customer records; this allows for the optimization of spare parts inventory while ensuring the desired level of coverage and hence uptime.
Nissinen goes on to explain that Metso's digitalized services are based on a flexible platform, so when applied to a plant's installed base and stocks of valves, it will suit that customer's preferred model. "With some customers we are already using our safe and reliable data exchange with the end user ERP's or CMMS's to ensure that the data is always accurate and up-to-date. This saves a lot of administrative work on their part."
While talking about services, Nissinen brings up the topic of digitalization. "Nowadays it seems that all companies are looking to put a digitalization strategy in place. However, this is nothing new for Metso: we have been offering digitalized services for maintenance optimization, fleet management, spare parts, order optimization, etc., for many years already. Our approach is both practical and pragmatic: when asked for a customer-specific solution, we can modify an existing solution so that it is tailored to the client's requirements."
The Metso service portfolio currently consists of various solutions, all with a strong focus on helping the customer increase reliability and efficiency. "As we look to grow this part of our business, we are currently developing an application to manage our field services-related reporting."
Discussing how Metso can help customers better manage their valves and systems, Nissinen seamlessly turns to the topic of big data. "Nowadays companies are practically being deluged by huge volumes of data from a variety of sources. The challenge for them is in analyzing that data, identifying trends and working out the most appropriate response or course of action. We have borne that in mind during the development of our NDX. Based on our many years of experience with intelligent controllers plus our diagnostic capabilities, we are able to not only deliver data to the valve operator, but also help him to interpret that data. In short, we can provide concrete recommendations that end users can rely on when making decisions."
Metso is also well aware of the fact that plant operators often wish to consolidate the various systems they have in place. For example, the Metso Expertune PlantTriage tool, which monitors the performance of control loops, can be integrated with higher-level systems to deliver valuable field information directly to plant operators.
The time is definitely ripe for Metso to further develop and promote all its digital tools. "In general, customers are increasingly interested in digitalization, so we are ideally positioned thanks to the tools already in our portfolio. Of course, some customer groups are more advanced than others. Take the oil and gas business, for example, where condition monitoring of larger equipment is already quite commonplace. So now we are looking to inform them about the advantages of having similar systems in place for smaller field devices too."
When it comes to managing its own affairs, Metso managers run a tight ship. A safety culture has been propagated throughout the entire company, for example. "This initially required quite a significant change in people's mind-sets, but it has since become an embedded part of the daily thinking and management routine. In fact, our safety philosophy is probably an important contributor to our success, as it reflects positively on our business conduct and plays a key role in the customer's decision making process."
Another hot topic for the Metso management team is continuous improvement and cost efficiency. "This is a competitive market so we have to look carefully products' cost structure and look for improvements. At the same time, we are actively developing our staff and encouraging leadership skills. A well-trained and motivated workforce is a key asset in a rapidly changing and challenging market situation."
New product innovations require new development processes
We at Metso are always open to trialling new ideas. For the development process of the new Neles NDX device, we adopted a new lean approach in the design phase. Thanks to this new approach, this third generation intelligent valve controller went from concept to production in just half the time compared to the previous models. The idea was simply to split up the project into smaller, more manageable components rather than trying to continuously focus on the big picture.
We set clearly defined targets and milestones for each member of the project team and initiated checkpoints every three weeks. This plan proved to be a very effective way of keeping the project on track and on schedule. Not only did this approach help focus attention on the project, it also proved much easier to identify and rectify any problems that did crop up.
Despite the short development time, the Neles NDX was thoroughly tested at every stage. In fact, more laboratory and field tests were run on the NDX than on any other positioner we have developed to date. We have absolute confidence in the quality of our latest intelligent valve controller.
In addition to its technical features, the Neles NDX has several other strong selling points. For example, the NDX can be universally applied, regardless of industry, valve size or even the manufacturer of the valves in use. We designed the NDX so that it can be just as easily fitted onto third-party products. This means that plant owners can standardize on this one controller throughout their facilities. This just goes to show that in everything we do we are always thinking about how we can further improve our products and services to make life easier for our customers and boost their uptimes.
TEXT: David Sear, Valve World magazine
PHOTOS: Vilhelm Sjöström, Metso and Shutterstock
Published in Results flow control customer magazine 2/2016. Based on extended article originally published in 'Valve World 2016 Conference Brochure', as 'Welcome to uptime: using digitalization to boost efficiency'.