Capula is solving a historical problem by combining operational technology (OT) with real-time IT solutions. They are helping their clients in the energy and utilities markets uncover vital information once submerged by dated systems unable to fathom live processes across multiple variables and sites.
Having chosen to excel in this core area of business, the advanced automation and real-time intelligence specialist has doubled in size since 2007 through organic growth and is now a £40 million turnover company with 320 engineer-IT all-rounders.
Its approach has helped an array of important UK infrastructure clients, including Thames Water, the National Grid and Drax, to grasp the true performance of their operational systems and identify key areas for improvements across the board.
In the nuclear field it has its own successful division, Capula Nuclear, which assists in the automation technological side of highly complex large new plants.
Having successfully cemented its reputation in its key markets, Capula is now set on continuous improvement in both an outward and inward sense – respectively represented by a focus on green tech infrastructure and an internal ‘Making It works’ programme aimed at integrating the cultural values of its parent company Imtech.
Business Development Director Simon Coombs has helped steer Capula forward since he joined in 2007, pressing home the need for a clear, specialist identity combined with strong alliances.
“What we did was focus our story on the right markets and how we describe our specialist proposition,” he said. “We built trusted relationships with clients, technology and contracting partners and focused on getting the right capabilities with engineers who have the right skills and experience.”
“One of the key things is our culture, the essence of which is that we are engineers who are good at IT. Our clients want to combine the operational technology space with the IT space, which historically have been quite divided and difficult to bring together.”
The strategy has paid off. Throughout most of the company’s 45-year history the system integration part remained a £10-20 million revenue business, working in a number of guises. Now it operates sustainably at a much higher level, resulting in technology giant Imtech buying Capula in 2012.
OT meets IT
Capula offers consultation, automation, IT and support in the nuclear, power generation, utilities, environmental, oil and gas and industrial markets, delivering capital programmes, operational performance and compliance. It is a system integrator, tailoring the best IT solutions to fit the needs of its clients.
The company has showcased its credentials in a variety of projects for many key utilities and energy players in the UK, including Thames Water where it is involved in ICA (Instrumentation, Control and Automation) work across many schemes. This includes installing PLC telemetry units and new, MultiTrode pump control systems.
It is also rolling out a Wonderware SCADA Platform solution across more than 20 Thames Water sites allowing vital monitoring information to be shared and sent to a central control room at its Reading base.
“This helps greatly as common platforms and data models speak the same language,” Coombs said. “You can now focus on driving performance rather than spending time unraveling what is happening.”
Further still, Capula has set up an infrastructure to capture real-time data and present it in a way which can be easily understood by key decision-makers and engineers, something which Thames Water will build on in the water industry’s next Asset Management Period (AMP6) which runs from 2015 to 2020.
The National Grid is another key customer, for whom Capula provides 24-seven support for a large number of substation control systems across their high voltage transmission network. A crucial element is coordinating when to upgrade IT to fit the lifespan of the substation equipment.
This is carried out in collaboration with GE hardware and has seen Capula gain several 100 percent KPI (Key Performance Indicator) scores over the last few years.
“We are very proud of this partnership as it demonstrates very well our performance credentials.” Coombs added. “You know the saying ‘people want holes and not drills’? Well, we are working out how we can provide the holes by maintaining that drill and continuing to make it relevant for our client over its lifespan.”
Besides the growing nuclear arm of the business, renewables represents an important area of focus going forward.
This is no better demonstrated than by its latest developments with long-standing client, Drax, operator of Europe’s largest coal-fired power station in North Yorkshire, generating eight percent of the UK’s electricity.
Capula is helping the conversion process from coal to biomass, which includes the not insignificant task of fuel handling and the extra infrastructure required to make the switch. Capula’s relationship with Drax stretches back beyond the 1990s, when they implemented the technology to allow the power station to move from hardwire systems to soft desk IT solutions.
Coombs said: “We are seeing a lot of increase in the renewables space, particularly in biomass and energy from waste. This is a rapidly expanding area and is a core part of the UK government’s strategy.”
Capula has also played an important role in projects for UK Power Networks in relation to smart grid solutions. The projects were supported by the Low Carbon Network Fund, which was set up by OFGEM and the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
The programme revolves around improving ‘distribution network visibility’, which again uses real-time IT databases to gather information from across the network, analyse it, and present it to asset planners.
The technology is based on IT infrastructure from OSIsoft (also used in Capula’s oil and gas, utilities and nuclear work), one of many large vendors the company works with which also include Rockwell, ABB, GE, Schneider and Siemens.
“You are taking information that was often already there but in a black box and had nothing done with it.” Coombs said.
“The more you add renewables, heat pumps and electric vehicles charging onto the network, the more potential there is for instability so you can’t operate from a black box anymore, hence a demand for a mechanism to get that information put in front of engineers and planners in a simple way that can be understood and acted upon.”
Internally, the company is instigating an improvement programme, inspired by the cultural values of its parent company, Imtech. Capula remains its own business in a network of businesses that share the same philosophies.
“We now have a very large parent who is focused on green tech and sustainable/smart energy and infrastructure, sharing a lot of our ideals” Coombs added.
“We’re part of Imtech UK, and within the UK there are a number of different streams which complement each other - Capula is the system integration stream.”
Making It works
The ‘Making It works’ initiative is aimed at embedding Imtech’s cultural values (entitled ‘It works’) into the company. Capula are doing this by concentrating four key areas: people, process, innovation and infrastructure.
Improving how Capula attracts, supports and develops their people, plus delivering excellent processes, is crucial to their future success. But another significant pillar of this drive is innovation.
“It is the bread and butter of what we do,” Coombs added. This embodies developing smart solutions, such as for smart grids, as well as integrating mobile into control system architecture and facing up to associated cyber security challenges.
Innovation also involves improving efficiency and consistency by inventive re-use of tools where possible and the development of an innovative culture within the organisation as a whole. Crucial to this are Capula’s people, the training of whom is taken very seriously from engineers’ IT skills to project manager certifications and its graduate programme.
Alongside this is investment in the infrastructure needed for employees to excel in their work.
The company recently opened a bespoke integration testing facility in Stafford which is tailored towards its operations in the water industry, offering the space and tools needed to support the next breakthrough.
Employees are also geared up with a fully integrated Quality, Environmental, Safety & Health (QESH) Management System, fuelled by the belief that top-notch health and safety practices not only ensure their well-being but will greatly benefit effectiveness. This also underlines the company’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility.
By continuing to spur innovation among its people and deliver on the ground with its specialist offering of engineering and IT expertise, Capula looks set to continue enhancing the energy and utilities sectors’ handling of vital real-time information, ultimately bringing about a more sustainable practice across many crucial infrastructure operations.
Coombs concluded: “We are a leading company with the aim to be the most respected technical service provider in our markets, developing our specialisation and focusing on sustainable growth. We are already moving towards that.”