Freighter loading and unloading usually evokes images of containers and cranes, not a place for process control. But when the port caters to bulk materials industries, it looks a lot like a process plant, with conveyors, dust collectors, storage buildings and multimodal facilities spread over many acres.
Such is the case at Los Ventanas, the largest port for bulk materials in central Chile, whose customers include mining companies, the concrete industry and the National Enterprise of Petroleum (ENAP). Its five-berth pier was built in stages beginning in 1967, with the latest addition being a warehouse and multimodal facility in 2016.
Five years ago, the port was old and unsophisticated, according to Eduardo Monsalve Stange, project manager at Ventanas Port S.A.. But a new CEO’s strategic vision led to a continuing upgrade of infrastructure and technology.
Stange describes their CEO-driven vision to include implementing a technological platform that unifies the operational processes of the port using information collected through intelligent cyber-physical systems and concentrated industrial servers. Operational platform information would be sent to a control room so the personnel attending know the real status of each piece of operating equipment in the system.
Along with the berths, the port includes 46 conveyor belts, 3,030 lineal meters of conveyor belts, more than 600 sensors, 3,000 hp of installed motor capacity, 27 pieces of quality assurance equipment and dust collectors, three multimodal reception areas (for trucks and trains), four warehouses totaling 190,000 tons of bulk material capacity, two bulk ship loaders, and two cranes used to level piles when loading boats.
Typical automation equipment ranges from pull cord switches, rate sensors, zero speed switches and emergency stops to level controls, belt alignment controls, damaged/ripped belt detectors, tripper position switches and local start/stop controls.
According to Stange, “It’s a lot of process, and without technology, it’s impossible to take control.” They chose to automate all the processes in the port using a PlantPAx DCS.
Virtualized DCS Becomes a Reality
The project began in 2016 by mapping the existing processes, detecting operating island units, and developing a unified control philosophy.
From there, they tendered and assigned integration responsibilities, and began the physical and digital implementation of the platform. In 2018, they trained, commissioned and ramped up the installation.
When complete, the port storage and dock areas were covered by PACs on optical fiber in ring topologies, starting and ending at a central server hosting a virtualized PlantPAx DCS.
Stange explained that if a connection was lost at some point, the system would send the signal in the other direction and communication continues. The virtualization was incorporated in a server that facilitated the migration process and eased future expansions.
The supervision system has direct connection to the controllers, with a control interface developed in the master processors. It contains the different operation routes or any sequence an operator may require.
The DCS has met the project expectations by accomplishing centralization and information acquisition, availability of dynamic indicators and reduced administrative and management time.
According to Stange, they have seen synergies in management between areas and disciplines, more efficient use of resources (human, physical and economic), higher production without environmental damage, professional growth of workers, and higher productivity.
The next phase will introduce mobility for operators and ERP integration, making the largest port in central Chili also the most modern.