Sometime in early 2018 – The very first idea

To give a clear toolbox meeting, we were able to use some field devices through cooperation with other companies. This way we could also show the young engineers the inside of some measuring devices. By presenting the equipment didactically, the theory behind it can be understood more easily.


Because these were still working devices, it appealed more to the engineers as we could also show the software side of these measurements. We connected a HART modem to the laptop to parameterize, simulate and measure the signals. Outside the demonstration, it was possible to set them up completely, generate error signals, run tests and practice troubleshooting. We were able to compare different measurement principles, check settings, complete data sheets and visualize them.

In short, for the people who had worked with it once, it was an added value. But it wasn’t that easy… e.g. a flow meter easily weights a few kilos and needs power, we need a resistor in the signal circuit and an appropriate Fluke before you can communicate with the device. And so, it was always a hassle to quickly play around with this. That when the idea started of making these devices more didactic. And of course, a flow meter is also more fun if there is also actual flow going through it.

Later in 2018 – Management pitch

As the realization of a demo/test setup was further elaborated on a higher level, the proposition was to encompass Process & Instrumentation, Automation and Safety integration, covering the strong collaboration between the different departments.


These topics should be addressed in the setup:

  • E&I: Engineering documentation, Instrumentation selection, Small to full-scope projects
  • Automation: Use of different systems to demonstrate our system independence, show and visualize program structure, demonstrate the difference between good and bad alarm management, P&ID display on HMI, batch processes.
  • Functional Safety: Setup safety circuits with the possibility to simulate faults, safety documentation.
  • Other: Linking the control room set-up (Brand control Rooms), MES, CE, Machine safety, ATEX.

We saw an added value of this setup in answering the question: “Who is PA Solutions and what are our capabilities?”.


We wanted to show that PA Solutions:

  • can handle a project from A to Z and explain our approach.
  • can provide both internal and external training to engineers in a pragmatic way.
  • can attract customers/potential employees at trade shows, schools and seminars.



With these objectives in mind, the idea was pitched at our Management and well received. We took the next step in further concretizing the idea.

Early 2019 – Project charter to defend the business case

For every internal project we do, we set-up a project charter entailing the purpose and objectives of the project as well the assignment of a project team, definition of stakeholders, milestones, risks, costs and project approach.


The following objectives / requirements where stated:

  • Build a demo setup to attract people on (school) events and show PA’s capabilities
  • The demo setup can be used as an education platform for new starters.
  • The setup must be easily transportable.
  • It must be able to show most of our core businesses and specialties in an attractive way.

The following project approach was defined:

  • All departments will give input on the different capabilities to be showed.
  • Engineering will be done by a student(s) supported by experienced engineers.
  • Equipment (instruments, valves, etc.) will be sponsored by vendors.
  • The automation scope will be done on multiple systems by our own automation engineers.


This resulted in a “Go” from our management and so the journey began…

2019/2020 – Concept design by students

The concept design was further developed, and the FRS (Functional Requirements Specification) was set up in collaboration with multiple engineering students. We went to fairs to get inspired and collected more ideas, keeping in mind it had to be realistic (read: affordable) to work it out by ourselves. We visited the big exhibition stands of the major international players and found our inspiration.

After some searching, visits, and emails back and forth, we finally found a machine builder who could build this setup. This was not an easy quest, as everything would be 100% custom-made. We brainstormed with them several times on-site (it seems strange, physically, sitting around the table with people). But they saw this as a good idea and so we sketched and drew again.

Late 2020: Re-alignment of the concept design

In late 2020, the concept design was re-aligned with all departments resulting in a modular structure covering all competencies:

  • E&I: measurement principles, testing, engineering acc. several CAE software tools, troubleshooting, HART communication and use of AMS suite
  • Automation: S7-1500 as stand-alone main controller, including remote I/O, local HMI, thin client, server rack. Use of different systems on VM’s and communication possibilities to other layers like DCS, Cloud, etc.


  •  Specialties:
    • Functional Safety: safety documents, validation and proof testing, failure simulations, S-PLC programming in a HIMA HIMatrix
    • Machine safety: Use of fencing with door contacts, set-up a safety scanner
    • Explosion safety: EPD, zoning and simulation with different products, Exi calculations
  • Digitalization: Cloud apps, Historians
  • Process / SA: Alarm management, HP-HMI
April 2021

A purchase order is sent to the machine builder. We were happy, because soon we would have something tangible. If it were not for the fact that the whole world had increasingly used plexiglass. By chance, the material we wanted to work with. We required extra thick plates, because the water tank at the bottom should hold up to 300l of water. The cylinder is made of thick-walled plexiglass and has a volume of no less than 90l.

By surprise, the machine builder also had internal problems due to downtime and limited resources in their workshop. As drawings could be made safely from behind a desk and screen, the booth needed to be built by several people together.


The upcoming period was a period of problems with the suppliers, transport, construction, communication, illness and failure. In short, something to pass over quickly.

Somewhere in early 2022

After repeatedly urging the machine builder to speed this up, we went for a visit. This way we could show that we really needed the booth, and we could also collect some images of the work in progress.


But there was still work to be done, so we pushed the machine builder to focus on the remaining work. After a few more problems with materials and wrong drilling, we did get the reassuring phone call a few weeks later that the booth was as good as ready. We were allowed to go for pressure testing!

Temporarily connected to the pump with a frequency controller in between, we gradually increased the pump speed and so the pressure. The pressure reading at full speed was just below 6 bar, which was more than adequate for us. No leaks, cracks or tears detected.


One week later, we could go and pick up the booth. All the panels were finished, and we had a brief explanation on how the decorative panels can be taken off and move and how to easily dismount the pipes for transport.


Currently, the booth is installed in Melsele, in our staging room. Next up to finalize the booth:

  • Build the controls. This is ordered already.
  • The wiring on the booth itself will be done by our own engineers.

So just a little while longer and our booth will be fully operational and help our engineers become more competent in our complete automation portfolio. As it will become a gem to showcase our capabilities to our customers.



As they say in Belgium when being amazed: “Jawadde!”
Thanks everyone for working together to achieve this great result.


Steven Debelder, Antwerp, Belgium