Growing the skills base

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By Mike Bishara

Industrial Instrumentation has in its 15 years of operations built a nationwide reputation for quality instrument servicing and calibration. So much so that clients now ask the company to sort out upgrades to their control systems as well service and calibrate them.

With more than 80 percent of founder Tony Brill’s business involving temperature or pressure in one form or another it was a logical expansion to begin manufacturing temperature probes.

And with 36 year veteran of the industry Mark Duval aboard to do just that the company is well on its way to achieving the same success in a much shorter timeframe.

Industrial Instrumentation is one of only about a dozen companies in the country with ISO 17025 temperature accreditation. And only three or so of those are capable of actually going onsite to carry out calibration – most are laboratories.

The International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) audits the company every year.

Laboratories, radiology services and inspection bodies displaying the IANZ mark follow the best international technical and management systems standards, including full compliance with relevant international standards.

The ability to go onsite armed with those credentials to maximise the performance of installed products for clients is a major plank in the company’s success.

“We just did a job for a food manufacturing company and serviced 60 temperature probes,” says managing director Tony Brill.

“With clients there are things that need to be done for regulatory approval but there’s also things that they’d like to have done which is more of a confidence factor for themselves and to maintain the company’s standards.”

“And in this job – confidence is the key word. When we do a calibration on a temperature probe under that system as we did in this job, we can give them a quantifiable number as to how confident they can be in that equipment. I don’t believe that they were all being done to that standard previously.”

Industrial Instrumentation has done a number of large projects, some with fairly technical components to them.

“Because of the calibration servicing, inevitably we wind up with someone who wants to upgrade their control system – they’ll ask us for a price or what we think about it.

“We’ve done a huge amount of control system upgrades for people like Nuplex Industries in Brisbane which cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We had finished an upgrade in a plant in Auckland for Nuplex and they gave us the opportunity of pricing that one in Brisbane.

“It was helped by the fact that Brisbane based electrician’s price to replace the cabling only was half a million dollars and then they wanted to put a similar control system in and replace the cabling – that was going to cost them a million.”

“It was a fascinating project because it was all in a hazardous area.

“We suggested, priced and won the job based on installing Stahl remote IO panels which are rated correctly for the hazardous area and we recabled all the transmitters back to these control panels and removed all the non-compliant cabling.

“We got the job because we said we don’t need the cables. We can do this on Ethernet – we put all the control panels actually in the plant.

“The job took us about three months plus a week to commission the plant.

“We’ve been up to American Samoa doing system upgrades up there in hazardous areas for South Pacific BP,” says Mr Brill.

Back home the company has done calibration and upgrades for all the steam fields in the Taupo area in the last few years and a boiler control system upgrade for Mighty River Power. “Watercare had 16 or 17 huge control panels which we’ve built over the years for their Ardmore facility. In that case they had a relationship with their control systems supplier and that supplier came to us and asked us to build the control panels.”

That meticulous standard is the benchmark by which the company has gone into the manufacturing business

“I’ve always had an interest in temperature and most of the work we do on the instrument side is either temperature or pressure. So with the possibility that Mark Duval would come and work here not only could we manufacture but we were already calibrating and we had the ISO accreditation. It was just a beautiful synergy to be able to do that in all one company and really excited me,” says Mr Brill .

“There are other temperature probe manufacturers out there but I think our point of difference is the quality.

“I’m sure the other guys make good products as well but we do have a particularly skilled man doing it as part of our team – Mark has been skilled in manufacturing temperature probes for more than three decades – that’s all he’s ever done.

The sensors and probes produced by Industrial Instrumentation are used for everything from cryogenics (the study of very low temperatures – below minus150 degrees Celsius – and the behavior of materials at those temperatures) to melting steel.

“We had an enquiry the other day about tungsten rhenium thermo couples to handle ranges up to 2300 degrees Celsius,” says Mr Brill.

Tungsten rhenium thermocouples were originally developed to meet the requirements for measuring ultra-high temperatures up to 2760 degrees Celsius.

“They were looking to get this support for a purchase of a vacuum furnace offshore which had already been specified and were surprised that this could be done in New Zealand.”

(A vacuum furnace can heat metals, to very high temperatures and carry out processes such as brazing, sintering and heat treatment with high consistency and low contamination.)

“They were asking us to supply spares – a wise move. Many companies just think about the purchase price and will worry about any problems down the track – ultimately an expensive option,” says Mr Brill.

Manufacturing probes is something that Mark Duval has specialised in from the day he left school in 1977 after his careers advisor told him he was no good at school, was not going to pass the exams and to go and look for a job.

“I was good at engineering with a natural talent with my hands and became an expert in making half a millimeter and one millimeter diameter thermocouples something I did for 12 years before I came to New Zealand. I was a specialised welder and used a microscope.”

“When I came here I worked for Servotech and they were a customer of my employer in the UK. I wasn’t actually looking at staying in the same industry but was more than happy to because I had had 18 years experience under my belt by that time.

Mr Duval did eight years at Servotech and then seven years at Hislop & Barley before he and Mr Brill got together to launch the manufacture of temperature probes.

“I wasn’t too fussed about what particular angles Mark might have – whether it’s thermocouples or RTD’s or ceramic over stainless,” says Mr Brill.

“I knew that he was good and I knew that he could pretty much make anything that anyone wanted and we would become the only company in New Zealand with everything in house in all these areas.”

Industrial Instrumentation invested in plant and machinery and stock and Mark Duval made a start.

“I like to think my main speciality is efficiency. I’ve set the workshop up here to make producing a temperature sensor easy,” he says.

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