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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Jason Nicholl, business development manager for I/O and networks at Phoenix Contact, confirms the long distances and mountains between Chile's mines can stretch vendor supply lines and system integration services very thin. "Consequently, we have to gear up our subsidiaries to be technical experts with Power Points, and especially with hands-on demonstrations. So we go on the road with them to visit their partners and help them train their distributors, system integrators and end users. Touching base a lot helps because it can prevent a lot of unplanned downtime and eleventh-hour crises. It also helps to plan ahead, keep on seeking potential new partners and remember to bring your steel-toed boots. Developing economies are all about developing relationships and trust first, then providing basic technical training and only pitching a solution at the end. Outside the U.S., it's even more important to be patient, listen well and be willing to adapt to local cultures and traditions."

Take-Along Intelligence

Just like back home, it's critical to have ready access to detailed know-how when building, operating, maintaining or renovating process applications in remote or developing regions. As a result, many suppliers and other support organizations simply set up local service and knowledge centers that can fast-track equipment and provide onsite or online training as soon as needed.

"The biggest problem automation engineers in developing countries face is lack of knowledge," says Carl Henning, deputy director of PI North America. "PI helps by providing local PI Competence Centers (PICCs). There are over 50 now. Naturally, there's a concentration in Europe and North America, but South America, Asia, Australia and Africa are well-represented, too. Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, India, Chile, Brazil and other countries have PICCs, which are certified by PI and audited every two years to ensure they're providing a high level of advice to users, system integrators and manufacturers. The international language of engineers is English, and that's PI's standard language, but regional PI associations (RPAs) often translate the specifications, white papers and newsletters into local languages, so when these folks need help with Profinet or Profibus, they can find it locally in their own language."

Likewise, when it finds that a major customer needs support in a new or less-developed region, Emerson Process Management reports it will open a service and support center right there. "Over the past couple of years, we've been making a big effort worldwide to talk to end users and expand our service locations to where they're especially needed," says Erik Lapre, vice president for lifecycle services at Emerson Europe. "In addition to field service and repairs, these centers have quick shipping capabilities and offer ongoing training." For instance, to support its expanding oil and gas applications, Lapre says Emerson recently opened several service centers in Central Asia, specifically in Atyrau, Kazakhstan, and in Baku, Azerbaijan.

However, because many users can't get to a particular center, but still have Internet access, Emerson also offers virtual training programs that can instruct attendees in a variety of job roles and technologies. "We send curriculum materials and a PC-based headset for voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), so they can ask questions," says Mark Dimmitt, educational services consultant at Emerson. "We offer 20 different classes just on DeltaV, and students can take them anywhere there's high-speed Internet. This gives them bidirectional audio and video, so it's just like being in an in-person class, but our virtual class means they don't have to travel."

Standardization Streamlines Support

Back at Perenco's project in Gabon, Mollard and his colleagues turned to longtime partner Rockwell Automation, which has been assisting Perenco since it started working in Gabon. "We used a global standard approach with PlantPAx redundant servers for main production facilities and combined them in multi-server applications. We implemented ControlLogix process controllers, SIL 2 safety controllers and power distribution controllers. Next we installed rack-based I/O for our main plants, and Flex I/O and Point I/O for remote installations. We also used Ethernet for Level 2 and peer-to-peer communications, and adopted ControlNet for our I/O components. Again, we also used fiber-optic, wireless, satellite or GSM networking, depending on an individual site's needs."

Mollard added that all these updated components give its offshore platforms and onshore operations multi-server capabilities, which allow the Gabon facility to easily centralize operations in its central control room. "ControlLogix's multi-discipline capability lets us  apply a global standard over every site," explains Mollard. "Likewise, smooth integration to the IT environment enables us to secure remote access via satellite from any location, while PlantPAx's scalability allows us to carry out projects in a phased approach. Rockwell Automation's information-oriented solutions also give us easy access to production data for analysis, which helps optimize our financial investments."

Because Perenco's redevelopment project meant it was often dealing with developed fields and managing existing equipment, many of its new projects didn't involve building complete platforms or plants, but instead required it to add new components to older facilities. "It could be difficult to remember where all the existing equipment was, so it helped that we could make all our fire and gas (F&G) connections directly to our PLC too," reports Mollard. "We can also manage our power generation with a PLC for power management. All these interconnections let us monitor everything from one central control area."

Mollard adds that Perenco has also been standardizing its safety instrumented systems (SISs), emergency shutdown systems (ESDs) and F&G systems on the same PLCs from Rockwell Automation, and monitoring them together on PlantPAx. In addition, it's also standardizing its HMIs and SCADA programs, which will allow staff to work on uniform displays and simplify training for them.

"The real value of this simplification and standardization is that common platforms can reduce the cost of spare parts. However, we're also getting uniform well analytics and production dashboards that are allowing us to follow operations trends in Gabon from our offices in Paris, and then react and make better decisions in real time," adds Mollard. "These standard solutions from Rockwell Automation are going to be deployed further in Gabon and also in Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tunisia, Peru and Cameroon. They'll be easy to remotely support, and they'll help our site maintenance and project engineers optimize operations and improve production turnover in any of these locations."     

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