PLCs Taking Some Excellent Adventures

Engineers Are Deploying More Capable Programmable Logic Controllers in Some New and Unusual Applications. Here's How They're Doing It

By Jim Montague

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The more capabilities you add or learn, the more unusual and far-away jobs you're asked to do. For instance, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), programmable automation controllers (PACs) and their software have been gaining  power and speed for many years, but lately these gains are propelling them into some new and non-traditional settings where they characteristically can do a lot of good.

Heavy-Oil Optimization in the Jungle

While many plants rely on one or a few distributed control systems (DCS) for their process controls, PLCs are usually abundant and diverse, so they can present a lifecycle management challenge for process manufacturers. For example, to improve operations and uptime at two of the seven blocks in central Ecuador from which it extracts about 148,000 barrels per day (BPD) of heavy oil, Petroamazonas in Quito, Ecuador, recently upgraded from Rockwell Automation's RSView 32 to its FactoryTalk platform, and also upgraded from its PLC5 controllers to its ControlLogix platform. The first block, Eden Yuturi field, produces 53,000 BPD, and the second block, Indillana field, produces about 39,000 BPD.

"The former RSView32 infrastructure was transferred to our IT and automation teams as black boxes, which was a potential risk for operations of both fields," explains Gonzalo Maldonado, IT infrastructure supervisor at Petroamazonas, who spoke at Automation Fair 2012 last November in Philadelphia, along with presentations on two other projects. "Some of the issues we had were that the physical servers were out of warranty. Operative systems were no longer supported. There were missing licenses and/or duplicate serial keys. And the RSView32 platform wasn't stable for us anymore."

Besides upgrading to FactoryTalk and ControlLogix, Maldonado reports that Petroamazonas also implemented Rockwell Automation's HMI system and installed it at the CPF and EPF fields (Figure 1). "We implemented an audit tool to keep track of changes at the PLC programming level, and applied active directory authentication into the HMI log-in process to increase security in the application," he says. "We also made sure our system is compatible with new PAM EP standards for coordinating Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft components. And we've virtualized our servers using VMWare, migrated to a Cisco Metro Ethernet infrastructure and moved from a Microsoft SQL database to a FTK Historian.

"We now have very reliable applications at both sites, and VMWare means we can add a new server in 10 to 15 minutes, instead of the 30 to 45 days it used to take to order a physical box. In addition, real-time and historical trending connectivity to FTK Historian improves global performance trending, which is now faster and avoids overload of HMI applications and network delays with SQL configuration." 

Fracking Trucks Go Wireless to the Cloud

Similarly, to continue improving control engineers' access to production data via tablet PCs and smart phones, many process monitoring applications that bring in data from PLCs and PACs are turning to cloud-based computing services. For example, M.G. Bryan Equipment Co. in Grand Prairie, Texas, is implementing Microsoft's new Azure platform on its fracking trucks. The platform will provide generic.

Internet connections for tablet PCs and smart phones, so users can secure production data from the trucks and drill sites. Azure will serve up Rockwell's own cloud platform and JSON web service extensions for security via a Sierra 3G wireless GX400 radio, so the trucks can alert operators when their air filters need to be changed, which can be every eight hours.

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