Blog Post
Maintaining Your Plant Automation Asset Value

Maintaining Your Plant Automation Asset Value

John Veldhuis, ProSys

We are now inching up on the 20th anniversary of the first commercial software that connected to a plant level historian, carried out high end analytics and provided reports that monitored regulatory PID controls. Matrikon was one of the first companies to partner with academic institutions for their R&D and deployed an expert system based software that produced both simple metrics and complex analytics for valve stiction detection and oscillations. A small group of companies in the early 2000, invested in these products as early adopters and were able to identify measurable gains. These early adopters also experience the pain you would expect in that era in limitations, stability and accuracy of the results.

Criticality of PID Control & Monitoring

The satisfactory performance of PID controllers is a key element in the smooth operation of any process unit since they significantly affect product quality and cost by minimizing the variability of the process. The determination of the health of the regulatory controls and the tuning of the poor performing loops enable companies to reduce variability and improve the overall process operation. In addition, the regulatory control layer is the foundation of many deployed advanced applications such as MPC; RTO;

Monitoring software has always had a place and high potential especially with increasing demands on the control engineers role in a plant site. This was the final statement in Lane Desborough and Randy Miller’s paper “Increasing Customer Value of Industrial Control Performance Monitoring— Honeywell’s Experience”, AIChE, 2002:

“In summary, the industrial process control engineer is in an unenviable position. There will always be more work for them to do than time available to do it; time is their most precious resource. Process Control Monitoring Systems which automatically orient engineers to the likely location of the most economically important controller problems and then facilitate diagnosis and resolution of that controller’s problems will play a vital role in increasing their effectiveness and hence their facility’s effectiveness.”

Now almost 20 years later, the control engineer’s role has experienced ever growing demands, the # of automation assets he is maintaining is increasing and he or she is surrounded by the growing lack of skilled resources to work alongside them. A few customers of mine aspired to find software and techniques in hopes of teaching instrumentation technicians to do the job of the control engineer. At the end of the day, the skillset and problem solving mindset of an engineer is required.

Today’s Software Products & Results

There are a number of commercial software products like PlantESP (Control Station Inc.), Control Performance Monitor (Honeywell) or PlantTriage (Metso) that are on the market and quite mature. Each of these companies have case studies that illustrate the value of purchasing and implementing these software packages. The key to the value delivery is taking action and measuring the business financial benefits. I have professionally been in this market selling similar products in this space since 1999. I have had numerous customers purchase these products and see gains in their plants within 6 to 12 months. Many customers were unable to measure the benefits associated with their changes and as a result, the initiative to use the software dwindled. Current technologies do take effort to configure and maintain that is often under estimated especially when you consider a plant is in constant change.

I have only a few customers use the software results and develop a workflow that allows them to make their jobs as control engineers better and make measurable improvements. These few customers either made a definitive decision that their priority was ensuring the regulatory controls were working effectively as part of their job description. I also had customer who had the luxury of extra resource bandwidth to invest in preventative maintenance program on the controls and they were successful. These few customers also made a conscious effort to drive awareness of the benefits of regulatory controls with their plant operations and management.

A Different Approach

ProSys has developed a Control Performance Improvement Program which utilizes an approach of leveraging our control expertise and in-plant knowledge to drive control improvements but also knowledge transfer to site staff. The Program uses technology for identifying issues, but the focus of the Program is making improvements on the site controls and training site staff in how to tune a loop and make other control changes to drive improvements. The Program will also use a fairly simplistic technology application to identify poor performing loops and generate high level KPIs so that the effectiveness and value of the Program can be documented. This is a multi-year investment in a Program as continuous improvements are made over time. Skill development is learned best in actual practice, so the Program also has ProSys control engineers working alongside site control staff using real life practices to make changes in the regulator controls. The Program isn’t to replace site staff or outsource. The Program is designed to have a ProSys engineer on-site for a week or two a month, which allows the site control staff to use their learnings when we aren’t on-site.

As any Program, we can customize the approach depending on the goals the customer has. We can reduce the focus on cross-training, and make improvements the main goal. We can also implement a fully featured software product if the customer’s goals also include detailed analysis reports and to have the software operational for their staff to use continuously.

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