A HAZARDOUS VENTURE
BEKA Associates Limited is the story of a small UK-based company which has achieved international prominence in the world of automation by pushing back technological boundaries to command virtual ownership of a highly sophisticated niche market within the complex field of hazardous area instrumentation.
The company started life by offering Instrinsically Safe (IS) consultancy services in the early 1980s and later moved into a converted 16th Century coach house in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, where it won wide acclaim for introducing the world's first Intrinsically Safe loop powered indicator. Since then it has progressed to larger premises in Hitchin and has continued along the path of innovation to become a major player throughout the world in the provision of display instrumentation for applications in harsh hazardous area environments. With a philosophy of being customer-led and engineering-driven, the company today designs and manufactures what it claims to be the world's most comprehensive range of IS loop powered indicators and displays, with applications for FOUNDATION™ fieldbus and PROFIBUS protocols being central to future-business plans. Turnover has been steadily growing and is currently around the £3 million mark, of which exports account for more than 50%.
Following success with its first major customer, British Gas, the company grew to become a leading supplier of both hazardous and safe area indicators and displays to the world's down stream oil and gas industries, including chemicals, petrochemicals, and plastics, as well as the pharmaceutical and other process sectors. Most products, housed in customised field or panel mounting enclosures suited to the rigors of hazardous area applications, have ATEX approvals for access to major European markets and FM certification permitting installation throughout the USA. The addition of IECEx international certification and dust approvals for some field-mounting models further extends the scope of application. Other products include hazardous area sounders and beacons, panel lamps, manual set point stations, batch controllers, rate totalisers and, more recently, the introduction of ASCII and Modbus-enabled text displays.
With an inbuilt pioneering instinct, supported by some 20% of turnover being annually invested in R&D, the company was drawn towards the new business potential posed by the emergence of fieldbus technology. Entering the arena, however, would not be easy, especially for a relatively small company. Initial investment would be high and at the time there remained significant pockets of resistance to the new technology. However, BEKA was determined to be the first to place a fieldbus indicator on the market and in 2003/4 invested more than a year's profit in set-up costs. The following year saw the first fieldbus products being shipped for safe and hazardous area applications covering both
FOUNDATION™ fieldbus and PROFIBUS protocols. Development continued and soon the company was attracting worldwide acceptance, especially for its eight variable FOUNDATION™ fieldbus and PROFIBUS PA Displays featuring display backlights and extensive safety certifications
These have recently been complemented by a new range of lower cost single variable FOUNDATION™ fieldbus indicators for field and panel mounting applications, thus giving plant floor operators greater choice and flexibility. Models include those with ATEX, IECEx, FM and cFM (Canadian) intrinsically safe certifications, together with Type nL and nonincendive versions.
Testament to the company's fieldbus credentials came when Yokogawa signed a Global Preferred Vendor Agreement in 2005 for the supply of BEKA's comprehensive range of fieldbus instruments. This embraces Yokogawa's head office in Japan plus four regional headquarters in Singapore, China, the Netherlands and the USA. Although a relatively small company employing just 40 people, the company now commands an important niche market on a global basis. A strategically located network of 50 highly skilled agents provides representation throughout Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa, the Middle East and North and South America. With all agents being specialists in the field of intrinsically safe products and their applications, they are able to provide locally a high level of authoritative support to the company's product range.
Recent notable successes around the world include orders for the revamp of the large Shell Norco chemical pant in New Orleans - one of the first customers for the company's fieldbus indicators - and installations at Ras Laffan in Qatar, Dalian Petrochemical in China and ODG 111 in Abu Dhabi. Also, many sites in the UK and European markets have adopted the company as their preferred supplier.
BEKA's success emanates from a sharp focus on three important market differentiators, fast deliveries, competitive pricing and professional technical support. Ex-stock delivery is guaranteed on virtually any item of equipment, volume purchasing of components and materials keeps prices down and a high level of specialised knowledge underpins local technical support throughout the world. An EMC laboratory and environmental testing facilities to verify product performance are maintained in house and the provision of training and opportunities for young people ensures a constant flow of 'new blood' into the business.