Valero Streamlines Wireless Gains with Experience

Practice Makes Perfect--and Wireless Process Monitoring Is No Exception

By Jim Montague

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Honeywell Users Group 2013

Engineers at Valero Energy Corp.'s refinery in Wilmington, Calif., were introduced to wireless several years ago when a third-party, point-to-point wireless system was installed to extend process monitoring. However, it was cumbersome and took too much time to deliver needed data, according to Rick Felix, associate process control systems coordinator. As a result, the plant's engineers set out to find improved wireless capabilities. They implemented Honeywell Process Solutions' OneWireless solution site-wide in 2009 and have been gaining insights, tailoring it to suit their applications and further enhance performance ever since.

Felix, in a presentation to the Honeywell Users Group Americas 2013 conference today in Phoenix, Ariz., reported there are many reasons to adopt wireless in process applications. "Refinery assets are typically spread over a large geographic area. Plants are often required to monitor multiple points in applications involving level, flow, pressure and gas detection. And, up to 90% of the installed cost of measurements in these applications can be for cable conduit and related construction," explained Felix. "Wireless networks make it possible to easily obtain point measurements in the most remote and hard-to-access locations without interrupting normal operations. Wireless systems can work consistently and reliably in areas previously considered impractical. And, lower cost per I/O with wireless may justify projects that wouldn't have been feasible with wired transmitters."

On the traditional, wired side, Wilmington originally employed a Honeywell TDC 2000 DCS, and subsequent upgrades added TDC 3000 equipment, while legacy Universal Stations were migrated to Experion PKS. The refinery is currently moving to its first C300 controllers, which will be used for a blender control application.

The plant was originally commissioned in 1969, and expanded with alkylation and fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) units in 1982. It's a fully integrated refining complex, and processes a blend of California and foreign crude oil, as well as unfinished feedstock from local and foreign sources. In fact, it produces 15% of southern California's asphalt supply.

Meanwhile, Wilmington's OneWireless R200 installation includes Honeywell's Wireless Device Manager (WDM), Field Device Access Points (FDAPs) and XYR6000 wireless transmitters. "Our wireless mesh network provides greater reliability and ease of use than the earlier systems," added Felix. "Also, OneWireless technology supports multiple industrial protocols, and is simple to manage and efficient to operate. Our wireless system has provided a cost-effective, manageable solution for various non-critical process monitoring applications, including pipeline movement, flare monitoring, LPG purge gas pressure, heat exchanger temperature, and tank high-level alarms."

Because Valero and the Wilmington plant were early wireless adopters, they've learned many valuable lessons. For instance, the plant's initial wireless transmitters and Multinodes were installed by Honeywell and then handed over to Valero for day-do-day maintenance and expansion. "There were some signal strength issues due to antennas that weren't wrapped well enough to handle the weather, and some cables that had corroded," said Felix. "There were also some challenges in programming the Multinodes."

So, in August 2012, Wilmington conducted a new wireless site survey, and migrated its OneWireless R210 systems to OneWireless R200. The Multinodes were replaced with Field Device Access Points (FDAPs). OneWireless R200 and the WDM provided improved system reliability and connectivity, an intuitive, web-based user interface, and allowed integration of the wireless network with the plant's control system using industry-standard protocols.

So far, Wilmington's active OneWireless network consists of 30 wireless transmitters, 11 FDAPs, two FDAPs wired to the DCS, and the WDM connected via serial Modbus to the Honeywell control system.

"R200 was a lot faster to deploy, and it lets us troubleshoot our transmitters much quicker," added Felix. "Work on the R200 system has proven to be much less labor-intensive than with the original R120 system."

Though they do need power routed to them, FDAPs assume message-routing duties, so users can connect wireless devices to the control network and route data from the field. They also allow creation of a secure ISA100 wireless network of field instruments, which communicate with each other and route messages from neighboring field devices to process control applications.

Likewise, the WDM serves as gateway and security manager to make ensure communication among field instruments and the plant network is secure. It supports a web-based user interface, allowing process and field instrument engineers with basic IT knowledge to quickly set up wireless systems. And, it reduces the time required to commission, monitor and troubleshoot the wireless device network.

"OneWireless has helped to optimize our plant processes and reliability, improve safety and security, and ensure regulatory compliance," concluded Felix. "It's been much more than just avoiding the cost of wire because the key benefit of wireless lies in the ability to integrate valuable data into control systems and advanced applications, while also sharing that data with other networked applications. Many other projects are now becoming possible for us, such as short range site-to-site communications and using inputs for control."

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