How to Run Your Process Control Applications Far Out in the Field

Establishing Process Automation Projects in Developing Economies and Other Remote Locations Requires Better Preparation, Stronger Supply Chains, More Accessible Expertise, Simpler Controls and Added Training. Here's How Veteran Players Make It Happen

By Jim Montague

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Experience Extends Innovation

While it's crucial to know what developing and remote applications need, in many cases, only recent technical innovations such as wireless networking can solve their challenges.

Galambos adds, "Large projects in developing areas require a lot of research and generate a lot of best practices over the years. So because we've learned a lot from earlier projects, we can better assess requirements and infrastructures on new projects and make sure they get the communications and lifecycle support they'll need."



Similarly, world's largest copper producer Codelco also maintains a common support center in Santiago, Chile, for four—soon to be five—of its remote mines. This center also runs 24/7 and provides real-time support, video conferencing, intranet and other services. Recently, the company's Norte mine in the Atacama Desert needed to optimize the water recovery process in its thickener pools (Figure 2). The Norte facility consists of three open-pit mines producing approximately 896,000 tons of electro-refined and electro-winned cathodes per year.

Water used in mineral processing is recovered for reuse, so the thickeners need accurate level gauging and reliable communications from the field to the central control room. Without this data, the remote mine's multivariate predictive application based on Honeywell's Profit Controller software couldn't optimize water recovery. As a result, Codelco installed Honeywell's ISA100-compliant OneWireless network with Modbus to reach the remote Siemens S7 300 PLCs that manage equipment and instruments at each pool. Seven OneWireless multi-nodes cover the pools, and one gateway sends Modbus data from PLCs to Honeywell's existing TPS control system. This allows Norte's control room operators to call up information from the PLCs using TPS, and this data can be fed into Honywell's Profit Controller software to optimize process control at the pools.

"The former inability of gauging online and the high cost of maintaining the wired traditional network, which was frequently broken by heavy trucks and machinery, caused very low availability of measurement," explains Guillermo Cortés, concentrator automation leader at Codelco. "OneWireless offered the most dependable solution for both our complex operation and advanced controls because it supports real-time gauging and instrumentation. Our desert zone has many challenges including topography, long distances between the thickeners and control room, and the extreme environment conditions of radiation, wind and temperatures. OneWireless allows us to gauge multiple variables and transmit them in real time with high availability until we gain consequent improvement in our water recovery process. We can now gauge and manage the thickeners' levels and flows, and the efficiency of the whole process has greatly improved."

Galambos adds, "Operating these mines is a lot like running an offshore oil rig because everything has to be tested first before it can go out their remote sites. They also need extremely reliable communications, DCS support and backup, and advanced process controls (APCs) with remote training.  Wireless instruments and networking are especially helpful because users don't need to bring so much cabling and connectors to remote and undeveloped areas. They can reduce labor while they're in the field, and it's simpler to get the data they need for routine operations, analysis, multivariable control and future simulations."

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