For Sasol Technology's Dr. Andre Joubert, flexibility for the future means a whole lot more than just spare I/O capacity.
Joubert is manager of control systems and instrumentation for the research and development arm of the international energy and chemical company, which not only builds and operates world-scale production facilities, but also develops and commercializes process technologies. At its main R&D center near Johannesburg, South Africa, myriad manufacturing processes are tested and optimized in pilot-scale facilities—including a 40-m tall tetramerization unit with 3,800 intrinsically safe I/O that is being used to determine optimal operating strategies for the company's new chemicals complex under development in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
At the Sasol R&D site, pilot plants are routinely switched from one configuration to another, entailing perhaps 40 to 80 instrumentation changes during a 30-day turnaround.
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'Change Is Always Happening'
"We have an extremely complex management of change process, and the ability to do rapid modifications is key," Joubert says, "but to turn around more quickly, we had to move away from the conventional way of doing things." They had already been using DeltaV process automation systems with M-series I/O, but are now moving to S-series I/O with Electronic Marshalling because of its greater flexibility.
Because each I/O channel can be individually characterized to be an analog or digital input or output with its plug-in CHARM module, a channel that served as an analog input in the last run can easily be changed to a digital output for the next. Just swap out the CHARM, run the wiring to the card, "and away you go," Joubert says.
The company also has settled on installing the CHARM I/O cards (CIOCs) in field-mounted enclosures. This approach minimizes size of their equipment rooms, where only the DeltaV controllers are housed, and allows the company to "save a ton of money" by running the control system's fiber optic network cables together with the electrical power infrastructure.
"Our documentation has gone down by 90%," Joubert adds, "and the systems are far easier to maintain as well." Joubert also cites a recent factory acceptance test (FAT) that was scheduled for three weeks but completed in just one. "It's so much easier to check," Joubert says. "We're cutting out some of the normal problem areas. We can now turn around a large, semi-commercial unit in eight weeks, and now we're targeting six. This new technology will allow us to do that."
Flexibility for the Future
Pilot plants aren't the only type of facility to benefit from the high degree of built-in flexibility afforded by Electronic Marshalling. Hanwha Chemical is a leader in South Korea's growing market for biosimilar pharmaceuticals, and the use of Electronic Marshalling helped the company to quickly ramp up production of recombinant monoclonal antibody and antibody-based protein drugs at its recently completed Osong plant.
Chan Jeong Park, manufacturing technology team leader, credits Electronic Marshalling with easier project management during the plant's design and construction phases. It not only reduced the site construction time and cost, but also provides a foundation for future I/O expansion and plant management because the I/O cards themselves are installed in the proximity of devices in the process area. "Moreover, it is very flexible to any changes," Park adds, "including reconfiguring some I/O connections at late stages of the project."
For both Hanwha and Sasol, the agility of their Electronically Marshalled systems to gracefully accommodate changing process requirements only reinforces other key system benefits: speed of project delivery, smaller system footprint and engineering ease. Taken together, they represent an overwhelming value proposition compared with traditional marshalling.
"Electronic Marshalling is the future for us," Sasol's Joubert says. "It means faster commissioning, faster loop checks and faster modifications. In the past, we had problems justifying new technology investments because of the cost, but once we started delivering on the shorter turnarounds, everyone's attitudes started to change. Within Sasol, it's a new way of thinking."