Operational Digital Transformation
How to make the most out of it
Many companies need technological upgrades due to the obsolescence of their equipment, high spare parts costs, standardization of their processes or systems, difficulty to interconnect the operation with more modern systems, among many other reasons. However, a migration of technology without an analysis of the context, does not allow to take advantage of the existing technological development to really solve the problems of the plants in a comprehensive way.
The following success case shows how from a technological update you can transform the operation of a production plant and take full advantage of the pillars of digital transformation, even with the restrictions that the actual pandemic brings.
A company dedicated to the manufacture of chemicals worldwide. For them, it is very important to be able to understand what is happening in the production plants and make decisions based on truthful and reliable information, so they decided to make an investment in technological upgrading that would allow them to improve their productivity in a sustained way at one of their plants in Mexico.
- The plant was acquired with a control system developed in stages without a defined programming standard and with a manual operating philosophy.
- Recently, there was an accident due to bypass of some interlocks and bad manipulation of control elements.
- Operators did not trust on the control system or its alarms, so they constantly performed physical checks that led to low productivity.
- Changing production recipes normally took considerable time, resulting in low efficiency and an excess of non-conforming product.
- Plant shutdowns were constantly occurring and there was no reliable information to determine the root causes.
- The plant was dependent on a local firm to provide support as the control system was completely isolated from the Internet preventing remote access.
- The technological upgrade was due to take place in 2020, which increased the degree of difficulty of the project due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic.
The first fundamental step was to clearly define the ultimate objective of the technological upgrade: “to have a highly productive plant, able to adapt quickly to the constant changes of the market, focused on the generation of relevant information for decision-making and reliable in terms of safety for the environment and people”.
The second step was to understand the guidelines defined by our client; programming standard, required digital transformation pillars (cybersecurity, simulation, vertical/horizontal integration, IIoT, Analytics) and alarm management definitions.
Understanding the problem that the plant was facing, the defined guidelines, the context in which the project was to be carried out and the overall objective, we proposed a virtualized, remote and agile development of the initial stages as, gathering information, design, implementation and FAT, with small functional deliverables that could be validated by end customers from their personal computers, for the purpose of generating acceptance and appropriation, and to avoid physical contact (required by the sanitary situation) without causing withdrawal in the critical stages to be executed at the plant, such as commissioning, deployment and startup.
The design of the control architecture was based on the security approach called Defense in Depth (DiD), in which different security and control mechanisms are implemented to protect confidentiality and guarantee the integrity and availability of the data.
An essential part of the development process was to implement a virtualized system identical to the one that would be installed at the plant months later, accompanied by a basic process digital twin. This allowed the client to interact in early stages with a production process like the real one. This approach allowed us to assess the operability of the system, understand the critical elements during production, adapt the reports and perform training stages for its operation and maintenance personnel.
Once the remote development stage was completed, we proceeded to carry out a thorough analysis of the elements that will be intervened during the shutdown and commissioning. These elements were assigned a level of criticality and a responsible person, who should manage all those involved in such change. The tracking of each item’s progress was done every day during the shift change in a tracking list created within the reports generated by the control system, which was visible to all project actors. Whenever an activity was successfully closed, for example, the configuration of the control network or the installation of the operating stations, the achievement was celebrated to maintain the morale of the team high throughout the shutdown.
Within the proposed final product, the following solutions were developed:
- Development of the control system based on the standard created by the customer.
- Implementation of a high-performance HMI system based on ISA101.
- Automation of 80% of operating processes through ISA88 based Units and Phases for continuous processes.
- Streamlining and prioritizing alarms to improve response time by operators to abnormal conditions based on ISA 18.2.
- Implementation of an interlock monitoring system with First-Out identification and integration with the likely reasons of the event.
- Creation of production reports, maintenance, alarms, interlocks, and critical element conditions to track the production process and seek for continuous improvements.
- Implementation of mobile technologies for handling the reception of raw materials and the dispatch of finished products.
- Configuration of secure remote access to the monitoring system and historical trends in read-mode that allows process engineers and supervisors to always support the operation remotely for decision making.
- Detailed documentation of the monitoring operation and control system within the supervising system, so that operators can have practical, meticulous, and interactive information that allows them to clarify doubts regarding the scheme.
- Implementation of a remote access portal under cybersecurity standards for the provision of support services or future deployments from anywhere in the world.
To conclude, we know that 2020 was a difficult year for the implementation of different technological improvements in the world, however, our agile proposal, the detailed management of the work plan and our culture of change based on close and long-term relationships, allowed the client to have confidence in our work and to help us develop a satisfactory project for all us, which we are very proud of.
The benefits are:
- Operator confidence in their control and monitoring system.
- Standardization of the supervisory and control system.
- Improvements in online set-up times when recipes change.
- Reduction in the generation of non-conforming plant product.
- Visibility of the operation at all levels of the production plant for decision support.
- Efficiency in the dispatch of finished product and receive of raw materials.
- Efficiency in identifying problems through the alarm system.
- Remote support for the implementation of continuous improvements.
- Visualization of historical reports for monitoring and continuous improvement.
- Ease of adaptation of the system to new market requirements.
Main technologies used:
- VMware ESXi 7.0
- System Platform 2017 Update 3 SP1 – Aveva
- Access Anywhere – Aveva
- Dream Reports – Ocean Data System
- Studio 5000 – Rockwell Automation
- Wifi 5
- · Dell
- Microsoft Window Server 2019 / Windows 10