May 18, 2011

Trade Shows: Promising Future or DOA?

Ask ten people in industrial markets what they think about trade shows these days and you’ll get ten variations ranging from “they’re great” to “they’re worthless.” The truth is somewhere in between.

Decades ago, trade shows were the principal forum at which industry members interacted. Sales people and service technicians made their personal calls, but the technologists, engineers, upper and even middle management relied on trade shows for new ideas, gathering trends, meeting colleagues and seeing products up close and personal. The huge investments required to transport people and big capital equipment across the country or the world was more than worth it for the chance to meet with customers, talk to them, show them your solutions, maybe even have a meal together. Today, that world has changed. The Internet provides every industrial market employee an unlimited opportunity to interact, idea-share, take virtual tours and see demonstrations. Research is done with a keystroke and live chats can go on into the night. It’s tough to have dinner online, but gift cards are fast and downloadable. What is the place for trade shows in today’s market?

First, we have to agree that trade shows allow people to do one very important thing that is impossible to duplicate online. You can still meet your customers, colleagues and friends face-to-face and in-person.  Marketing experts tell us all business is personal, and while Facebook and webcams may be grand, nothing is more personal than a live meeting. A trade show permits a good sales person, technologist or engineer to consolidate a lot of personal meetings in a few days that might otherwise require extensive travel over weeks or months. This benefit, however, assumes two things – that the people are going to “show up,” and that the sales, marketing and other personnel from the exhibiting companies are going to work hard at meeting customers.

One frequent complaint you hear about trade shows today is that the attendance is light. Perhaps, however, the expectations are too great. In today’s market, companies have to accept that fewer, but more highly motivated people will attend trade shows. Exhibit pre-planning now takes on more importance. Rather than booth personnel standing around big properties complaining about lack of traffic, sales personnel can arrange for more one-on-one meetings set up in advance. More papers, small, hands-on demos, and quality information will attract a more qualified audience. One company in the life sciences arena recently praised a trade show in which “every attendee was a prospective customer.” What do you think of that statement?

Perhaps that kind of planning, for smaller, more targeted meetings with “just the right people,” will take the place of the behemoth generalist shows.

The simple answer to the future of the trade show is that conferences have to do something you can’t do online. The more exhibitors grasp that fact and set up their trade shows accordingly, the more attendees will come to experience this otherwise missing interaction. Everyone has to change. Trade show associations need to examine their conferences for relevance in today’s market and adjust accordingly. Should that one big show be two or three smaller localized meetings? Exhibitors must understand what the “face-to-face interaction” opportunity can mean – beyond what can be done on a webcam.

With these questions effectively answered, attendees will “show up.” And fortunately, all of these things are already happening. It’s unlikely that trade shows will go away, but like many aspects of the industrial arena, to thrive they will have to change. Tell us about shows you’ve been to that made you think, “Now that’s how trade shows should be done”!

May 3, 2011

Refineries: Meeting New EPA Standards in Emissions Monitoring

Michael Gaura here again! In late 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published new standards of performance in 40CFR60 subpart Ja that impact refinery emissions monitoring. In this blog post, I’ll go through a few of the changes and challenges that refineries are facing and how to meet them.

Changes to existing monitoring regulations
Historically, refineries were required to measure the hydrogen sulfide (H2S) concentration in refinery fuel and flare gases. The new requirements mandate the measurement of H2S & total reduced sulfur (TRS) – defined as H2S, carbonyl sulfide (COS) and carbon disulfide (CS2) – in flare gas streams and sulfur recovery unit (SRU) emissions.

Fig 1 – A typical composition of the refinery flare gas. The actual chemical composition can vary dramatically due to several processing units that contribute light gases into the flare gas. Due to this fluctuation, it is common for refineries to put online analyzers on the flare gas lines to also track the changes in BTU value for improved flare combustion.

Challenges associated with existing monitoring equipment
Over the years, many refineries have found that their choice of H2S analyzer involved high levels of maintenance. Lead acetate analyzers were maintenance-intensive due to their very mechanical design, and also required special disposal procedures for the spent lead tape. Refineries using online gas chromatographs with flame photometric detectors (FPD) also required high maintenance to keep the FPD’s flame lit and operating properly. Tunable diode lasers (TDL) struggled with performance issues, as the varying hydrocarbon content in the sample streams often interfered with the targeted wavelength.

Refinery engineering and operation teams also discovered the high installation and operational costs associated with lead acetate analyzers and gas chromatographs with FPDs. In addition to ongoing utility requirements, such as disposal charges for the tape cartridges and the flame fuel and flame air gas cylinder costs, FPD-based gas chromatographs also required tight environmental temperature control to ensure reliable performance.

Thermal conductivity detector as a solution
Rather than using a complicated, difficult-to-maintain FPD detector, a rugged thermal conductivity detector (TCD) is a much simpler alternative for making the traditional H2S measurement, as well as the recently introduced TRS measurement – even for measurements in the low parts-per-million range.

Thermal conductivity detectors work on the principal that all compounds have unique thermal conductivity properties. By comparing the thermal conductivity of the component to be measured against the properties of a reference gas (usually the chromatograph carrier gas), very precise measurements can be made. Typical TCD detectors can measure compounds such as H2S, COS and CS2 down to the 3 ppm detection levels – perfect for H2S & TRS monitoring applications where the typical measuring range is 0-320 ppm.

Fig 2 – Typical chromatogram of ppm level H2S, CS2 and COS using a thermal conductivity detector on a gas chromatograph.

Many gas chromatographs can also perform the daily high and low validation checks that are mandated by the regulations. Introduction of validation gases can be set up on an automated basis. The software of the analyzer can also automatically check the results for alarm conditions and log the data automatically.

Using a second TCD enables other measurements to be made in the flare gas, such as the BTU content. Many refineries prefer to keep the BTU value of the flare gas above a certain level – typically 300 BTU – to optimize their flare operations. Knowing the BTU content of the feed gas optimizes the amount of pipeline quality natural gas that is required to maintain the energy content above the 300 BTU minimum.

Elements that enable low cost of ownership are important criteria in the selection of a gas chromatograph. Most process measurements can be made at or near the sample point, greatly reducing the overall lifetime cost of the measurement. Expenses such as shelters, air conditioning, heating, and long/heated sample lines can be minimized or completely eliminated in most applications. Furthermore, working with a gas chromatograph that’s designed to operate unattended for long periods of time without adjustment is a huge benefit. And when maintenance is required, it’s important that all components be easily accessible so adjustments can be performed in the field in minutes with standard tools.

Fig 3 – Sample gas chromatograph applications related to emissions monitoring in a refinery.

Changing EPA regulations demand new analysis processes, but don’t necessarily mean higher costs or maintenance requirements, as new technologies enable better, more efficient measurements.

Let me know what you think! Click here to post your questions or comments.