The cost of doing business is always under the microscope. And when you look at process industries, “doing business” encompasses about as many variables as you can imagine. So, you probably would welcome the idea that technology advances are commoditizing flow meters, since that makes at least one business decision easy, right? The answer, of course, is not quite so cut and dried.

Let’s assume for a moment that all flow meters are mechanically equal. If that’s the situation, the criteria for choosing a provider shifts to an evaluation of the services they deliver and the innovation they bring to the table. They also need to be committed to being your partner, not just a vendor, because when you buy the meter, you enter into a long-term relationship with the manufacturer.

After all, you expect the investment you make into a meter to return value over 10 to 20 years. The lifecycle of each meter includes thousands of hours of operation, interrupted for maintenance such as proving and calibration. Plus, there’s a very high probability that the engineers who install the meter will not be operating at its “sunset”; industry analysts project that 40-to-50% of the workforce in energy, chemical and oil & gas industries will retire in the next 10 years.

How Innovation Trumps Commoditization

So, all things mechanical being equal, the company you engage should have the ability to work with you to understand your work practices and advise you on the right technology and the “right amount” of technology. What we mean by that is using innovation to eliminate unnecessary interruption to production. I’ll use one of our latest tools, Smart Meter Verification (SMV), to ground the discussion.

SMV is an online, on-demand diagnostic system that checks the health of the meter in two minutes. It compares the rigidity of the Coriolis flow tubes against the NIST-traceable calibration performed in the Micro Motion lab when the meter was built. Agencies including the ERCB, EPA, ISO SIS already recognize SMV as satisfactory for meeting their respective regulations. So, whether you want measurement performance once a year or once a day, SMV can make that happen without stopping the process.

Rethinking Work Practices

We’ve found that some of our customers are calibrating their meters more often than necessary. It makes sense – the more often you prove the meter, the more sure you are that the process will run smoothly. When we show them the data that SMV reports, which also allows visibility into other parts of the process, they often can streamline work practices, improving safety and productivity. The key is getting the right data, process-specific information that you’ve never had before.

Your process is not a commodity. It’s what makes your enterprise unique. And if you think about the flow meters you use, you’ll find that the capabilities and integrity of the company that made them are as much a part of the meter as the Coriolis tubes inside.

At Emerson, we talk about “a lifetime of ownership and care.” As our industry becomes more competitive, we know that our differentiators are not just the meters we produce but also the services we deliver.

Share your thoughts. What can we do better? Is there an example of a successful engagement you think others in your industry could benefit from by hearing? We welcome your remarks.