Chemical plants streamline distributed controls

Two major chemical manufacturers use the PlantPAx system to simplify their process control, optimize operations and virtualize computer tasks.

By Jim Montague, executive editor, Control

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You may not know what you've got until it's gone, but you may also not realize how bad you had it until something better arrives—especially if you've been struggling with legacy process controls. Fortunately, the PlantPAx process control system and FactoryTalk Batch software from Rockwell Automation are helping upgrade, simplify and optimize production at two major chemical applications.  

For example, Syngenta Crop Protection's agricultural chemicals plant in Omaha, Neb., expanded operations and upgraded over many years from mechanical to automated process controls, including interfaces running on a Unix emulator, Microsoft Windows and later NT via industrial Ethernet and central-level switches. Syngenta's systems engineer, Darrell Hanson, reported these incremental improvements in PLCs and HMIs made life better for the plant's operators, but their recipes remained in the same hard-coded versions and hardware they'd used since 1994, which made production inflexible and unable to handle changes or new products without new construction.

Also see: PlantPAx System: The Modern Distributed Control

"Orders were written by the QA lab at the start of each day, delivered to operations, accumulated through the year, put in a box and archived," said Hanson. "This system was easy to understand as long as we ran the same product and didn't make a lot of changes.

“However, it was cumbersome and any significant changes, such as adding an ingredient, changing a source, cooling in a different step or agitating longer, had to be hard-coded into ladder logic, which meant the process engineers had to ask the PLC programmers for help and new facilities had to be built,’ he said. “Additionally, historical data was limited, and could only be used for trending graphs, and the legacy hardware and HMI software was facing renewal.”

Hanson said the company was expanding their business and applications, so they really needed a more dynamic automation system and more flexible recipe management that could maximize existing resources, minimize the need to construct new facilities, and allow changes to be initiated by the process engineers so they could quickly meet customer demands.

“We also needed tighter controls to handle increased quality and environmental standards, improved analysis via historical data and reporting, and reduced field wiring costs for new installations,” he said. “This is why we went with Rockwell Automation for our system conversion."

Hanson presented "Boosting Process Control and Recipe Management with Batch Solution" at Rockwell Automation TechED 2015 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel in San Diego, Calif. Created from the merger of Novartis and AstraZeneca's agribusinesses in 2000, Syngenta produces fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, as well as protective coatings for seeds. The Omaha plant is located on 42 acres with 26 buildings, six active formulation facilities and five tanks farms, including four outdoors and one indoors.

Hanson added that Syngenta's migration to Rockwell Automation began with its packaging lines in 2008, its liquid continuous unit in 2010 and some of the tank farms in 2012-14. Future conversions will include the plant's continuous granular unit, more tank farms and water treatment plant.

To upgrade its Omaha plant to more dynamic controls and flexible recipes, Syngenta worked with system integrator Interstates Control Systems Inc. in Sioux Center, Iowa, and implemented primary and secondary domain controllers and servers from Rockwell Automation, including:

    • FactoryTalk ProductionCentre on a SQL server running Java for shop-floor interfaces
    • FactoryTalk Metrics for OEE reporting,
    • Factory Talk AssetCentre for equipment,
    • FactoryTalk Batch
    • FactoryTalk View Site Edition
    • FactoryTalk Historian
    • Factory Talk VantagePoint reporting software running on a VantagePoint SQL server

All of these servers reside on ESXi virtualization servers running VMware software. Syngenta also adopted a thin-client computing strategy and Allen-Bradley PanelView graphic terminals for all production sites and stations.

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