Machines – More Efficient than People

25 Jun
energy efficiency

Carbon efficiency is a squeaky green offshoot of operational efficiency.

How automating manufacturing can reduce carbon emissions and boost efficiency

The ‘Internet of Things’ is far from being a future trend. It has already arrived in most sophisticated manufacturing and petrochemical plants, where temperature and pressure conditions must be kept at optimal levels at all times; and reactions and assembly lines are so multifarious that the potential for human error cannot be allowed to intercede.

Almost all machines in modern factories have a number of settings, or configurations. To adjust the all the settings manually could take a month, or more. If all components are linked to an overarching control system, the time taken is reduced dramatically, to a matter of days.

Nunzio Bonavita, business development manager for ABB Measurement Products, Italy, in his discussion of how automation increases efficiency, cites the example of the petrochemical complex in Termoli, Italy, where “complex chemical processes” are controlled by over 500 feedback control loops.

Bonavita states, “Manually re-tuning such a large number of loops would require six to eight months of highly-skilled (and rarely available) technicians.” But, that “After installing an Advanced Process Control Solution to provide control loop optimization and monitoring, a single engineer was able to re-tune the whole plant in just three weeks.”

He notes also that the self-adjusting functionality of the control devices meant that fuel wastage was minimised, and the plant’s overall consumption of methane was cut by more than 5%.

Another example is Qatar’s aluminium smelting complex Qatalum, near Mesajeed Industrial City. The 17-facility complex is one of the world’s largest, and also one of the most efficient aluminium smelters. All 17 plants are connected through an automated process control system.

A system this big really necessitates automated configuration: in total the network comprises more than 1,000 ‘nodes’, connection points and communication endpoints. The technical contractors brought in to install a unified control and monitoring system, ZMS Technology, used Hirschman’s Industrial HiVision network managing system (NMS).

The reported benefits of this programme are that it was compatible with a range of devices from different manufacturers and, describes ‘Automation World’ magazine, “The ability of the NMS to detect inconsistencies between parameter configurations reduced troubleshooting time.”

Additionally, it had the advantage common to all automated systems, which is that the history of configuration levels was documented, leaving a comprehensive log that could be scrutinised in the event of operational problems or just to find further efficiency gains.

A particular issue in the hot and arid Qatari climate is cable breakdown, and Qatalum often suffered from cable crimping and transmission errors as a result. An integrated control system can “dig down from the port to the switch and even to the cable to identify an area of potential failure.” Without the Industrial NMS capability, and what was the only solution in the olden days, was “to shut down a portion of the network and sending a process engineer to troubleshoot—a very expensive process,” reported ‘Automation World’.

The final way in which industrial network management systems make plant operators’ lives easier is by allowing for remote operational access – though internet security precautions are paramount. The 2012 incident at state-owned and state-of-the-art oil producers Saudi Aramco, where a malware attack enabled anti-government forces to spy on and even interfere with communication processes, provided a lesson for other facilities dependent on a computerised control system. Passwords must be continually updated and hardware disks brought on-site subject to checks.



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