PLCs Taking Some Excellent Adventures

Jan. 14, 2013
Engineers Are Deploying More Capable Programmable Logic Controllers in Some New and Unusual Applications. Here's How They're Doing It
About the Author
Jim Montague is the Executive Editor at Control, Control Design and Industrial Networking magazines. Jim has spent the last 13 years as an editor and brings a wealth of automation and controls knowledge to the position. For the past eight years, Jim worked at Reed Business Information as News Editor for Control Engineering magazine. Jim has a BA in English from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and lives in Skokie, Illinois.

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The more capabilities you add or learn, the more unusual and far-away jobs you're asked to do. For instance, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), programmable automation controllers (PACs) and their software have been gaining  power and speed for many years, but lately these gains are propelling them into some new and non-traditional settings where they characteristically can do a lot of good.

Heavy-Oil Optimization in the Jungle

While many plants rely on one or a few distributed control systems (DCS) for their process controls, PLCs are usually abundant and diverse, so they can present a lifecycle management challenge for process manufacturers. For example, to improve operations and uptime at two of the seven blocks in central Ecuador from which it extracts about 148,000 barrels per day (BPD) of heavy oil, Petroamazonas in Quito, Ecuador, recently upgraded from Rockwell Automation's RSView 32 to its FactoryTalk platform, and also upgraded from its PLC5 controllers to its ControlLogix platform. The first block, Eden Yuturi field, produces 53,000 BPD, and the second block, Indillana field, produces about 39,000 BPD.

"The former RSView32 infrastructure was transferred to our IT and automation teams as black boxes, which was a potential risk for operations of both fields," explains Gonzalo Maldonado, IT infrastructure supervisor at Petroamazonas, who spoke at Automation Fair 2012 last November in Philadelphia, along with presentations on two other projects. "Some of the issues we had were that the physical servers were out of warranty. Operative systems were no longer supported. There were missing licenses and/or duplicate serial keys. And the RSView32 platform wasn't stable for us anymore."

Besides upgrading to FactoryTalk and ControlLogix, Maldonado reports that Petroamazonas also implemented Rockwell Automation's HMI system and installed it at the CPF and EPF fields (Figure 1). "We implemented an audit tool to keep track of changes at the PLC programming level, and applied active directory authentication into the HMI log-in process to increase security in the application," he says. "We also made sure our system is compatible with new PAM EP standards for coordinating Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft components. And we've virtualized our servers using VMWare, migrated to a Cisco Metro Ethernet infrastructure and moved from a Microsoft SQL database to a FTK Historian.

Virtualization Aids PLCs in the Jungle
Figure 1: As part of its recent PLC upgrades at two heavy-oil fields in Ecuador, Petroamazonas virtualized its servers using VMWare, migrated to a Cisco Metro Ethernet infrastructure and moved from a Microsoft SQL database to a FTK Historian, which lets it add a new server in 10 to 15 minutes, instead of the 30 to 45 days it used to require.

"We now have very reliable applications at both sites, and VMWare means we can add a new server in 10 to 15 minutes, instead of the 30 to 45 days it used to take to order a physical box. In addition, real-time and historical trending connectivity to FTK Historian improves global performance trending, which is now faster and avoids overload of HMI applications and network delays with SQL configuration." 

Fracking Trucks Go Wireless to the Cloud

Similarly, to continue improving control engineers' access to production data via tablet PCs and smart phones, many process monitoring applications that bring in data from PLCs and PACs are turning to cloud-based computing services. For example, M.G. Bryan Equipment Co. in Grand Prairie, Texas, is implementing Microsoft's new Azure platform on its fracking trucks. The platform will provide generic.

Internet connections for tablet PCs and smart phones, so users can secure production data from the trucks and drill sites. Azure will serve up Rockwell's own cloud platform and JSON web service extensions for security via a Sierra 3G wireless GX400 radio, so the trucks can alert operators when their air filters need to be changed, which can be every eight hours.

"These $1.1 million trucks work in harsh environments from -30 °F to 120 °F, and so it's important to know when each of their four $40 air filters are sucking sand and dirt," says Matthew Bryan, M.G. Bryan's president. "It's a priority for us to be notified ahead of time, and Azure allows us to collect this data, other KPIs and fleet management information on smart phones. All this data is stored in the cloud and lets us manage our equipment and serve our own customers better." 

"Rocket Engine" Extraction

Finally, Mei Lixin, CEO of Jiangsu Great River Petroleum Technology in Jiangyin, China, reports his eight-year-old company has developed a new method—Composite Heat Carrier Generator (CHCG)—to increase oil and gas yields from fracking wells, and has designed an explosion-proof version for offshore platforms. The firm increases production for China's largest oil and gas companies, including CNPC, CNOOC and SinoPec.

"There are three traditional ways of enhanced oil recovery—thermal recovery, gas injection and chemical injection. We think there's a fourth way by combining the original three," says Lixin. "It's based on combining fuel, air and water in a sealing room, and then injecting them at extremely high temperature and pressure—almost like a rocket engine—into the target reservoirs, which are mostly in light, heavy and low-permeability oilfields."
Lixin adds that Jiangsu Great River's CHCG equipment uses pressures of about 30 mega-Pascals (mPa) and temperatures ranging from 120 °C to 350 °C. The flowrate of its composite heat carrier (CHC)—mainly CO2, nitrogen, steam and chemicals—is about 1200 normal cubic meters (Nm3) to 3600 Nm3 into wells that are 300 to 3000 meters deep. "The three main ingredients in our CHC greatly thins the crude in the reservoirs, makes it easier to extract and has zero carbon emissions," explains Lixin. "And, our process has less than 2% residual oxygen, which makes it safer."  

To reliably control and maintain its innovative CHCG system, Lixin added that Jiangsu Great River chose to employ a variety of Rockwell Automation's ControlLogix PLCs, software and other components, and even implemented them in an explosion-proof cabinet for use on offshore oil rigs. "CHCG requires a highly reliable control system, good maintenance, remote access and global support, and so Rockwell Automation was able to provide us with a turnkey system that solved our previous issues, and gives us mean time between failure (MTBF) of more 200,000 hours," says Lixin.

So far, Lixin reports that CHCG is allowing the oil companies that Jiangsu Great River serves to extract more oil and gas. "In heavy oilfields, compared to regular steam injection, the oil recovery ratio has increased 10% to 15% after CHC injection," says Lixin. "As a result, the production rate of oil from each well is 6.6 times that of original production rates. Also, the Nanbao heavy oilfield was the first application of CHCG offshore, and it met the explosion-proof requirements, ran stably and increased daily production rates from 10 Nm3 to 66 Nm3." 

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control.