Project roundtable: Automation and controls

Case studies in oil and gas, pharmaceutical, and water-wastewater applications offer advice in control system integration, automation upgrades, and project management.

By N.James, Burrow Global; R.Pflum, Automation Plus; J.Palazuelos, ECN Automation June 6, 2018

Representatives from Control Engineering and Plant Engineering 2018 System Integrator of the Year winners were asked to discuss challenges and successes relating to a recent automation, controls, or instrumentation project. Responding were:

  • Nigel James, chief strategic officer, director of business development, Burrow Global
  • Ron Pflum is senior control systems engineer with Automation Plus.
  • José Palazuelos is general manager of ECN Automation Inc. 

1. For a recent successful automation, controls, or instrumentation application for your firm, what was the industry and facility type?

James: A Gulf Coast refinery.

Pflum: The Industry was pharmaceutical and life science, and the facility type was final product intermediates manufacturing.

Palazuelos: A food and beverage reverse osmosis (RO) water treatment facility.

2. What was the scope of the project and goals?

James: This project included front-end engineering design (FEED) and detailed engineering services. The scope addressed the replacement of a legacy distributed control system with new process control system equipment. The project included wiring reports, engineering calculations, equipment specifications and procurement. Process and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs) were updated to reflect new symbology. Remote instrument enclosures (RIEs) were designed to house process control equipment and included redundant uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and HVAC systems. The scope of work also included equipment and construction bid analysis, construction support and start-up services. Detailed equipment factory acceptance test (FAT) and site acceptance test (SAT) procedures were developed and executed. Hot-cutover procedures were developed and executed for all loops. Architecture was developed for three critical programmable logic controller (PLC) systems.

Pflum: The scope included upgrades to the legacy programmable logic controller (PLC) system, and updating the network infrastructure that controlled the process equipment (purification) at a major pharmaceutical manufacturer.

The goals included:

1. Streamline the manufacturing process and reduce batch cycle time

2. Mitigate risk due to lack of availability of replacement parts

3. Enhance operator interface

4. Enhance security and data integrity.

Palazuelos: We replaced obsolete PLCs, inputs and outputs (I/O), and communication networks for existing variable frequency drives (VFDs) to control a water transfer system and the reverse osmosis water treatment system.

3. What types of automation, controls, or instrumentation were involved?

James: A legacy distributed control system was replaced with modern process control system from the same vendor.

Pflum: Controls and information technology (IT): Complete process automation system design used the hardware from a major automation vendor, replacing legacy PLCs and operator interface terminals. The upgraded platform is a distributed industrial controller-based system with field I/O, and virtualized server stack using a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system software platform, forming the core of the automation system.

In addition to the control system design, a full network design was provided using a redundant industrial server with multiple virtual machines. I/O subsystems and field devices also were specified and upgraded as a part of this project.

Process automation software was used from the same automation vendor. Our team provided integrated monitoring and control sequences for the material dosing, mixing, reaction, and transfers associated with the client’s unique batch and continuous manufacturing process.

Palazuelos: The project involved legacy PLCs, a legacy PLC network, and an operator interface terminal from a non-PLC HMI vendor. Everything was upgraded to a modern programmable controller family, with EtherNet/IP [industrial Ethernet protocol from ODVA] connectivity to VFDs, and the plant’s supervisory network.

4. What were particular challenges outlined in the project?

James: The schedule was a challenge; ensuring we did not miss anything in the migration (there were many moving parts); as well as OSHA compliance; and cutover risks as the refinery switched from old to new controls. Deliverables included the design for a 1,530-sq-ft blast-resistant RIE, eight controllers for regulatory control and sequence operations, marshaling panels, more than 2 miles of diverse fiber-optic cables, and two satellite houses to accommodate specific field signals. The hot-cutover team transferred 2,664 loops to the new distributed control system (DCS). Approximately 320 control valves were transferred during hot cutover.

Pflum: The largest challenge on the project was to execute within the client’s accelerated schedule, minimizing commissioning downtime, and maintaining code integrity in a fully validated environment.

Palazuelos: Project challenges included:

  • The control panel for the water transfer system and RO was feeding water to the plant, which limited downtime to the scheduled maintenance shutdown to avoid production losses.
  • Limited space from existing enclosures without proper accessories to protect I/O and devices.
  • Inaccurate documentation.

5. How were those issues resolved?

James: For detailed front-end loading (FEL), a stage-gate process was used and a detailed scope was developed for all to review. A personnel-loaded schedule was developed. Safety integrity level (SIL) calculations were performed to ensure OSHA compliance. Plans were developed for cutover.

Pflum: Automation Plus executed a collaborative FAT in our simulation center earlier than normal (to our standard project methodology). This allowed for a faster development and deployment time cycle. Our project manager was immersed within the technical team to drive alignment within design and programing creation and reviews to further integrate the team to reduce schedule. As deployment neared we were working with the validation team (in house) to streamline documentation and keep documentation up to date as modifications form field install were noted. These items, coupled with an increase in deployed resources (24/7 support coverage), drove a successful commission and validation of the installed system within the downtime allocated.

Palazuelos: A combination of premanufactured wiring systems, terminals, and a new backplane was used to reduce downtime to a minimum.

To solve the issue of documentation, a deep understanding of the process, the instrumentation, and equipment running was combined with what was available from the original prints. Cross references were run with PLC logic backups to re-document the PLC program during the conversion process.

On the matter of space, we took the opportunity to eliminate some unnecessary I/O by using communication networks to control pumps and VFDs using EtherNet/IP. Multilevel terminals and small form relays also were used to make sure all necessary components were included.

6. Please share some positive metrics associated with the project.

James: Hours per point (hr/pt) and hours per drawing (hr/dwg) for benchmarking engineering services were used, as well as loops/day for the cutover process. A proactive quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) process was used.

Pflum: The critical metrics associated with this project for our client included:

1. Reduced maintenance and risk (the client now has spare parts in the store room and a local distributor with a full inventory)

2. Improved efficiency in the manufacturing process (the client has had batch cycle time reduction in some cases ~50%)

3. Improved product quality through more consistent process control.

Palazuelos: Downtime within existing plant maintenance shutdown, which meant we had 5 days to migrate the processors and I/Os. We were ready within 3 days to start functional tests of the plant.

7. What were lessons learned or advice you’d like to share, for your firm or the customer(s) involved?

James: When using the FEL process, see the Dan Roessler Book from Momentum Press as a best practice: "Control System Migrations: A Practical Project Management Handbook." 

Pflum: Lessons learned included to be flexible with client requirements and adapt your standard practices and methodologies to the situation, when possible. In short, be nimble. Make progress where you can, on an accelerated project certain execution tasks may require a precursor, use the project leader/manager to identify those items early, and then position the team to allow for execution in parallel paths without hindrance. Lastly, with any regulated client, but certainly life sciences, maintain a full set of up-to-date documentation of the control system and programming specifications. These documents are critical to the system integrator, end user, and the validation partner.

Palazuelos: Always check compatibility from existing infrastructure when providing new hardware and communication protocols as you can face limitations from the existing plant architecture. In our case, we had to upgrade some drivers from the SCADA system to be able to communicate with the latest firmware versions and hardware that were used. Unfortunately, not all systems are ready to perform these operations.

During migrations or upgrades of legacy equipment, a customer can use that opportunity to increase the functionality or performance of the machine, providing new operation and maintenance information tools. These added features will help troubleshoot the machine in the event of an unplanned shutdown and provide opportunities to improve the efficiency of the process with the new information available for analytics.

Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

KEYWORDS: System integration, case studies

  • System Integrator of the Year case studies
  • Planning is important for project management
  • With upgrades, greater efficiency is possible.

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Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.