OPC Tackles a Radioactive Challenge

KCC Software used OPC DA tools from Software Toolbox in developing a software application that collects and logs RTU and sensor data to detect radioactive material in scrap steel. Deploying OPC saved the developer thousands of dollars in time and effort.

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Steel recycling is a big business these days, with large amounts of new steel containing recycled content. A big challenge that faces steel recyclers is the quality of the incoming scrap. Scrap arrives by rail, barge, ship and truck, and at all times of day or night. Staffing at gate security and receiving areas is varied and often includes temporary or part-time workers. Insuring consistency in inspection would be challenging enough under these conditions. Add in the challenge of inspecting for radioactive contamination and you have a huge problem facing steel manufacturers.

Every shipment of scrap steel is a potential source of material that has been in contact with radioactive materials at some point. Whether it’s coming from nuclear power sites, health-care construction, or other sites, it’s a huge risk. If radioactive contaminated steel makes it into the production cycle, it can shut down entire mills and result in costs from $2 million to $20 million, and higher. If radioactivity gets into the bag house of a steel mill, all the filters have to be replaced at a cost of $2 million, not including downtime scrap and lost production costs.

Manufacturers accepting scrap steel use sensors at as many as 12 points of entry in large mills to scan train cars, trucks and other transport vehicles for radiation. The problem is that detecting radioactivity is something that takes exposure time. You don’t just point a sensor at a train car and in a second detect the radiation. Train cars, trucks and other transport vehicles have to pass through detection stations at a very slow speed, which is monitored. If they pass too quickly, they are supposed to stop, back up, and go through again at the proper speed. The problem is that these rigorous rules may not always be as consistently and strictly enforced as the mill demands.

Even when procedures are strictly followed, there is the problem of making sure the right people are notified quickly, and the contaminated load isolated before it can contaminate any other materials. Add to this the need for proper recordkeeping and you have a huge challenge. The sensors used to check for radioactivity were a point solution and depended too much on a human element to respond appropriately. There was usually no central monitoring, tracking, notification and system of accountability in most mills.

OPC to the Rescue

So how did OPC help with this problem? Well, it didn’t directly, but it was a core technology that enabled KCC Software to develop a software application called PanoRAMa that is very focused on solving this specific problem. PanoRAMa works with Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) from Optimation (www.Optimate.com) and gathers data from the sensors attached to the RTUs. The RTUs are programmed with a standard configuration to handle a wide range of sensor types. PanoRAMa tells the RTU what type of sensor is connected and then collects data from that sensor and logs it into a central database.

Once PanoRAMa has collected the data, it is consumed by multiple applications that connect into the central application. These include plant intranet data access, brokering of paging/email notifications, strip chart recorder for the bag house and remote view clients. The PanoRAMa central application organizes, analyzes and presents the information to operators, managers and others who “need to know” to allow faster reaction and to enforce application of proper procedures when radioactive material is detected.

KCC Software wanted to make sure PanoRAMa would be well accepted and a good plant citizen capable of integrating with the various standard human-machine interface (HMI)/supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) packages in their clients’ mills. Faced with the need to move data between a central application and four different consuming applications plus HMI/SCADA systems, KCC turned to OPC. KCC Software applied a great deal of domain-specific expertise in building PanoRAMa, and OPC was the software glue that enabled the company to focus its energies on applying that expertise, not on building software connections.

PanoRAMa uses the OPC Data Access (DA) standard to move data between the central application and the four different consumers. Scott Martin, President of KCC Software, turned to Software Toolbox, located in Matthews, N.C., for the tools to help him make all this happen in the time he needed and within his budget.

First, Martin added an OPC DA Server interface to the PanoRAMa central application using the Slik-DA OPC server rapid development toolkit. Doing this gave PanoRAMa the open doors to be able to serve data to its own client applications and to other standard HMI/SCADA packages.

To develop his client applications, Martin used the Software Toolbox OPC Data Control to avoid having to become an expert on all the OPC interfaces and to rapidly deploy a wide variety of client applications in the PanoRAMa solution.

Martin adds, “Software Toolbox’s products and, more importantly, their expertise in how to apply them, their willingness to answer all my questions quickly, and their ability to support me in my development effort, saved us thousands of dollars in time and effort. Nathan Pocock’s expertise in VB6 and Visual Studio.NET, their application to OPC and in applying Slik-DA and OPC Data Control were extremely helpful in getting me going fast. Combine this with the savings that OPC provided by giving us a standard, open interface for PanoRAMa, and OPC has been great for KCC Software.”

For more information on OPC solutions from Software Toolbox, visit www.softwaretoolbox.com/opc.

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