One European company makes a wide range of advanced materials that come into our lives in different ways – from components in surgical devices that can save our lives to the glass and roofing materials used on the buildings where we live and work.
The company makes materials like high-performance plastics, glass and textiles at its hundreds of plants around the globe, including dozens in the United States. At one of its plants in the U.S. South, the company produces nonwoven material used in roofing and other applications.
But productivity at this plant was in jeopardy when its legacy production system was identified as at risk of obsolescence and causing unexpected downtime. This pushed the company to migrate to a new process automation system with production intelligence. The new solution not only addressed obsolescence risks but also reduced costly downtime and boosted capacity in the plant.
Aging System Presents Challenges
Several years ago, the plant’s legacy process control system was nearing obsolescence. In addition, the system lacked reliability and was slow to recover from power outages, leading to unexpected downtime, days of lost production and operator headaches.
The system infrastructure had been expanded multiple times without a well-thought-out, cohesive strategy. Plant operators recognized they needed to migrate to a modern DCS to get the production performance and stability they needed.
The company also needed a system that would be highly intuitive for plant workers. That need became obvious when one of the seasoned operators left the company, taking with him years of institutional knowledge about how to maintain the old system.
“Another goal was selecting a system with the lowest total the cost of ownership,” said the plant’s superintendent. “This required the ability to maintain the system ourselves while having access to outside expertise as needed.”
A key caveat was that system migration couldn’t exceed 24 hours of downtime. This requirement pushed the plant to take a phased migration approach.
Moving to a Modern DCS
The company partnered with Premier System Integrators, a Solution Partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork™ program, to execute the migration project. Premier System Integrators implemented a PlantPAx® process automation system from Rockwell Automation to increase production efficiency and access to real-time information.
The scalable, plantwide PlantPAx system would manage the overall process, which begins with mixing fiberglass with a precise amount of water and chemicals. Then, the mixture undergoes a number of drying processes before it is measured for base weight and thickness. The product is then shipped to companies that use it as a substrate for roofing shingles.
In addition, the PlantPAx system would gather production intelligence and historical data — including temperature, weight and other process points — and put the data into context to produce actionable information in real time. The PlantPAx system also offered power-control functionality and alarming systems on critical motors to monitor and alert operators if the system begins to overload.
The company was already utilizing the PlantPAx system for its resin-blending operation and was experiencing the advantages of built-in diagnostics, integrated communications and real-time data. This made the technology an easy choice for the plant.
Premier System Integrators consolidated multiple remote HMI platforms from other systems into the new DCS to monitor and control any production inefficiencies in real time. It also deployed the control system with thin-client technology for HMIs and engineering stations allowed so operators could access the system remotely, track processes and make adjustments as necessary.
Premier System Integrators expanded the existing plant Ethernet network that was being used at the business level to the control level, moving two ControlNet™ racks to EtherNet/IP™ to create a holistic network infrastructure.
“We created a new, scalable infrastructure based on open-networking standards,” said Larry Grate, account delivery manager, Premier System Integrators. “Built entirely on EtherNet/IP, the system delivers real-time information within the entire facility to improve equipment performance.”
Since implementing the modern PlantPAx system, the plant has taken advantage of a number of process control improvements, including improved reliability, maintainability and lower cost of ownership.
The new system has helped eliminate unexpected downtime, thus increasing the plant’s production. In addition, the ability to monitor various measurements and processes in real time has helped reduce variations in product size and weight, reducing overall scrap.
“The biggest advantage has been reducing the basis weight variability,” said Grate. “Basis weight measurement is not a native PlantPAx measurement, but because we have access to so much real-time data, we can easily access specific information, plug it into the controller, and make adjustments quickly.”
The PlantPAx system also met the goal of reducing total cost of ownership. The cost of installing and maintaining a process automation system on an open architecture is less expensive than a closed architecture due to the ability to select off-the-shelf components and IT tools.
The well-planned, HMI-layer network infrastructure means future devices can be easily added, making the entire system scalable and futureproof.
Because operators were already using the Rockwell Automation HMI on the existing resin PlantPAx system, training time was reduced. This familiarity will allow plant staff to maintain and repair issues themselves should any problems arise. However, the Rockwell Automation support team and other Solution Partners are readily available, creating an entire network of support should plant workers need it.
Premier System Integrators is working with the company on future process improvements, and helping the facility move from a batch-pulping operation to a continuous-pulping operation. This will further optimize plant productivity and decrease downtime.
The results mentioned above are specific to this company’s use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.
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ControlNet and EtherNet/IP are trademarks of ODVA Inc.