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AOC has seven process plants located across North America, all of which are accessed remotely from corporate headquarters. "We have a small group of experts to maintain and improve our systems," says Danny Cox, director of engineering. "This has proven much more effective and less expensive than having these functions at each location. We're also able to ensure that production standards are the same at each site. When we're speaking with a remote site about an issue, we're both looking at the same screen."
Control systems at each site are based on Emerson Process Management's DeltaV systems and PLCs with T1 connections over a VPN to all facilities. The engineers connect to each process through a VPN, using tools such as Remote Desktop, ITAP and PC Anywhere. "We're able to access the system via PCs, tablets and even smart phones," says Cox.
AOC prefers the wired T1 connection to wireless. "When the connection is wireless, the speed can be an issue for complex screen updates," Cox explains. "Navigation and screen size can make the use of tablets and smart phones difficult. However, being able to connect quickly, anywhere, any time is a big plus. We connect via iPads and iPhones thru the VPN, using Thin Client arrangements."
When using a thin client, licenses from Microsoft and Emerson are required. "We dedicate at least one license for corporate use at all sites," Cox explains. "Other licenses are available to plant personnel. We have browser access, using third-party graphical interface tools as well."
Remote access has simplified life for engineers. In a batch operation, certain events only happen once per batch. In the past, engineers would come in at odd hours, or work very long hours to see these events. "With remote technologies we're better at optimizing processes," says Cox. "Engineers can periodically check status and make adjustments from anywhere."
AOS has been particularly successful in improving models that control the air-to-fuel ratios of thermal oxidizers. Their destruction efficiency has increased, while reducing natural gas consumption by as much as 40% at some locations. "To build the model, an engineer must view process conditions at various points in the batch process," says Cox. "This would be very difficult without remote connectivity."