Take a Bite Out of Lifecycle Costs

Automation Can Not Only Control a Process Plant; It Can Also Cut Its Lifecycle Costs

By Dan Hebert

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Givens recommended installing automatic open/close valves to automate the shutdown, but it never happened. Operators need to "buy in," to make such a system work. (See Table 2, for more difficulties in implementing lifecycle management systems.)

Management Has to Buy In Too

Equally important as operator buy-in is getting management to approve the concept and purchase the necessary equipment and services. "A critical success factor in implementing advanced automation is gaining acceptance of the approach across the organization," says Ann Feitel, director of planning for asset optimization at Emerson Process Management.

"The principle challenge is the change management necessary to ensure, not only a successful launch, but also sustained benefits over the full lifecycle," says Jerry Belanger, strategic marketing director for lifecycle services at Honeywell Process Solutions (http://hpsweb.honeywell.com). "Automation contributes the most when combined with the right work processes, training and on-going lifecycle management."

Paula Hollywood, senior analyst at ARC Advisory Group (www.arcweb.com), adds, "The greatest challenge is changing the corporate culture. People are inherently resistant to change. Clearly stated objectives help all the players understand their roles. Continuous monitoring and feedback need to be part of the process to keep people engaged."

Management bought into an automation plan at the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA, www.fkaa.com). The FKAA developed a 20-year strategic master plan to both improve its water processes, and to develop an automation system migration plan to replace its 20-year-old equipment that was expensive and difficult to maintain. The authority also wanted to expand and modernize the capabilities of the control system. The FKAA wanted a common communication platform, a common programming language and remote monitoring capabilities.

The FKAA used Lifebook from Schneider Electric (www.schneider-electric.com), an analysis tool that gives a facility-wide view of the automation system and helps determine a long-term strategy for the automation infrastructure. With this as a guide, FKAA upgraded 36 stations from the old controls to Schneider Electric's Modicon Quantum and M340 PLCs and Magelis HMIs (Figure 1).

In addition to all the usual benefits of automation, technicians are now able to communicate remotely with the PLCs, reducing maintenance costs over the lifecycle.

"Prior to the upgrade we had to travel to the offending PLC when there was a problem, covering as much as 130 miles. Just the transportation and overtime costs to send a technician to one site was huge," said Carl Brewster, chief information officer, FKAA. "We've now eliminated any need to travel to any PLC for troubleshooting. Our technicians can identify the problem remotely and then take any needed equipment with them."

Any automation upgrade that makes maintenance easier ultimately cuts lifecycle costs because it encourages on-time repairs rather than running to failure.

Automating process plant HVAC and lighting systems can require another level of management buy in, but the results are often worth the trouble. Energy is the largest controllable cost in most processes, so finding efficient ways to conserve energy is a key to profitability," observes Jeff Payne, product manager of automation and controls at AutomationDirect (www.automationdirect.com).

"One of the first steps is installing a system that allows you to meter your energy consumption and collect that data. From here, you can observe typical usage and find opportunities to optimize your process to minimize waste," adds Payne.

"The primary objective is to achieve optimum operating efficiency with emphasis on reliability and low cost," says Sam Morello, PE, president of ARM EnerTech Associates (AETA, www.armgroup.net), a system integrator affiliated with AutomationDirect.

AETA uses PLC-based energy management systems to save their clients substantial sums. With an installed base of over 400 AutomationDirect DirectLogic 205-PLC systems in five eastern states, AETA energy managements systems reduce costs by monitoring and controlling temperatures from refrigeration units and HVAC systems, and by optimizing lighting zones.

The AETA systems make adjustments as necessary to maintain a continuous operation without wasting energy. Their automated systems use technology to generate audible, visual and email alarms when configured parameters are out of spec. All of this data is then linked back to user-specified viewing media across each company's LAN/WAN, which also allows for remote control of system parameters.

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