In general, when choosing a colour for your house or refrigerator, you don’t think about what goes into making those colours. But, in many cases, it’s more than likely that Synthomer was involved.
Synthomer is an English multinational company, headquartered in London, which has worked in the chemical industry for more than 100 years. It specialises in additives and raw materials for creating coatings, paper, textiles, and health and protection materials. As such, Synthomer offers a wide range of products meeting almost any demand in the global market.
Synthomer, with the recent acquisition of Omnova, works at a global level in more than 40 production facilities, located in Europe, the United States and eastern Asia. It is organised into three divisions, one of which is called “Specialties”, which focuses on products outside the core acrylics business. The Sant’Albano Stura production facility, in the Piedmont region of Italy, is part of the Specialties division. It produces polyester resins for powder coating, called “blender”, which is then sold to companies specialising in painting products.
Recently, the Sant’Albano Stura facility underwent a renovation project, modernising several systems controlled by local PLCs. An important goal of this project was to implement a single Distributed Control System (DCS) system for the entire facility. To this end, Synthomer called on the expertise of Rockwell Automation, Progecta – a recognised system integrator – and, later, Stratus Technologies.
A Strong Construction Requires a Strong Foundation
Over time, the Synthomer facility in Piedmont had built up production lines managed by PLC from various suppliers, operating independently from one another. The aim of this modernisation project was to restructure and coordinate control of the system.
Synthomer chose Rockwell Automation and the system integrator Progecta to supply its new system. Over time, it replaced its older PLCs and moved towards Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix® programmable automation controllers (PAC) At this stage, it hadn’t even considered that it was building the perfect foundation to match objectives that would later come from its HQ.
By 2018, the Sant’Albano Stura site featured a state-of-the-art, fully automated production facility. Raw materials arrive on site and are stored automatically. They are then dosed and processed according to the customer’s needs, creating a wide range of products. Further automated systems then take the products, in either 25 kg bags or 900 kg “big bags”, and store them ready for delivery.
Distributed Process Control
Not long after completing this modernisation, Synthomer decided to move forward from PLC control to a more advanced approach, focused on a distributed control logic process. This decision was intended to standardise corporate policies and align for future prospects. The instructions were for each facility to adopt a DCS approach. However, each site was given the freedom to choose the most appropriate technology based on its existing situation.
At the Sant’Albano Stura facility, they had already taken on another project to install a new reactor – one of the largest in Europe for these product types – which would allow for a 30% increase in production. So, combining these two initiatives, they decided to focus on DCS using the PlantPAx® Distributed Control System – once again, supplied by Rockwell Automation, in collaboration with Progecta.
The concept was to concentrate management of the entire facility into a single CPU (with suitable redundancies, of course). This would gather data and control more than 2,000 connected devices. As it stood, the plant was run by a handful of different CPUs, each dedicated to a given system – a specific department, heating plant or the like. Having a single CPU would simplify communications among the various systems.
Step by Step
The PlantPAx DCS was originally set up specifically for the new reactor. This was then evolved by migrating functions from one of the existing PLC systems, one by one. Those systems then became remote I/O nodes for the single CPU. The objective was to arrive at a totally distributed control system in three years – a deadline that allows for non-stop production, except for a short window of opportunity when it closes during the summer.
Three years might seem like a long time, but in fact timing was going to be quite tight. However, having access to the advanced technologies and extensive experience of Rockwell Automation, along with the expertise of Progecta, gave Synthomer the confidence that this could be done.
To make the most of the plant’s summer closure, the wiring was laid down beforehand. They then replaced the ControlNet network and local CPUs with new EtherNet/IP network and tested the converted part of the system.
Adding Fail Safes
The team also brought in Stratus Technologies, whose task was to add extra redundancy to the infrastructure – providing a fault tolerance of more than 99.999% for all applications. Their response was to provide the ftServer platform – a solution that can respond to the industrial digitisation requirements using fully virtualised applications.
Thanks to the ftServer technology, the control applications are always available, removing any risk of downtime or data loss. Furthermore, thanks to the installation of a single server, always-on diagnostics and simple maintenance, management of the ftServer platform doesn’t require any specific IT skills. Which means this role can be assigned to the facility maintenance technicians.
With the introduction of the PlantPAx DCS, with it Process Library, it is now possible for the Process Engineer to intervene directly on a range of parameters, changing functions and managing alarms. Previously, using the old PLC system, that had only been possible through the intervention of a software technician.
Synthomer also discovered another benefit of the DCS approach: the enormous quantity of historical data it generated. This not only helped operators and maintenance technicians, but also provides the figures necessary for corporate analysis reports.
The ability to record such a vast amount of data, covering every parameter of the operation, allows Synthomer to perform in-depth analyses when problems arise. It also assists in the maintenance of the plant, triggering preventative and diagnostic responses linked to operating hours and the quantities of a single component.
The staff at the Sant’Albano Stura facility have been very impressed with the results of their modernisation, the installation of the Rockwell Automation technology, and the power of the PlantPAx DCS. And this hasn’t gone unnoticed through the rest of the Synthomer facilities. Tasked with their own objectives to centralise their systems, the company’s other sites are all considering their own situation and wondering what such a solution could do for them.