Asset Management / Optimization

EPC Forum: Contractors Meet Challenges with Integrated Systems

Delivering Massive Projects Is More Practical with a Unified Architecture and a Little Help from Your Friends.

By Paul Studebaker


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As much of the globe comes out of recession, capital is being expended, and project sizes are rising. It's a good time for engineering, procurement and construction firms (EPCs), but it's not the good old days. "We see a lot of changes and trends in EPC," said Scott Hamilton, director, industry business, Rockwell Automation, to attendees of today's Engineering and Consultants Forum at Automation Fair in Anaheim, California. "Owners are sticking to their core expertise due to a lack of top talent and the need to get work done in remote locations. They're contracting with EPCs to outsource more turnkey facilities, including the entire scope of supply."

For instance, 10 years ago Kraft had a team of 100 people whose job was developing facilities. "Now they prefer to focus on their core competence—making really good cookies," Hamilton said. "We're seeing this more in oil and gas, and in brownfield applications. They're outsourcing the full scope of supply to maximize savings in capex, to reduce risk, speed installation and startup, and ultimately, to improve cash flow."

Inside the plants, similar skills shortages are driving more automation. "There's a real shift going on with the challenges of the skilled workforce, a convergence at the project level," said Donald Fraser, North American industry equipment manager, Rockwell Automation. Operations people have more input into what to automate, and "IT people are in from the beginning, including both operational IT and traditional IT."

Fraser said he used to know for a given plant how many drawings it would take, a list of equipment, and what it would take to put it together. "Now, with convergence, it's not the same," he said. "What you need to know and to make decisions on is much greater. You need to know networks, data and communications. It's not just I/O. It's networks and IT, not islands of automation."

An example of the kind of project Fraser and Hamilton described was detailed by David Musto, managing partner, Thermo Systems LLC, a Rockwell Automation Solution Partner. Thermo Systems specializes in PLC-based process control solutions for chemical and process industries, critical HVAC/BAS for life sciences and data centers, as well as life sciences manufacturing, utilities, boilers, cogeneration and chilled water plants.

"The challenge was to develop a plan, or in this case, an automation master plan (AMP), to engineer, procure and construct a homogenous, site-wide process control system across 14 disparate process buildings that were being designed by eight separate process engineering firms," Musto said.

Molycorp Inc., a leading global manufacturer of rare earth and rare metal products with 26 locations in 11 countries, was reconstructing its facility in Mountain Pass, California, to restart mining operations and build a new, state-of-the-art processing facility. The project included crushing, milling and leaching/cracking plants, three separations facilities, and precipitation, chlor-alkali, electrical and steam generation, water treatment, chemical storage, truck unloading, tailings and utility water distribution facilities.

The schedule was 18 months from design to commissioning.

The project required concurrent design and commissioning phases, integrating process and electrical designs from eight different process engineering firms. The processes and process automation were to migrate from islands to a plant-wide integrated architecture.

Molycorp partnered with Thermo Systems to develop the AMP and to be the automation engineer of record. "The AMP defined all things automation site-wide," Musto said, including naming conventions, instrument standards, cabling standards, PAC and remote I/O panel standards, IT infrastructure standards, software specifications, PAC programming standards, inter-PAC communication standards, SCADA and OIT standards, a security plan and risk analysis.

Both proprietary and non–proprietary solutions were evaluated. "A traditional DCS approach did not meet the owner's requirements for a non-proprietary solution, so three non-proprietary vendors were considered," Musto said. "A scalable, homogenous platform was given priority because we needed to integrate multiple levels of control under one manufacturer: high-performance redundant systems, non-redundant systems and vendor skid-level systems."

The project has hundreds of motors, and there was a desire for a unified architecture, integrating the motors and drives. "We identified significant cost savings (installation, programming, commissioning) by integrating PAC and motor control centers (MCCs)," Musto said. "We also needed to integrate smart instrumentation, and the choice was made to use HART where possible."

Thermo Systems was also the site-wide automation team (SWAT). It selected and integrated a Rockwell Automation Logix and IntelliCENTER solution with redundant ControlLogix PACs for core process applications, ControlLogix and CompactLogix for skid vendor applications, PanelView Plus graphic terminals for local OIT and integrated Allen-Bradley IntelliCENTER motor control centers for all motors and drives. "We used independent, redundant ControlNet networks for remote I/O, OIT and MCC with redundant Cisco core-level switches in strategic locations on a redundant fiber ring," Musto said. "We separated the PAC-level ring from the SCADA-level ring."

The engineered project comprised:

  • 16 redundant ControlLogix pairs
  • 33 non-redundant PAC systems
  • 129 Logix remote I/O cabinets
  • 74 PanelView Plus graphic terminals
  • 69 Allen-Bradley IntelliCENTER motor control centers
  • 550 PowerFlex VFDs
  • 506 constant-speed motors
  • 22,500 hardwired I/O
  • 182,000 database tags
  • 24 stacked layer-three switches
  • 5 pairs of redundant data servers
  • 35 control room workstations
  • 23 plant floor workstations.

"We could build out and commission a cell, then join the cells together and commission an area," Musto said. "Then we added the areas onto the plant-wide architecture." Skids were integrated directly onto the plant-wide system. "Every skid had to be supplied with a Rockwell PLC, which enabled us to do the commissioning much faster," he said.

Thermo Systems needed a scalable team to work multiple projects in parallel. "We ramped up to a 25–person engineering team on-site for final development, testing and commissioning," Musto said. "Five teams of five engineers each were capable of commissioning five individual process areas in parallel on a 24/7 schedule."

Thermo Electric leveraged its partnership with Rockwell Automation to engage several of the company’s field services team members, as well as its relationships with two additional SI partners that also provided supplemental staff.

"Molycorp supplied a local testing and training facility, which was instrumental in ramping up new team members," Musto said. The facility was later used to train operations.

"We learned that selecting the Rockwell Automation integrated Logix solution yielded multiple benefits, and leveraging the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork program let us achieve our aggressive schedule milestones," Musto said.

The end-to-end integration, from vendor packages, to balance-of-plant (BOP), to electrical systems, provides the plant operations team with the information needed to optimize the complex process, and the single homogenous platform reduced training time and expense. The homogenous Rockwell Automation platform is fully maintainable by Molycorp's limited staff, thus reducing maintenance costs. The non-proprietary solution puts the owner in control when selecting service providers for future expansion.