Challenging cautious attitudes and stimulating a more innovative spirit is a core philosophy for iTanks. In an interview with Tank Storage Magazine ahead of its Innovations in Storage showcase day at StocExpo Europe on March 21, Cor van de Linde explains more about the importance of innovation
'Innovation - whether it is innovation in port-related industries or elsewhere - is extremely important,' says Cor van de Linde, managing director of Rotterdam innovation engine iTanks.
'Especially now that we are on the verge of a transition. Those who do not innovate stand still while their competitors catch up with them and this is the case for the oil & gas and tank storage industries. Not everyone in this sector is fully aware of this yet and a cautious, conservative attitude is still very often adopted.'
iTanks, as a knowledge and innovation platform, aims to challenge this attitude and stimulate innovations. It connects companies, knowledge institutes and industry experts, introduces them to new technologies and innovations and initiates various innovative processes.
'It is difficult to estimate when the transition will take place - in five or 20 years - and to what extent this will have an impact on our industry, but there will be a lot of changes in the foreseeable future,' van de Linde says.
'You can already see that with emerging trends and technologies that are increasingly being used more and more in the industry.
'For example, there is a strong movement towards digitisation and robotics. With more computing power, speed and artificial intelligence, all sorts of algorithms are created, making it possible to deal with data much more intelligently.
'Think for example of predictive maintenance with which more and more companies are experimenting. With the emergence of 3D printers, sustainable materials are coming more onto the market. What you hear less about, but also has a lot of potential, is nanotechnology. This can play an important role in cleaning and applying special coatings. These technologies are gaining more traction in our sector.'
Other storage purposes
Van den Linde suspects that with more focus on sustainable energy, crude oil will be treated differently in the future. 'Through a transition to a more sustainable energy-intensive industry, oil becomes a valuable asset that is used more sustainably and intelligently.
'Refineries are likely to gradually lose ground, which also has consequences for storage companies. The tanks that now store crude oil may become superfluous or will have to be converted for other purposes. I can imagine that in such a transitional phase, in which margins become smaller and everything comes under pressure, you try to stay around as long as possible until you have something new.
'Smart innovations can help to keep ahead of the competition during this period with the use of smart technoloiges.'
However, implementing pioneering innovations takes time and co-operation is a key part of a successful implementation phase.
'That is why it is so important to think about innovation, new business models and already taking the first steps as a company.'
iTanks wants to stimulate innovation as a knowledge and innovation platform. It does this by connecting companies and bringing new technologies to their attention through events, conferences, brainstorming sessions and breakfast seminars.
Through this knowledge exchange, new ideas are created that lead to new concepts, which then grow into innovations.
'We also try to solve problems and challenges from the industry and to find concrete solutions,' van de Linde explains.
'We do this first by examining what already exists and connecting parties. This essentially prevents the wheel from being reinvented. If there are no solutions yet, we will initiate a project team with, among other things, an end user, knowledge institute and supplier. They will then work together with a problem or idea to try and find a solution that can actually be implemented.'
Innovation in practice
A number of projects that iTanks has initiated are the Extractor, Cyclone and iWeld. The 7XE Extractor is the first welding torch to extract welding fumes directly at the source without sacrificing weld quality.
Welding smoke contains harmful substances and gases. The welding torch was developed in collaboration with Translas and TNO and sucks 90% to 95% of all welding fumes at the source. This innovation was put on the market in 2014 and is now sold worldwide.
Due to the success of this welding torch, iTanks are currently developing a compact filtration system - the Cyclone - together with TNO and Translas.
This system uses an old filtering principle. During welding, poisonous smoke is released that is absorbed by 200 cyclones and then rotated in such a way that an internal cyclone is created. The cyclone ensures that forces are released that pull down the tiny, toxic particles of the welding fumes and collects them in a container.
Because these particles are extracted from the source, clean air is created that is immediately blown into the atmosphere. 'The design originated from a combination of old techniques. The disadvantage of these techniques was that they were often too large and inefficient while the extraction was too far from the source, causing the welder to inhale a lot of toxic welding fumes. Thanks to the Extractor this is now a thing of the past.
'The welding torch sucks the welding fumes at the source and immediately pumps them to the Cyclone which, unlike its predecessors, is small and compact. The development of the Cyclone is currently in full swing. The system is extensively tested in the production hall of Heerema Fabrication Zwijndrecht.'
More innovative projects
Other projects that iTanks have been, and continue to be, involved in is a cleaning robot that is suitable for cleaning multiple piles and scaffolding poles and then coating them; a welding robot (iWeld) with allows the laser welding of tank bottoms to be done faster, cheaper and more safely, as well as solutions that have been created thanks to brainstorm challenges.
The brainstorm challenges concept involves taking a problem that a company has raised, mapping it out and then offering solutions from different perspectives.
'For example, one of our partners was looking for a solution for a challenge in maintaining an important traffic bridge. The mix of their employees and external professionals, including a lawyer, a sensor designer and an offshore installation technician, resulted in surprising technical solutions from which one was chosen in a short amount of time.
'In a mottled group, valuable solutions and lively ideas often come about.' In less than six months, all steps - from problem definition, concept, prototype, demonstration to implementation - were successfully completed.
Van de Linde explains that Innovations do not have to be immediately disruptive or involve significant changes to business models.
'Innovation can be done in many ways. For example, we also contributed to the Sam Safety digital learning environment.
'The link to innovation may not be immediately crystal clear, but artificial learning is applied in this learning environment, for example by applying adaptive technology by continuously varying questions and by measuring retention value.
'It measures what knowledge remains, for how long and when further training is needed. In this way, knowledge is better secured than before. That too is innovation.'
So, what should companies do if they do not know where or how to start?
'Clearly formulating wishes and goals is sometimes difficult. That is why it is important to look for cooperation and start small projects step by step. In doing so, one learns and small steps forward can lead to great innovations.
'Watching and waiting from the sidelines is no longer an option – not even in this sector.'
StocExpo Europe innovation theatre
ITanks will be hosting an Innovations in Storage showcase day on Wednesday, March 21 on the show floor. Innovations in maintenance will be extensively discussed by speakers from its network. The programme includes:
• Innovation & maintenance by Angela Hulst, CFO of iTanks
• Debate about game changers by Wim Raaijen, CEO/editor-in-chief of Industrielinqs
• Artificial intelligence & maintenance by Simon Jagers, technology enthusiast & founder of Semiotic Labs
• RoboHouse, fieldlab cognitive robotics by Arthur de Crook & Jaimy Siebel, managing director & manager, RoboHouse RoboValley
• Working with exoskeleton by Ruud van Doorn, CEO, Bilfinger
For more information and to register for free to attend, visit www.easyfairs.com/stocexpo-europe-2018/stocexpo-europe-2018/visiting/seminars/ or email@example.com.
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