Advanced Process Control Ain't Easy

End Users and Suppliers Agree: Advanced Process Control Is a Powerful and Effective Tool, but Implementation and Maintenance Need to Be Simplified

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November 2012 CoverBy now, virtually every industrial process in the world is under automatic control, so the logical next step is advanced process control (APC). APC has already been implemented in many facilities, albeit with varying degrees of success. But when APC works, the results can be nothing short of spectacular.

Dr. James Ford, senior consultant at Maverick Technologies, says that Maverick engineers recently implemented a set of model-based controls for BASF in Geismar, La. "The application was on a series of fixed-bed catalytic reactors in which the reaction was highly exothermic while the catalyst was very heat-sensitive," Ford explains (See Figure 1).

"The temperature had to be kept high enough to promote the reaction, but just a short high-temperature excursion could rapidly deactivate this very expensive catalyst. Several APC algorithms were used to implement the solution in a Foxboro DCS. The project was very successful, especially at controlling the reactor temperature profile during bed catalyst changes," concludes Ford.

"The controls implemented by Maverick outperform the best of my operators, even with me at the console instructing them exactly how to handle a change-out," says David A. Weatherford, technologist at BASF. "They saved us a lot of money in terms of catalyst cost and paid back the investment in a couple of months."

Enterprise Products in Houston, Texas, is an energy company that operates pipelines, 25 natural gas processing plants, 20 NGL and propylene fractionators, and import/export terminals. "When I took on my new role, I didn't think I'd be able to justify replacing advanced regulatory controls, which I'd developed and supported over a four-year period," says Tom Lyndrup, a staff engineer in the Advanced Process Control group. "But two years later, that's exactly what I am doing."

With some success, he adds, especially in projects where APC replaces existing controls. "In some cases, 24 hours after a new APC routine was started up, we achieved significantly higher total production than the day before, despite a change in feed composition that normally results in lower rates." For more on what Enterprise Products is accomplishing with APC, see the story, "Justifying APC."

Terrance Chmelyk, manager of process solutions at system integrator Spartan Controls in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, installed an Emerson Process Management energy management system (EMS) at a cogeneration facility in a pulp and paper mill.

Such an application poses many problems that can't be handled well by conventional controls. "The sale price of electricity may change based on the time of day, the month of year, the market price of power and/or the current rate of power production," he explains. "Other complicating factors include variable fuel costs and availability, dynamic unit efficiencies, fluctuating mill heat requirements and many production-rate-limiting process constraints."

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