PlantPAx Proves Key to Processor’s Automation Upgrade

May 29, 2023
Given the chemical processor’s complex system, integrator ECS Solutions used unmodified Rockwell Automation PlantPAx objects for the processor’s recent automation upgrade to allow for automatic system upgrades as they become available.

ECS Solutions (ECS) recently executed an increasingly rare upgrade for a midwestern chemical processor. This grain processor utilizes volatile hexane in its oil extraction operations. As a result, the facility has classified locations throughout its operations and the legacy control system used pneumatic integration along with hard-wired and hard-plumbed control loops.

To facilitate a clean project that could be adopted easily by seasoned operators, ECS upgraded the chemical processor’s automation using Rockwell Automation ControlLogix hardware and PlantPAx objects for the code. This library of process objects made the code generation very straightforward, and the controller code coupled seamlessly to the Rockwell FactoryTalk View SE SCADA.

ECS’ high-performance HMI design for this project focused on a simple, flatter overall concept that leveraged color and animation effectively to drive efficient user interaction. Information from code easily passes to the newly deployed FT Historian system to enable information sharing and long-term storage.

Interwoven in the control system are other elements that leverage the PlantPAx technology, such as Rockwell Automation variable frequency drives connected via Ethernet and Encompass partner instrumentation.

The design idea for this upgrade involved keeping the products homogeneous so that detailed information from devices can be more easily shared with the operators. System control items, alarms and even the ability to see underlying code are used throughout the design. Thanks to the PlantPAx objects, this information is presented in a clear and concise manner with enough detail for critical decision-making without overloading the operators.

The architecture of PlantPAx provides an additional benefit for simple upgrades or migration in the future. The PlantPAx objects used in this system were unmodified by ECS during implementation, which means they can upgrade automatically, if desired, when an updated object is released. This provides a simple scalable upgrade path with the least risk.

This is a key factor given that the processing element of this client’s system is complex and involves quite a bit of time and effort to stop and restart. Because of this, it is only stopped when absolutely necessary—typically once annually during a shutdown.

Operators adopted the new system readily, even though a few later admitted they were skeptical that the revised system would suit their needs. Today they execute the operations’ process control with the same confidence they have for the decades prior to the system upgrade.

Jeff Harpenau is engineering director of Automation Ecosystem at ECS Solutions, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about ECS Solutions, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.

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