PlantPAx Halves Set Up Time and Slashes Engineering Efforts

PlantPAx Slashes Engineering Efforts at ProLabNL


  • ProMotion BV was tasked with finding a replacement process control system that could address multiple technical- and time-related engineering issues coupled with stringent customer demands



  • 50% reduction in set up
  • Significantly reduced engineering effort and easier-to-use software
  • Better information presentation using multiple displays
  • Far more flexible system that benefits from significant support
  • Up-to-date library keeps pace with industry changes

PlantPAx, deployed by ProMotion BV at leading Dutch oil and gas test facility, eclipses performance and flexibility of widely available incumbent process control solution


ProLabNL, located in Arnhem in The Netherlands, is an independent test facility for oil and gas process equipment. The company offers state of the art, large-scale test facilities that operate with live hydrocarbons (natural gas and crude oil) at high pressures in order to simulate real oilfield conditions. Its flow loops have been used extensively for subsea technology qualification programs of major oil and gas companies.

ProLabNL offers one of the most capable, high pressure, multi-phase flow loops in the world. All of its flow loops are operated by skilled operators and test engineers supported by process experts to help confirm that its clients can perform their qualification programs using the most realistic oilfield conditions and in the shortest possible time.

On an annual basis, for its many customers, the company undertakes multiple tests in order to simulate a wide variety of processing conditions. Each test requires the adaptation of multiple parameters and variables in order to simulate the widest possible range of in-field scenarios. The time taken to undertake all of these different changes was becoming an issue and, as a result, ProLabNL called upon the services of ProMotion BV, another Dutch company that specialises in software solutions for the process industry. ProMotion soon realised that a different approach was needed in order to speed up the changeover process and, as a result of its findings, it recommended a solution based on the Rockwell Automation PlantPAx® distributed control system.

ProLabNL offers state of the art, large-scale test facilities that operate with live hydrocarbons (natural gas and crude oil) at high pressures in order to simulate real oilfield conditions


The existing solution was based upon a CPU and software from another automation supplier and deployed data logging in Microsoft® Excel®. This system fell short of ProLabNL’s requirements on a number of counts, primarily the slow rate at which procedural and test modifications could be deployed and the subsequent visualisation needed after the adaptions of the test loop for equipment and instrumentation.

In addition, its legacy system did not meet ProLabNL’s requirements for the performance of the database and the ease of adding and deleting parameters to the database. It also fell short in terms of the processing of HART-data from transmitters (instead of analogue values) and it did not offer satisfactory reporting, change control and audit trails. Visualisation also failed in terms of performance and expectations.

ProMotion’s challenge in this case was to recommend and develop a system that would address all of these issues, while also delivering the performance required for what is an essential testing facility.

According to Fabian Hurkmans, Director at ProMotion: “ProLabNL required a very flexible control system, which gave it the ability to change out test sections in its flow loop up to 10 times per year. The engineering time for control system changes also needed to be minimised to sustain maximum uptime of the Flow loop. The oil and gas customers that are testing at the facility demand real-time trending and an insight into their test data so that they can change the test matrix accordingly. As a result, ProLabNL demanded high requirements for the speed of signal transfer into live graphical trending of many different test parameters.”


In operation, the High Pressure 90 barg full hydrocarbon test loop offers 100% actual scale conditions for oil and gas processing technology qualification. The gas and liquid phases are pumped and metered independently in the flow loop and are then commingled upstream of the test section in the flow loop. The flow loop has the flexibility to fulfil clients’ requirements for equipment and instrumentation development and qualification in the test sections. The combination of three-phase operation, live hydrocarbon fluids and full-scale flow rates make this one of the most capable multiphase flow loops in the world.

Hurkmans explains: “Both the existing automation vendor and Rockwell Automation provided solutions for ProLabNL’s requirements, but with the Rockwell Automation Library of Process Objects we were able to offer a more flexible engineering tool that delivered full integration of logic and visualisation functions; ultimately resulting in shorter overall engineering times. It was also very competitive with regard to the pricing for components and software licenses.”

In addition to the Process Libraries, ProLabNL also deployed a PlantPAx SCADA system with historian, asset management and data visualisation in order to collect and deliver real-time and historic variables in a clear, easy to read format for set up, analysis and customer presentation.

A TechConnect℠ support agreement was also deployed for software support and updates on the various solutions. This contract offers extended functionality and improves users’ experiences thanks to access to the latest software revisions. Overall, the TechConnect support from Rockwell Automation provides software maintenance, real-time phone support and comprehensive online support for everyday support needs.

Due to the PlantPAx historian software, ProLabNL now has much better data presentation compared to the previous system


According to Hurkmans: “The advantage we have with the PlantPAx system is now we have a solid process control system. The Rockwell Automation Library of Process Objects gives us so much more programing flexibility and we have more capabilities with regards to processing data and also applying a wide range of customer and international standards.

“It would have been possible to upgrade the existing system to this level of control,” he continues, “but it would have required a much greater investment and would have involved a much larger SCADA system. In addition, the flexibility in programing was simply nowhere near the level we needed for this application.

“We stripped out the existing control system, put in a PlantPAx distributed control system, including the Library of Process Objects and relevant software. The Library saves an immense amount of time when it comes to making changes for the next test run. In less than a week, we can be set up for the next run, a timescale we simply could not have achieved with the existing system.”

ProLabNL was not initially familiar with the PlantPAx system, but very quickly saw the advantages for its application in terms of flexibility and the functionality available.

“Every time they used to go into a new test round,” Hurkmans continues, “they had to reshape the programming and the visuals, which took a lot of time given the possibilities. The PlantPAx system gives them pre-built functional and visual applications, negating the need to build the logic and visuals for each new test run. There is also greater flexibility from a cost perspective, with regards to building your own library as the Process Library is available at no extra charge as part of the PlantPAx solution. With the older system we would have to invest to use the higher-level system.”

Another benefit of the PlantPAx system is that the Process Library is built upon worldwide experience and knowledge. Regularly updated, it also keeps pace with improvement to standards and the included safety functions. “The TechConnect support is also invaluable,” Hurkmans adds. “If you are not changing the logic, the programmes can be fully tested by Rockwell Automation engineers. The older supplier was only supporting its products – not the software.”

Both ProLabNL and ProMotion are also impressed with the additional software deployed with the system. “The asset management software in conjunction with the visualisation package can deliver data to two big screens,” Hurkmans adds, “which are used to monitor the system and four big screens to plot live trends. Most of the time the customers are looking at the trends rather than the process parameters. The historian function in the database is very useful not only for testing, but also for checking equipment performance and integrity, while change control and audits are now also possible; both features being critical for several customers.”

According to Ewout Barents, Operations Manager at ProlabNL: “Due to the historian software we now have much better presentation of the data compared to the previous system. It is also very beneficial for the clients testing with us, as we can show data from all the signals within our system, combine trends as needed and even go back in time for months. It is very user friendly and I think it is wonderful that we custom design the results. We have some very satisfied customers.”

Eelco Kamies, Lead Process Operator at ProLabNL adds: “Because we are modifying the test set up and programme every few weeks, it just makes more sense to use the Rockwell Automation PlantPAx system. The flexibility of the system is much better and I also think it has more capabilities. We also have more options, such as the possibility to change things like the interlocks on our system in conjunction with the controls that we have to adjust – there are so many functions and possibilities.

With the PlantPAx system you can view the interlocks and determine whether they are okay or need attention. This makes life much easier for us as operators, as we can see which component is not at the correct setting. I also like the fact that if you want to modify the system while still testing, Rockwell Automation engineers can modify it from anywhere in the world, while it is running and the client can then upload the programming when the system is fully operational.”

“Without a shadow of a doubt,” Hurkmans concludes, “the biggest advantage –not only for ProLabNL – is the enormous reduction in engineering time due to the Rockwell Automation Library of Process Objects. We have seen time savings of over 50 percent and since ProLabNL deploys frequent control system changes in both hardware and software, this is a major cost saving every single time.”

The results mentioned above are specific to this customer's use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.

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