Process automation technology is hidden everywhere around us

Although popular culture produces shows like Netflix’s “Black Mirror,” and films like “The Matrix” and “Wall-E” can make some of today’s technological advancements seem a bit frightening, since taking the reins of I’ve learned how technology can offer so many possibilities within every aspect of life in today’s world.

In this blog, I’m taking a look at how the technology used in process automation also is being used for other areas of life, whether it’s robots made of paper or the motors and sensors that run memorial water fountains. I want to take you out of your facility and into engineering and technology applications taking place all around us all of the time.

I plan to share with you a variety of topics and technologies, for your enjoyment. Think of this blog less as a workplace resource and more of a quick, fun read during your break (or not during your break, it’s not up to me when you read this).

While planning for this blog, almost fatefully, Siemens invited me as well as ControlDesign’s Chris Palafox to New York for a behind-the-scenes tour of “New York City’s Hidden Technology.” A company with technology seemingly everywhere, Siemens brought a group of social media influencers to view the exciting places that its technology, some of which you might use in your own operations, is driving the city.

“You can’t walk two feet in New York City without passing Siemens technology,” said David Armour, chief city executive at Siemens, opening the tour.

Possibly one of the most notable sites in New York City today, the World Trade Center Memorial Fountains help us remember those who perished at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. To commemorate those lost, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation was established to oversee construction of a memorial on the site of the twin towers. The memorial opened September 11, 2011.

Delta Fountains implemented the Siemens Simatic S7-300 in the design. The two fountains sit in the footprints of the Twin Towers, and each pool holds 600,000 gallons of water.

Sensors are located throughout the fountains and send temperature, pressure, chemistry and wind data to the PLC. Functions are controlled and monitored with touchscreen HMIs. With Siemens WinCC Flexible software, technicians can operate and monitor the pools from Delta Fountains’ headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla.

Taking a look at one of today’s modern marvels, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) Billie Jean King National Tennis Center installed a retractable roof over its Arthur Ashe Stadium. The retractable roof is powered and controlled by Siemens’ programmable logic controllers (PLCs), Sinamics drives with fully redundant regenerative active front ends, Siemens safety modules, and comfort panels. The entire package was delivered by Morgan Automation Systems Inc.

Each roof weighs about one million pounds and moves at 25 feet per minute up an arced radius via two winches per roof. Each of the winches includes five 30-HP motors geared to a bull gear that propels a 72-inch diameter drum. Dual two-inch wire ropes connect each drum to the roof through an equalizer assembly, providing protection against a single rope failure and rope break detection. This solution incorporates a fiber optic ring with six Siemens Scalance X200 switches, which provide the stable foundation for the Profinet communications from PLC to S120 drives, ET200S I/O, and HMI including PROFIsafe via Profinet.

It was here that I encountered my first-ever control room. You can see a video of the operator at the HMI starting the roof retraction process here. The simplicity in operation for the operator managing a process driving the immense roof was amazing. With a few simple taps on the touchscreen interface, the sun was shining on the tennis court below.

I hope you’ll join me in continuing to explore how process automation technology makes an impact outside of industry, and maybe sometimes within industry. Let’s keep it loose. With how quickly technology advances, who knows where we’ll end up.