Photograph by Phil Bourne
MHT Technology is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Managing director Steve Spelman talks to Storage Terminals Magazine about the company’s successful past and present, and its ambitions for the future.
Twenty years young and still going strong is the message from MHT Technology Ltd. Founded in April 1994 as an independent, private company, providing a range of services to the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, MHT has grown into a leading supplier of bulk inventory management and stock reconciliation systems.
On the tank gauging side one of MHT’s main strengths has always been its use of open standards, offering a range of connectivity options for interfacing legacy devices and proprietary systems from most gauging instrument vendors. This has made the company a popular choice among terminals as they are not restricted to proprietary technologies.
Now the future looks even brighter for the company, which is based in Melsonby, near Richmond, North Yorkshire. Steve Spelman joined MHT as managing director at the beginning of June 2013 having built up over 20 years’ experience in similar roles within the tank farm automation market, both in the UK and Asia.
In a significant further development, September last year saw MHT become a fully-owned subsidiary of Switzerland-based process automation giant Endress + Hauser. This gives MHT a wider ability to serve worldwide markets on top of its established network of distributors and partners.
“The dynamics of the UK have been shifting in recent years following the fall in production of North Sea crude,” Spelman points out. “Demand is also changing as consumers use more efficient and environmentally responsible fuels. Although some refineries have been put up for sale, others are adapting, for example to provide storage and distribution for imported fuel.”
In the UK, MHT’s main operating markets are major oil company terminals and independent oil storage companies.
For convenience of fuel delivery, these tend to be situated around the coast and the UK’s major river estuaries. However, Spelman says the picture is constantly evolving. “We are doing an increasing amount of business with non-petroleum storage terminals, for example chemicals and edible oils,” he adds. “Our systems are installed on all three of the UK’s LNG receiving terminals and we also serve authorised distributors and depots.”
Further afield he sees a growing sector for storage in products such as ethane, a by-product of LNG extraction. Natural gas, renewables and biofuels will also become more dominant, particularly in the US.
MHT offers a wide range of solutions – inventory management, tank gauging, terminal automation systems, vendor managed inventory, alarm management – but Spelman maintains that it is difficult to list these offerings in order of significance to the company’s revenue.
“MHT works very much on a project by project basis, taking the needs of each individual customer into consideration,” he comments. “What is important to one customer will be different to another, so it is hard to list products in order of significance. Tank gauging and terminal automation have been at the core of our product offering for many years, with other products and areas of expertise following based on customer need.”
A significant amount of the company’s business is service work. MHT supports tank gauging from all manufacturers, servicing and repairing different types of gauge on a regular basis. In addition, it offers a helpdesk and 24/7 call-out service.
While the product range is constantly reviewed and updated the core solution remains Visual Tank for Windows
(VTW), despite being one of the first products launched with the company’s foundation in 1994. For Steve Spelman the longevity of the product is not that surprising.
“VTW has evolved based on years of feedback from customers throughout the world. One of the great advantages MHT has is that we can be flexible and adapt to meet the requirements of different sites,” he comments. “VTW is intuitive and easy to use and operators like that. It also has a number of features that can be customised so the system can be adapted to match a particular site’s way of working. The Movements Package is very popular; ensuring the safe movement of product around a site is of utmost importance and this software module offers an easy way to plan, track and analyse product movements.
“We also stay on top of advances in technology; we provide ‘virtualised’ installations of our systems in conjunction with our customers’ IT departments and our redundancy solution for terminal automation uses leading edge technology to provide uninterrupted truck loading in the case of a software, operating system, computer hard drive or processor failure.”
As mentioned before, one of the key advantages of MHT’s range is the ability to interface with a variety of field
instruments. In fact, for a long time this was a unique attribute which then became something that MHT’s competitors wanted to replicate. From the customer’s point of view, Spelman still sees this as a strong selling point as customers are not tied into one gauge manufacturer or loading computer supplier.
“They can select, and we can advise them on, the best instrumentation to suit the application,” he asserts. “Furthermore, they don’t have to have a different IT system for every type of gauge installed so there are efficiency and cost savings there. Our Gauge Emulator enables instrumentation of type A to be installed and communicate on a fieldbus of type B, so customers really have the ultimate flexibility.”
For many suppliers, but particularly those that have a strong market position in the UK, the Buncefield incident, and subsequent inquiry, reports and recommendations, have had a significant impact on industry practices and related technology.
MHT provided technical expertise to the HSE to aid with its investigation of Buncefield. The company also joined the Process Safety Leadership Group (PSLG) and sat on two working groups. In terms of enhancements, once the initial reports of what went wrong were produced, Spelman says MHT saw that some of the factors that contributed to the accident were to some extent present on other sites.
“Consequently we reviewed how we could assist the operations personnel with the most dangerous, and most
important, task on the site, moving products in and out of tanks,” he says.
“The Movements Package we developed from this review has the ability for supervisors to decide on site policies regarding movements. For example, if you open a movement, within say 10 minutes, you should detect a flow into or out of the tank. If you don’t, the operator should be notified. If an operator is moving product from tank A to tank B, then the flow rate out of tank A should be equal to the flow rate into tank B. If you plan to receive 10,000 cbm into a tank, the operator should be prevented from starting the movement if there isn’t sufficient ullage in that tank and make it easy for him to plan the movement so that it can be done safely.”
One development this year that could impact a range of process industry technology providers is ending of Microsoft support for its Windows XP platform. But MHT is confident that its systems installed in customer sites will not be adversely affected.
“Our systems have supported Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 r2 since April 2013 and we are soon to support Windows Server 2012,” he says. “There are some systems out there running Windows XP and even older operating systems. These are still supported by MHT and the data held within them can easily be transferred to the latest version of our software when the customer is ready to upgrade.”
There are, of course, advantages that come from being a subsidiary of Endress + Hauser. The Swiss group has
a turnover of almost €2 billion a year and employs 12,000 people throughout the world. This has opened up
sales channels for MHT with representatives in many different countries. “We work very closely with the teams
in Maulburg (Germany) and yamanashi (Japan) to understand customer drivers, enhance our market offering
and implement customer projects,” says Spelman. “At the same time, we maintain our autonomy and can
still support instrumentation from different vendors.”