Interview with John O`Higgins, chief executive of Spectris

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Environmental issues - a growing concern among organisations

Presently, organisations are seriously contemplating environmental issues and are taking necessary steps towards improving their products and processes. Large companies are now focusing on reducing their carbon footprint and ensuring that their products are environment-friendly. Even in niche segments, organisations are considering noise as a pollution factor and concentrating on various aspects pertaining to sound and vibration.

The important social aspect of sound is increasingly being considered by companies from many different sectors
 
Sound has an important social aspect and its measurement is carried out to monitor the impact of noise pollution on people at the workplace and in surrounding habitats. As a growing concern, companies need to address issues related to noise by measuring and analysing it correctly. Moreover, changes are calling for effective reduction of noise. In bringing about this change, strategies of a company and latest equipment will play a supportive role.

Some of the major industry verticals viz, the automotive, auto components and aerospace community globally, are now aware of the implications of noise and are paying attention to this factor. It has brought about many changes in the design element as well as materials used for manufacturing.

The advancements in technology aim at addressing the environmental concerns to a great extent. Once the industry leaders incorporate the changes, it is bound to impact the ecosystem and eventually benefit society, leading to a cleaner, greener environment.

Next generation designs - looking to reduce noise

Taking into account the fact that noise is a pollutant both at the workplace and residential areas, efforts are on to control it or reduce it to a minimum level. Rather than modifying existing products, manufacturers are focusing on the initial design of products as the first step. For instance, when considering the various parts of a car, it is obvious that the engine makes the most noise.

Nowadays, manufacturers are experimenting with innovative designs of engines in order to reduce the overall noise produced by a car. Added to this, manufacturers are also concentrating on R&D in design to create next-generation body structures for the automobiles. The entire body of a car is being designed in such a way that it will reduce the overall noise.

Further, in the area of new designs, complex structures are being simplified, which will help in reducing the noise element. These experiments are not limited to cars, as similar research is going on for developments in trains, aircraft, two-wheelers and also in buildings and infrastructure.

Some countries have already adopted the latest designs and are reaping benefits. For example, in Japan, the norms for noise and vibration levels are strictly regulated. This is a major concern for the bullet train – Japan’s high-speed railway – while it travels through densely populated areas.

Presently, efforts are being taken to develop the next generation of low-noise trains, which would be possible by focusing on the difficult task of reducing aerodynamic noise. The sound and vibration measurement and analysis systems are being used in wind tunnel tests to detect the aerodynamic noise sources of models. This data collection and analysis has enabled improvements to be made to the design of the train to reduce noise. One of the changes in its design is that now it has a long nose cone on the power car, and an innovative wing-shaped pantograph that takes the current from the overhead lines and helps in reducing wind resistance at high speed. While moving at a high speed, this design will reduce the noise produced.

Trends supporting growth of Instrumentation and Control (IC) equipment

The automobile and aerospace sectors are among the fastest-growing verticals globally, even in the developing markets. To cater to their demands, companies need to accelerate their production process and get products to the market in no time at all. These trends are resulting in an enormous need for instruments that can help them measure and analyse products accurately. The measurement needs to be quicker and the tools need to be easy to use.

Globally, as well as in the Asia-Pacific region, there has been an increase in transportation – be it via road, rail or air. There has also been an increase in the marine transportation segment. Today, not just the products, but also the overall processes along the chain need to be critically measured and analysed. For example, for an aircraft, the sound and vibration can be measured and analysed during take off, landing, while moving on the runway, and its impact on buildings and so on can be assessed. This can give valuable information for the future development of products and construction of buildings, which can reduce the noise pollution in the long run.

With rising competition in the growing markets, we see more thrust on research and development, which will fuel the growth of IC equipment. As lab experiments and prototypes grow in number, it will become necessary for organisations to have IC equipment as part of their R&D setup for measurement, analysis and testing.

Lucrative Indian market

The Indian market is growing with a steady increase in exports. One of the emerging growth verticals in the country is the energy sector and it has opened up new avenues for our company, as the products in the energy sector are being examined for sound and vibration levels. In addition, the steel industry also offers a plethora of business opportunities for the company.

Sound and vibration measurement and analysis is fast becoming critical in steel companies and this spells good demand for such equipment. This is not all; equipment is needed in the education sector as well, for sharpening the technical knowledge and skills of students. The knowledge-based industry is also progressing with a surge in hi-tech applications. This will lead to the need for sound and vibration equipment in R&D activities. Apart from these, as mentioned earlier, auto and aerospace industries are seeing huge growth, both in the international and national markets. All these put together will fuel the need for sound and vibration measurement and analysis in the near future.

Spectris develops and markets productivity-enhancing instrumentation and control systems. Having sales of £787 million in 2009, the company employs around 5,700 people worldwide. As a complete end-to-end solution provider, the company is looking at value-added integration through a systematic and organised approach. In order to leverage the opportunities, it will invest in regional organisations and the acquisition route will be adopted, as and when required, depending on the right fit of solutions.

Focus on sound and vibration measurement and analysis in India

Our total product development in India is in the form of embedded software development. The majority of our work is outsourced to Indian service providers and we closely follow the development of certain verticals such as the energy sector. We see major investments in the pharma and life sciences verticals, which are indicative of the growth potential in the country. Our range of equipment is well-suited for measurement, analysis and testing of products and molecules in the pharma industry.

In India, we see growing awareness regarding the harmful effects of noise, and manufacturers are factoring the same while undertaking production of various goods. But the industry still has a long way to go.

As a beginning, the auto industry needs to closely monitor sound and vibration levels by undertaking measurement and analysis. This will play a major role in controlling and reducing noise pollution, which will immensely benefit the environment.

The production of new-generation cars is forcing companies to invest in the latest sound and vibration equipment for measurement. In India and worldwide, organisations are investing in noise source identification systems as a part of their infrastructure to reduce the overall noise. For instance, many companies like Maruti Suzuki, which use India as their export base, are working in close collaboration with partners, using advanced systems for sound and vibration measurement and analysis.

Generally, the norm for airports is to have minimum noise and there needs to be proper equipment to analyse the same. In India too, with noise becoming a concern, noise monitoring is gaining importance. Currently, experiments are on at the Mumbai airport to use the airport noise monitoring systems and take corrective action to control noise.

Advancements in technology

In terms of technology, the hardware (the product itself) has evolved over the years. The devices have become more accurate, user-friendly and compact in size. For instance, a surface microphone can look as small as a ten cent coin, and is used by companies like Airbus, as well as some of the companies in India, in both the aerospace and automotive segment. For monitoring purposes, the use and feel of instruments is nowadays gaining importance.

Currently, customers have to adhere to strict delivery schedules, and hence there is a need for faster measuring equipment. As people using the instruments have limited training and experience, the equipment needs to be easy to operate. This also puts emphasis on proper support and service requirements. Added to this, tools for measurement and analysis are becoming reliable, easy to calibrate and accurate.

Future outlook

The technology - both the hardware and software for measurement and analysis - is evolving at a fast pace. One of the areas where technology is advancing is in miniaturisation of sensors and new communication techniques. The power capability of these devices has improved considerably and they are more power-efficient. The measuring techniques too have improved and the standards of measurement and analysis are being raised to the next level.

Further, the industry is leveraging the power of IT in terms of measurement and analysis of sound and vibration. Also we see enormous use of hand-held devices in the industry, which will become prevalent in the future.

Currently, with increasing transparency/visibility and accessibility, huge amounts of data and information are available for in-depth analysis. This data needs to be compiled and then interpreted properly for better and informed decision-making. The measurement, analysis and testing instruments will play a much larger role in this process and will become supportive tools for organisations.

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