Construction chemical company migrates legacy control solution to distributed control system (DCS)

Published: 22-Jan-2019

Tomatic Ltd replaces unsupported black-box hardware and network with modern, integrated, PlantPAx DCS that enables Industry 4.0 capabilities

In any industry, modernisation should always be seen as a massive opportunity, as opposed to an industry mandated or legislation-driven trend.

This is especially true in the chemicals industry, wherein older technology reduces flexibility, gives limited access and visibility to vital, real-time processing and manufacturing data and does not offer any form of contemporary standardisation for both legislative purposes and future upgrades.

An upwards evolution from less capable legacy hardware – and in some cases paper-based reporting solutions – can deliver almost instantaneous benefits, including improved flexibility, greater process agility, more streamlined and cost efficient operations and, of course, the all-important ability to collect and act upon both real-time and historical manufacturing data.

The same argument can be made for processes running so-called black box solutions, which may have reached the end of their useful life, facing obsolescence and spare part issues or are simply not capable of addressing the demands of modern consumers and contemporary market forces.

As a result, whether launching a new plant or revitalising an ageing plant, chemical producers must prioritise investments around the technologies that deliver the best ROI to solve their most pressing business challenges.

One company facing this legacy technology situation specialises in the development, production and marketing of adhesives, cladding, sealing and insulation solutions, epoxy, decorative paints and coatings and acrylic adhesives. The company realised that it had to update its process and automation solutions to maintain its position in a competitive market.

In light of this realisation, it employed the services of Tomatic Ltd, an Israeli system integrator that specialises in the field of process automation and the management of production systems for industrial plant. Tomatic, in turn, presented a solution that was supplied and supported by Rockwell Automation.

Together with the end customer, they worked towards the development and deployment of a full Rockwell Automation Digital Process control system that would give the customer the ability to leverage the benefits of the Connected Enterprise, which provides all the necessary hardware, software and connectivity capabilities to create an Industry 4.0-compatible solution.

The first challenge the company was facing was its use of obsolete hardware, which was already presenting risks because of the unavailability of spares.

In addition, its SCADA solution was based on Windows XP, which was no longer receiving security updates. Finally, its batch control solution was primarily based on manual inputs, using legacy, tailor-made software and programming. Not only did this present flexibility issues, but it was difficult to export parameters to generate reports and spot trends. The customer also had very limited capabilities to create new recipes.

According to Assaf Beckman, Project Manager at Tomatic: “The existing system was based around a tailor-made black box solution running on much older controllers. It was very hard for the engineers to control the recipes or add new equipment."

"Indeed, in many cases they would need intervention from the original system supplier to make any significant modifications. What they wanted was a more open, user friendly and flexible approach that would give them the ability to own the system – in terms of its development and evolution – and not be held hostage by legacy suppliers."

“The company approached us with its list of requirements,” he continues, “and we teamed up with Rockwell Automation to present our proposed solution. Once we had Rockwell Automation on board, its engineers undertook a site survey to see what was required and how best to develop a configuration based on the customer’s precise needs.”

The solution initially comprises a pilot project based on a mid-range programmable automation controller (PAC). This is being run (and wired) in parallel with the existing control architecture and is being used to ascertain the operational capabilities of the new system, using manual feed systems.

This pilot project will eventually be scaled up across the whole process system through the replacement of two legacy computers with a new server and control solution based around a higher range PAC coupled with FactoryTalk Batch and FactoryTalk Historian software suites delivering a modern DCS.

“We are able to keep the existing wiring system and there will be no impact on the control cabinets due to the size of the replacement components, so the physical impact of the changes will be negligible. The biggest impact will be how well the system operates. And if the pilot project is anything to go by, the customer will see a step change in its in-house capabilities.”

The deployment of smart devices will be further enhanced by the interconnectivity the solution offers, which will allow the customer to modernise and migrate further into a Connected Enterprise, which converges plant-level and enterprise networks, and securely connects people, processes and technologies – delivering greater (and easier) third-party interactions and the ability to analyse and act upon data from a much wider array of information nodes.

The new solution will give Tomatic’s customer the ability to have complete control over its process and automation parameters, delivering the flexibility required in the original brief. Engineers will be able to modify set points and fine tune the system without having to call upon the ‘black-box expertise’ of an external agent.

As well as the automated Historian software being more powerful and flexible in terms of its data collection and collation, engineers will also be able to dial into the process and control solution remotely. The FactoryTalk server also delivers a virtual environment for testing and set-up procedures.

“We had great support from Rockwell Automation,” Beckman explains, “with a specialist from its Spanish office joining us both onsite and online to help formulate the batch solution. He also gave us assistance with the development of the overall solution and the training we needed to support our efforts."

"The customer will enjoy good spares support too, through the local Rockwell Automation distributor and in-country office. With this level of support, we intend to continue working with Rockwell Automation and will advise our customers to do the same.”

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