Case Study

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Using PlantPAx, Prodesa Cuts 1,000 Hours of Engineering Time in the Development of a Wood Pellet Plant

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  • Automate all systems, equipment and processes in the world’s second biggest pellet production plant



  • Straightforward installation and commissioning of more than 6,000 I/O points
  • Time savings in design, engineering and simulation
  • Remote management and maintenance
  • Reduce training time for the operators
  • Higher productivity and high energy efficiency


Prodesa, an engineering company based in Zaragoza (Spain), improves biofuel production technologies with innovative processes by providing comprehensive solutions for solid biofuels production and environmental protection. Prodesa is committed to the development based on knowledge and technology with the aim of contributing solutions that aid in resolving social and environmental problems and improving the quality of life. Its main activities include the design, manufacturing production and supply of turnkey wood pellet plants, biomass dryers, and biomass Combined heat and power (CHP) plants. Prodesa uses the Engineering Procurement Construction + Operation & Maintenance (EPC + O&M) model.

“Our clients want us to undertake the complete development of a plant. First, we select the best equipment and solutions for the process, then we take care of the integration, configuration, electrical installation, development of the automation, factory acceptance testing (FAT) is then performed and, finally, we carry out the general commissioning of the plant. Using this model, the customer does not have to worry about anything, “explains Ismael Sanz, who is responsible for facilities at Prodesa.

He adds: “This is our differentiating factor for this industry. There are very few companies in the world that undertake the work we do.” Currently all its production is exported to international markets. For this reason, the company has opened branch offices in the USA, France, Russia, and Malaysia and is currently developing projects in Latvia, Italy and Vietnam


Recently, Prodesa faced a huge challenge. A US customer wanted to build a pellet plant capable of producing about 500,000 tons of pellets per year – five times greater than the typical size for these kind of facilities. This project, located in Greenwood, South Carolina, is set to become one of the biggest plant of its kind in the world.

The plant had to cover the whole pellet production process, which comprises the pre-treatment of the raw material, including debarking, chipping and wood re-chipping; storage, cleaning and dosing; thermal drying, milling, pelletizing, cooling and sieving; and, finally, product railcar loading to be exported to all over the world.

“In order to implement the equipment required to perform all the processes for this project, we called upon a range of recognized worldwide suppliers, from where we choose the most suitable component based on the specific requirements of the project. All this equipment was then connected in sequence in order to obtain the process results requested by the customer,” says Ismael Sanz. “One of the suppliers we selected was Rockwell Automation. Our customer, a highly recognized company, recommended Rockwell Automation, due to its long established presence in the US market and worldwide, the recognition of its quality and its solution’s high flexibility,” he adds.


The first thing Rockwell Automation did after seeing the size of the project was evaluate the most suitable architecture to assist Prodesa in the selection of the optimum components, including the deployment of an EtherNet/IP™ network. “From the beginning, Rockwell Automation led us in all project phases, allowing us to have a clear vision about all the solutions we needed to put into operation in one of the world’s biggest pellet production plant,” recalls Sanz. Prodesa chose to integrate the Rockwell Automation® PlantPAx® distributed control system, a solution that uses a common platform to integrate all critical process areas of the plant. In this way, it enables plant-wide control for process, discrete, power, information and safety using a single architecture, so disparate control systems are no longer necessary. This results in significant process optimization and a reduction of the total cost of ownership (TCO). It also offers a high scalability, real-time information availability from any part of the plant and safer connectivity based on a robust industrial security concept – covering plant-floor devices all the way up to the enterprise.

“In addition, connectivity between Operator Stations (OWS), Engineering Stations (EWS) and process controllers per the guidance from design tools and configuration guides made implementation very simple, easy to use and intuitive,” states Sanz. He adds: “The PlantPAx system leverages unmodified Ethernet and the safety features are integrated in the controller and distributed across the plant, which reduces cabling.”

The system uses predefined blocks – available from the “Rockwell Automation Library of Process Objects” – which contain a vast array of control modules commonly required for a process application, with an intuitive design that follows industrial standards. The library along with predefined control strategies greatly reduced development time and provided an efficient operating environment that helps you to obtain the optimum performance from the plant’s assets.

Another important aspect of the project architecture is the integration of the security application within the same controller using Allen-Bradley GuardLogix® safety controllers and SIL3 safety I/O.


The use of Rockwell Automation PlantPAx distributed control system was beneficial for Prodesa in multiple aspects. First, it helped to save time during the project design. According to Ismael Sanz: “The use of this platform reduced the programming time by more than 60%, and the engineering process was reduced by 50% thanks to the use of the library objects developed by Rockwell Automation.” He adds: “Regarding the engineering development, we can state that cost reduction is the equivalent of one thousand working hours of our specialists.”

In addition, because the PlantPAx system is a configured solution, the use of an existing library reduces the need to review and test similar process sequences. According to Ismael Sanz: “This has allowed us to save more than 60% in simulation time, and due to the enormous dimensions of the plant, the installation and commissioning of more than 6,000 I/O points was much more straightforward.”

Furthermore, since Rockwell Automation components are connected through EtherNet/IP, they dramatically simplify the machine’s remote management and maintenance – reducing downtime, increasing productivity and optimising energy efficiency.

The benefits are not just limited to technological and performance aspects, but also in terms of staff training. Although the plant includes equipment and machines from different manufacturers, the PlantPAx distributed control system is the same for all of them, so the operators learn to operate only one solution. “We could say that, thanks to this platform, we reduced training costs by 25%,” says Sanz.

In conclusion, Ismael Sanz states: “Rockwell Automation has provided us with great support, proportional with the project’s magnitude. The use of Rockwell Automation products in the US market will help towards the final success of the project, due to their impressive reliability, worldwide availability and continuous support from this company. In a project of a size like this, to have a technology partner at this level has enabled us to reduce so much of our efforts, so we were able to focus on other aspects of the process.”

GuardLogix, PlantPAx, and Rockwell Automation are trademarks of Rockwell Automation, Inc.

EtherNet/IP is a trademark of ODVA, Inc.


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