Virtualization key enabler of Kao modernization

High availability implementation already proving critical in midst of multi-year, multi-phase project.

By Keith Larson, group publisher, Control

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Several years ago, Kao Specialties Americas' batch chemicals plant in High Point, N.C., had reached that inevitable point in any highly automated manufacturing facility's life. Its aging distributed control system (DCS) and associated production management applications no longer delivered the performance needed to compete in the chemical industry of today. It was time to modernize.

Constrained by both financial and human resources, KSA turned to its automation platform provider Honeywell Process Solutions (HPS) for help in developing a modernization plan to bring its automation platform into the 21st century. Today, it's in the midst of a six-year modernization program that already is reaping benefits from an early decision to virtualize its newly upgraded Experion PKS environment on Premium Platform high-availability (HA) blade server hardware, also from Honeywell.

The company had considered traditional rack-mount servers for its virtualization solution, according to Phillip Chadwell, automation and systems development manager, Kao Specialties Americas. "But the high-availability blade server platform already has more than paid for itself in the added flexibility and reliability it offers," Chadwell said.

Chadwell, together with Rich Clark, applications consultant, Honeywell Process Solutions, reported on the key role that virtualization in general—and high-availability technology in particular—has played in successful executing KSA's vision this week at the 2015 Honeywell Users Group Americas conference in San Antonio.

Some examples of improved flexibility cited by Chadwell include the ability to re-use upgraded virtual Experion images to efficiently keep the off-line test and simulation systems current; the ability to “spin up" extra engineering Flex Stations during the upgrade process; and the increased robustness of the plant's batch applications, since they are now virtualized in associated level 2 HA clusters. Other benefits include a simplified computing environment, streamlined set-up and maintenance, improved reliability, lower space requirements and reduced energy consumption.

The plant is now midway through a planned three-phase migration. Phase 1 included installation of new network infrastructure and virtualization of level 3 and DMZ applications. Phase 2 currently is underway, and involves the upgrade and virtualization of the three older Honeywell distributed control systems as well as migration of supervisory controller communications from ControlNet to Fault Tolerant Ethernet (FTE). Two of three unit migrations have been completed, and the third will be done in July in conjunction with a planned capacity expansion. Virtualization also played a critical role in getting the upgraded systems up and running within the three-day window of scheduled unit turnarounds, Clark said. Over the next three years the plant will move its batch process controls from TotalPlant Batch (TPB) to Experion Batch Management.

The virtualized applications for each of the plant's three units now run on an HA server cluster that is physically distributed across two of the plant's three blade server chassis. In this configuration, if a blade in one chassis—or even an entire chassis—were to fail, all of the process units would continue to operate. And, when one of the Level 3 blades did have a fault at 3 a.m., all the running virtual machines transferred to the remaining blade and restarted automatically without affecting unit operations.

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