Bioethanol Producer Employs Advanced Automation Technology to Optimize Integration, Operation and Lifecycle Management of Critical Assets

May 3, 2017
Brazilian company GranBio avoids unnecessary maintenance work and plant shutdowns with integrated device configuration, asset management and remote access solutions

Brazil is a dominant player in the bioethanol market. This industry is steadily growing, and biofuel is attracting attention as an environmentally friendly energy source. Production of bioethanol requires a reliable and cost-effective plant automation system, which implements intelligent field devices, collects performance-driven data, and optimizes operations throughout the lifecycle of the processes.

The following article describes how a field device management solution employing FDT® Technology helped a major bioethanol producer streamline device commissioning and maintenance tasks, and at the same time, increase productivity and savings as part of a major Greenfield project.


Gran Investimentos S.A. (GranBio) is a Brazilian biotech firm that creates solutions to transform biomass into renewable products such as biofuels, biochemicals, nano materials and nutrients. It is located in the municipality of São Miguel dos Campos, in Alagoas, 55 kilometers from port in Maceió.

GranBio is the first company in South America to produce second-generation ethanol (extracted from cane leaves, bagasse) to help with the production of clean energy. It uses a combination of technologies, including pre-treatment, enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation, to transform sugarcane straw and bagasse into an advanced clean fuel that does not detract from food production.

GranBio plans to implement an “intelligent strategy” in the construction of 12 Greenfield plants, ensuring optimal integration, operation and lifecycle management of critical assets. The company’s mission is to achieve integrated business solutions for the conversion of biomass into energy and chemicals, serving its customers with innovative technologies that contribute to a better and safer planet. Based on an intelligent structure of alliances with first-generation ethanol producers and leading technology providers, this model integrates the entire chain of production, from processing raw materials through the final product.

The first of the 12 plants by GranBio, was commissioned in September 2014, as a Greenfield unit (Bioflex 1) and the most innovative project in the sugar-based alcohol industry. The unit has capacity to produce 82 million liters of second-generation biofuel per year.

How the plant is controlled

GranBio is dedicated to reducing costs and improving production efficiency throughout the lifecycle of its operation. It employs a process automation strategy incorporating Yokogawa’s CENTUM VP production control system and other control solutions. The Plant Resource Manager (PRM) asset management solution is integrated with the system, and the database for the FieldMate device management tool is synchronized with the PRM database. The control architecture includes 40,000 input/output (I/O) points for the distributed control system (DCS) and safety instrumented system (SIS), as well as 20,000 I/O points for communication with various subsystems.

At the Bioflex 1 plant, FOUNDATION Fieldbus provides a bi-directional communications protocol used for communications among field devices and to the DCS. Fieldbus segments connect a wide range of digital field instruments such as flowmeters; temperature, pressure and differential pressure transmitters; control valves; and rotameters. The system also utilizes ancillary devices ranging from density and viscosity analyzers, to radar and level switches, and manifolds.

As part of the bioethanol operation, critical rotating equipment like the feeding table, picador, defroster and milling unit must be monitored. Pressure and flow control are particularly critical to the production processes.

All key parameters for ethanol processes are preconfigured in the DCS batch package. When an operator selects a recipe from the package menu, all of the preconfigured settings are selected and downloaded to individual controllers so that each sequence can be automatically started. At a human machine interface (HMI) terminal, an operator can monitor the status of the reactions in process graphic displays, trend displays, alarm summary displays, and control display windows. When each batch operation is completed, the data are compiled for an automatically generated batch report.

Enhancing performance capabilities

Configuring digital instruments is no easy task. As industrial instrumentation is more dependent on digital communication, the success of a project will greatly depend on how easily devices are configured to exchange data across digital networks.

Today’s intelligent field devices utilize a variety of digital protocols, hence the need for versatile configuration and management tools that effectively support initial setup, daily maintenance, and troubleshooting for the maximum utilization of smart instrumentation.

At the GranBio bioethanol facility, control engineers sought the maximum integration and interoperability of field instruments with the plant DCS; the use of an intuitive and user-friendly asset management solution; and the availability of an easily updated, standards-based configuration tool. They also required instruments with high availability and robust sensors to reduce plant shutdowns.

Engineers wanted to consolidate all diagnostic information on a single plant asset management application to ensure the utmost performance of instruments. A simple software interface would further allow them to synchronize their databases and configuration tool with the asset manager.

Additionally, the Bioflex 1 site needed software for remote connection to instruments in order to eliminate the lost time involved with going to the field to access devices locally, and to improve the safety of plant personnel and reduce incidents. This included a solution enabling troubleshooting to be performed remotely and monitoring instruments’ critical operating parameters to ensure they are functioning according to specifications.

Employing advanced technology

GranBio recognized the importance of implementing intelligent field devices, collecting performance-driven data, and optimizing operations throughout the lifecycle of the processes. Intelligent instrumentation makes it possible to securely get the right information into the hands of expert problem-solvers wherever they are located.

Key to a high level of performance of the Bioflex 1 operation was the implementation of applications, tools and devices compliant with the FDT standard. Recognized as an international (IEC 62453), North America (ISA 103), and China (GB/T 29618) standard, FDT provides a common environment for utilizing intelligent devices’ most sophisticated features, as well as a single interface to integrate any device asset and network with access to performance-driven data – sensor to enterprise.

Within the FDT ecosystem, device manufacturers provide Device Type Manager™ (DTM™) software for their products, and FDT/FRAME™ Applications (embedded in control systems or standalone device management tools), communicate and read those DTMs – regardless of protocol for each device. This enables complete lifecycle access for configuration, operation and maintenance through a standardized user interface, no matter the supplier, device type/function, or communication protocol.

FDT creates a common communication method between devices and control or monitoring systems that are used to configure, operate, maintain, and diagnose intelligent assets. The FDT solution is not a communication protocol, but rather a standardized asset integration and data delivery technology.

With FDT-compliant solutions, GranBio enjoys the flexibility of true open technology and freedom-of-choice in working with different automation suppliers. Interoperability makes it possible to select the best device for a particular application. The company knows that regardless of the installed asset, interoperability will be ensured through the use of FDT drivers (i.e., FDT/DTMs™).

FDT Technology also enables greater access to centralized information via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The more information engineers and operators have, the easier the decision-making. It is very important to be able to gather all information in a single database in the control room that facilitates fast and informed decisions.

Thanks to FDT, the ability to integrate diverse plant information enables operators to mitigate process upsets and instrument malfunctions. The combination of measured values, valve openings and device diagnostics helps control room personnel identify specific deviations in operation and instrument performance. This capability also allows the rapid segregation of the team that must act to address issues involving maintenance, operation, or processes. When an adverse situation arises, online information is crucial to mitigate the source of the problem.

Improving work practices

GranBio specified Yokogawa’s PC-based FieldMate as the configuration tool for the Bioflex 1 Greenfield project. The choice of this versatile device management solution was based on the need to have a unique tool for all instruments, including the configuration of FOUNDATION Fieldbus devices, generation of configuration reports, and the use of an interface similar to the asset management application. Engineers also wanted to consolidate various databases and monitor instruments online.

Employing an embedded FDT/FRAME, FieldMate enhances and streamlines maintenance workflow procedures for device configuration, tuning and local maintenance. It is an alternative to costly handheld terminals when implemented in notebook form, providing extended functionality, clear graphical displays, a trend panel and parameter database, maintenance information records, and more.

The FDT-based tool facilitates effective configuration and diagnostic routines. It can be used from the plant’s central control room to set field device parameters, and is applied from the beginning of instrument life for maintenance, diagnostics and replacement. The tool is helpful for not only configuring new instruments, but also checking faults, testing instruments and diagnosing problems that could require intervention or replacement.

As part of the control strategy for the Bioflex 1 facility, PRM performs various asset management tasks and sends diagnostic information to the DCS. Plant personnel can open instrument status with the system faceplate – greatly facilitating the detection of devices failures or operating problems. With the FieldMate field configuration tool, all activities are synchronized with the PRM database, creating a unique history record for use in auditing maintenance actions.

Plant operators can now access the status of an instrument directly through the common process control system HMI – greatly facilitating improved performance. When a variable presents suspicious values, it is easy to check for any malfunctions. Operators can decide if the instrument is reliable, and if everything is correct, they can maintain safe operating measures. Centralized information allows them to make crucial decisions quickly. Moreover, the ability to combine diverse data enables operators to mitigate process problems and instrument failures.

An important feature of this solution is the ability to detect deviations that could lead to asset failure. By implementing a robust asset management application with FDT Technology, the plant can take advantage of effective preventive maintenance strategies. For example, PRM could detect a diagnostic error and alert the maintenance department of an instrument failure. A technician opens the DTM to investigate, decides local action is needed, synchronizes the database with FieldMate, and then goes into the plant to do the repair work.

Realizing operational benefits

GranBio has realized significant operational and business benefits from its implementation of state-of-the-art automation technology. Acting in a preventive way based on the information provided by interoperable and intelligent plant assets, the company has been able to reduce costs associated with unnecessary interventions, removing equipment from service for tests, and stopping the plant for repairs and maintenance.

GranBio Chief Engineer Cássio Lourenço Aparecida commented: “GranBio is very satisfied with the configuration and asset management tools based on FDT Technology. With these solutions, our critical maintenance and operating objectives have been met.”

To date, the Bioflex 1 plant has reduced maintenance costs by 46 percent and lowered costs involved with device interventions and plant shutdowns by 35 percent.

In addition, the availability of remote access has minimized the need to access hazardous industrial areas – reducing worker exposure to risks. Accessing data with mobile devices allows remote analysis by specialists in support of the plant’s maintenance and operations groups. Asset management tasks have gotten simpler and safer, resulting in a 27 percent reduction in incidents and a 15 percent reduction in accidents.

Most notably, the use of FDT-based tools was decisive in executing the commissioning and fast start-up of the Bioflex 1 plant. The user-friendly interface, coupled with intuitive descriptions, enabled the rapid training of assembly and maintenance personnel. The FOUNDATION Fieldbus protocol provided access to various parameters using FDT/DTMs in a single environment. This contrasts with the use of handheld devices with complicated menus, which can lead to frequent errors.

Furthermore, remote access to instruments enabled greater agility in work practices, thus allowing commissioning to be completed in advance of the project deadline. Remote access to instrument information enabled the maintenance group to create routines for verification, and preventive maintenance plans were created based on the health status of the instruments.

The return on investment (ROI) from this Greenfield project occurred during the commissioning period. All technology investments were justified by time and cost savings in the completion of configuration work. The new tools employed by plant personnel are now reducing maintenance and operational costs.


At GranBio’s Bioflex 1 plant in Brazil, an advanced tool integrating commissioning, configuration and startup tasks, together with online monitoring and recording of asset-related events, enabled the creation of an intelligent infrastructure to work preventively.

At the heart of the plant’s device management solution is the ability to access open instrument information directly from the DCS. Integration of plant-wide controls with a robust asset management capability facilitates the diagnosis of failures and effective operational decisions.

Due to its successful implementation and use of the FDT standard, GranBio has decided to standardize on the technology for its remaining 11 Greenfield plant projects and all future automation investments.

Sponsored Recommendations

Put the Plant Floor in Your Pocket with Ignition Perspective

Build mobile-responsive HTML applications that run natively on any screen.

Ignition: Industrial-Strength System Security and Stability

Ignition is built on a solid, unified architecture and proven, industrial-grade security technology, which is why industrial organizations all over the world have been trusting...

Iron Foundry Gains Competitive Edge & Increases Efficiency with Innovative Technology

With help from Artek, Ferroloy implemented Ignition to digitally transform their disconnected foundry through efficient data collection and analysis while integrating the new ...

Empowering Data Center Growth: Leveraging Ignition for Scalability and Efficiency

Data center growth has exploded over the past decade. Initially driven by organizations moving their computer assets to the cloud, this trend has only accelerated. With the rise...