Selecting Suppliers for Global Ambitions

Biodiesel processing equipment supplier looks for automation suppliers capable of supporting equipment deployments anywhere in the world. When feedstock prices were low, being first to market was the mantra heard throughout the biofuels industry. It is a different story today, where production efficiency and flexibility now take center stage as producers contend with unpredictable feedstock pricing and availability.

07/14/2010


When feedstock prices were low, being first to market was the mantra heard throughout the biofuels industry. It is a different story today, where production efficiency and flexibility now take center stage as producers contend with unpredictable feedstock pricing and availability.

More than a decade ago, biodiesel technology pioneer Christian Fleisher, CEO of Orbitek in Tulsa, OK, understood that as the demand for renewable fuels increased, so too would the need for more cost-effective production choices. In line with his vision of making biodiesel production more efficient, in 2006 Fleisher developed the modular, skid mounted, BPU400 production system to evaluate biodiesel feedstocks, catalysts, fuel additives, and preprocessing methods.

The unit has many pumps, and many are equipped with VFDs for highest electrical efficiency.Two years later, the prototype unit proved so successful that Fleisher decided to make it commercially available to biodiesel producers worldwide. But before going global, the existing control system on the BPU400 needed an upgrade. The controller and operator terminal were supplied by different vendors and did not provide the seamless functions he needed. There was also an issue with customer service.

“Maybe we were too small for the PLC supplier to bother with,” Fleisher recalls. “When we needed customer support from the supplier, we didn’t get it. Since we did not get the support domestically, we were not optimistic about international attention.”

Changing for a global market

After evaluating a number of options to upgrade the control system, Fleisher called nearby automation systems integrator E&I Sales to provide the controls design, assembly, testing, wiring, and programming of the unit.

“E&I understood what we wanted for the system architecture and how quickly we needed it,” Fleisher says. “Their designers also understood that we wanted to offer the BPU400 globally and that we had to make it affordable to accommodate reduced capital expenditure budgets.”

Michael Sanchez, E&I Sales technical director and control solutions business unit manager, recommended Orbitek use an integrated automation and controls vendor with products and services available around the world: Siemens. Soon Siemens was selected to provide the controls and automation system for the unit, as well as specialized input for instrument applications and software enhancements. “We believe in Siemens because it is accepted worldwide,” adds Sanchez. “From the sensors to the PLC, it offers a seamless system that gives the customer a high level of confidence.”

At the heart of the system is a Simatic S7 315 controller mounted inside a panel on the BPU400. Using Profibus, the controller is net-worked to nine Micromaster 420 variable speed drives, as well as Sitrans LC300 level capacitance sensors, three Sitrans F mass flowmeters and Sitrans P DSIII pressure transmitters. The control system also includes Sirius combination group mounted motor starters for non-speed controlled pumps, relays, VL circuit breakers, Sitop power supplies and ET 200M remote I/O (32 discrete, 40 analog in, four analog out and six relay out points).

A Simatic MP 370B touchscreen display mounted on the unit communicates with the controller via Profinet. It provides a graphical interface enabling the operator to manipulate or change process parameters. The primary screen presents a representation of the plant that lets operators enlarge any portion of the process to view the status of the pumps, drives and other devices.

“The ability to touch the screen and activate the system production sequence doesn’t diminish the need for operator training,” says Fleisher. “But it does lessen the importance of the operator knowing each step of the sequence, which reduces errors and makes the job one of support.”

Really remote diagnostics

Several layers of security provide for controlled changes, such as automatic shut-off and notification. Various alarm and maintenance screens are password protected. Remote monitoring is real-time, as is remote access for software troubleshooting, or software downloads. “The fact that you can go online and troubleshoot the BPU400 is a big selling point,” Sanchez says. “That gives us, Orbitek, and Siemens the ability to examine historical data, pinpoint the issue, and fix it anytime, anywhere in the world.”

Fleisher takes a last look at a unit getting ready for shipment. Orbitek fuel processors are being used around the world and the list of countries is growing. The system controls all of the key process variables, including pressure, temperature and flow. If any of those functions go outside of the basic operating parameters the logic decides whether or not to shut the system down.

The BPU400 operates on a closed-loop, continuous-flow process and is capable of a 99.8% conversion reaction in less than one minute. Fleisher says that is the fastest in the industry, and the safest since the explosion-proof unit circulates only seven gallons of methanol at any time, compared to similar batch processes that can require more than 1,000 gallons.

The unit’s proprietary process is capable of producing 9 million gallons of biodiesel annually by reacting methanol and sodium methylate with a variety of feedstocks. The mixture is cycled through one of two patented, plug-flow reactors. After conversion, the biodiesel is routed through a waterless polishing system to ensure purity. The crude glycerin byproduct is sent to storage and the recovered methanol is recycled.

“We have the same efficiencies of very large operations, but with a small, modular system in a plug-and-play format,” says Fleisher. “As long as we can get good feedstock, chemicals, and utilities to drive the pumps and power the valves, we can be up and operating in very little time, no matter the location.”

The unit can be operated alone or in parallel with other units. Customers can start production with one unit to lower entry costs and then expand as needed by adding more units. This approach offers operating economies during maintenance and servicing. Units can be serviced one at a time, reducing production losses as compared to shutting down an entire larger system.

“The entire unit is configured and ready to go when it leaves our facility,” Fleisher says. “Also, the integrated control system and plug and play design of the unit has reduced commissioning time to a matter days. That pays off in consistency and reduced labor costs.”

While the purification process is simple in concept, making it run automatically is complicated, requiring sophisticated instrumentation and control. Environmentally friendly and energy efficient, the closed-loop operation eliminates all emissions. Even a wastewater steam is eliminated by using a waterless polishing technology that removes any trace of production residues.

Technology with a future

In the near future, Fleisher expects to integrate the functions of the BPU400 with Siemens Simatic PCS 7 distributed control system (DCS). The conversion will retain the programming, HMI, control processor, and other control components of the existing system. The PCS 7 DCS will integrate the BPU400 automation system and devices in one platform. Orbitek will also have access to common tools for engineering, visualization and plant-wide asset and maintenance management.

“The original idea was to design the control system so we could eventually stack the units by the hundreds and communicate back to the DCS,” Sanchez says. “The skids would be nodes of a larger plant and operate independently while the PCS 7 DCS would have hierarchal control over the complete system. There will be more I/O functions. We will also be able to control the tank farm and pre- and post-processes from a central control room.”

Both Fleisher and Sanchez sum up the success of the BPU400, as well as the optimistic outlook for Orbitek, on a partnership that started in Tulsa and now reaches every corner of the globe. “As we went through the process of commercializing the unit, we found people and companies that have become very The complete Orbitek unit is roughly the size of a small shipping container, about 8 x 8 x 20 feet and completely self contained. Source (all photos): Siemensmuch like partners,” says Fleisher. “When we built the skid, Siemens and E&I Sales were there every step of the way, even on the weekends. These relationships have helped us identify a new market niche. It may be a large company, but Siemens focuses on the basics. They service small companies the same as large ones. It has really helped to have them standing with us as we keep our operators profitable and their equipment running.”

Rich Chmielewski is chemical marketing manager for Siemens Industry Inc.



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
World-class maintenance: The three keys to success - Deploy people, process and technology; 2016 Lubrication Guide; Why hydraulic systems get hot
Your leaks start here: Take a disciplined approach with your hydraulic system; U.S. presence at Hannover Messe a rousing success
Hannover Messe 2016: Taking hold of the future - Partner Country status spotlights U.S. manufacturing; Honoring manufacturing excellence: The 2015 Product of the Year Winners
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Improving flowmeter calibration; Selecting flowmeters for natural gas; Case study: Streamlining assembly systems using PC-based control; CLPM: Improving process efficiency, throughput
Putting COPS into context; Designing medium-voltage electrical systems; Planning and designing resilient, efficient data centers; The nine steps of designing generator fuel systems
Warehouse winter comfort: The HTHV solution; Cooling with natural gas; Plastics industry booming

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me