Features, News, Plant & Equipment, Processing

Process controller plants seeds for digital transformation


A plant solution dubbed the “modern distributed control system” has been developed to enhance the process control and digital transformation of cement plants.

The automation and digitisation of plant and equipment is something that’s becoming commonplace in heavy industries.

To some extent, it may seem like we are witnessing “the future” of quarrying and materials processing, but certain companies are looking to further refine digital transformation.

Rockwell Automation’s PlantPAx 5.0 solution is the latest iteration of the company’s process controller software.

The newest generation features a reduced footprint of the overall system, pushes consistent control strategies of individual or multi-site operations, enhances workflows through improved configuration, enables augmented reality software for analytics and is backed by TUV-certified cyber security.

PlantPAx 5.0 is described as the “modern distributed control system” (DCS) by Rockwell due to its ability to lower the required overheads for automation infrastructure and provide detailed diagnostics and analytics.

Rockwell’s vision for PlantPAx 5.0 is to create a solution that can incorporate a “digital thread” of an operation, Rockwell Automation’s enterprise account manager Geoff Irvine said.

A digital thread involves the seamless flow of data that connects business processes across a value chain to deliver growth, operational performance and risk mitigation.

Irvine has more than 39 years of industry experience where he has mainly focused on automation and process controls.

He spoke at Rockwell’s Process control for the mining and cement industry – PlantPAx 5.0 webinar, and outlined the capabilities of the process controller.

PlantPAx 5.0 revolves around the ability to interconnect all aspects of an operation to access more data while speeding up and improving decision-making across mining and cement operations, according to Irvine.

“We have a concept called the connected mine which is the idea that all aspects of the mining operation should be interconnected and you should be able to get data very quickly to make decisions rapidly,” Irvine said.

“You then do have the ability to turn data into useful business decisions.”

Irvine said the connectivity of an extractive site starts with the use of intelligent/smart devices that are connected through smart instruments and electrical systems.

“Once this data is made available, you hopefully can gain visibility right from the mine through to the customers that you’re delivering to,” he said. “The important thing is the connectivity and bringing all the data to the one platform.”

This is through what Rockwell refers to as the “digital thread”, which is a flow of data that connects business processes across a value chain to deliver growth, operational performance and risk mitigation.”

Rockwell Automation account manager enterprise Geoff Irvine.

Proof of demand

PlantPAx 5.0 is designed to drive up efficiency through connecting all facets of an operation.

“The whole idea is to help play into this notion of making the mine far more efficient with the connected mine idea,” Irvine said.

To showcase the demand for such a system, Rockwell previously conducted a survey with mining leaders to outline their priorities for digital transformation.

The survey, which Irvine said can also reflect the cement companies, found that operational use cases are the main priority for miners.

An increase in throughput (58 per cent), followed by increasing equipment reliability and reducing downtime (53 per cent), improving compliance and data integrity (53 per cent), and enhanced traceability (53 per cent) were among the highest listed priorities within the next three years.

Rockwell’s survey revealed the priorities of digital transformation. Image courtesy of Rockwell Automation.

Rockwell has attested to the PlantPAX system’s ability to increase these use cases by connecting the automated processes of an operation.

Irvine said that less than one per cent of an extractive project’s capital cost is represented by the control system. However, it is a vital component to the entire production process of a cement plant or mining operation.

Compared to traditional DCS systems, PlantPAX provides an easy to design and future-proof alternative.

And more than a decade after its introduction, Rockwell has been improving PlantPax with updates every two years.

“This has been an ongoing journey for over 10 years,” Irvine said.

Maintaining workflow
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality solutions can also be implemented across a connected operation through PlantPAx 5.0.

Irvine says artificial intelligence can be easily implemented at a server level, while VR can open the doors to improved maintenance techniques.

“It’s very easy to augment the operator experience through VR where you tell the maintenance people what’s going wrong and what they need to do to fix it,” he said.

Improving the reliability and predictive maintenance of a cement plant is another area within PlantPAx 5.0’s range of features.

The system is designed to be compatible with smart devices that reduce integration costs. This also enables PlantPAx 5.0 to perform predictive maintenance.

Faulty or degrading modules can be identified by the system as well as determine what has to be replaced or needs attention. This can drastically reduce maintenance costs and improve overall site safety.

“It gives you the ability to have very safe operations to make sure maintenance people or operators are not doing unsafe procedures,” Irvine said.

Importantly, PlantPAX 5.0’s ability to fully integrate with a cement plant can provide visibility and awareness to multiple assets.

“It has visibility on devices to be able to manage those assets – in terms of should there be a breakdown, how to replace that and get them up and running again,” Irvine added.

Rockwell addresses a number of challenges across crusher, grinder, flotation and thickeners in a processing plant through model predictive control, which provides the ability to make decisions at a system level.

“Model predictive control can grab hold of these difficult to control processes and optimise what they do,’ Irvine said.

“This is very powerful, especially in the mining and cement industries where you get difficult to control processes.

“On a crusher you can increase throughout by around two per cent, increase efficiency by around five per cent, and also decrease equipment wear by around five per cent.”

According to Irvine, entire operations have been shut down due to cyber security issues that can paralyse computer networks.

“Cyber security is becoming a bigger and bigger deal in the process industry,” he said.

To combat this, PlantPAx 5.0 has IEC62443 and ISA99 certifications, which represent the latest in compliance standards.

A two per cent increase in the control over maintaining product quality (size), raising throughput and a two per cent decrease in energy usage and maintenance can also be applied to grinders.

This all leads to operational improvements overall by focusing on simplicity, situational awareness and the real-time display of data, while shortening the timeframe to train operators by supporting different languages.

“We want to be able to empower the operations and reduce those training costs,” Irvine said.

The capabilities of Rockwell’s PlantPAx system. Image courtesy of Rockwell Automation.

Streamlined capabilities

The PlantPAx 5.0 system has also been engineered to allow easy design, configuration and integration into other systems.

This is particularly important for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), Irvine said.

“We want to make it easy for the OEMs to be able to integrate into this system as well,” he said.

By focusing on scalability and integration, PlantPAx 5.0 can be used across simple to complex assets.

“We make the same platform for a single stand-alone station right through to a highly distributed architecture,” Irvine said.

Rockwell has focused on making the ease of integration for OEMs just as efficient as for the end users. Irvine said one of the first engagements with the system is early order OEM items, which can receive human/machine interface benefits.

“The same standards that we give the end user are given to the OEM,” he said. “The first engagement [with the system] is with one of the early order OEM items.”

This prevents the need for data remapping when integrating processes with OEMs.

“Our aim is to try and make this system easy to design, configure and integrate into other systems,” Irvine said.

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