Enterprise Connectivity Takes the Weight of Precious Metals Recycling

Stillwater Mining Company (Columbus, MT) deals in palladium, platinum and associated metals, which it obtains from its mines in Montana and from recycling spent catalyst material.

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Platinum group metals are rare precious metals that are used in diverse applications including auto catalysts, fuel cells, hydrogen purification, electronics, jewelry, dentistry, medicine, water treatment and coinage.

Stillwater stays focused on optimizing their operations, and one of the strategies they use to optimize their processes is the use of the latest automation and communications technologies to replace manual or hybrid systems. The key is to do it economically, simply and with reliable results.

To streamline its precious metal recycling system, Stillwater Mining looked at various alternatives for automatically exchanging data between a plant database and weigh scales on the process floor. The scales weigh incoming pallets of palladium, platinum and rhodium metals from used catalytic converters. The data captured from the pallets include lot weight, barcode information and time code, and it is sent to a database to track production.

Of importance to Stillwater was the use of existing enterprise systems and plant floor equipment to optimize operations. In this case, Hardy Instruments scales were controlled by a Rockwell Automation Allen-Bradley ControlLogix programmable logic controller (PAC). The enterprise system used Red Hat JBoss JMS (www.redhat.com).

JBoss Messaging is an open-source, standards-based enterprise messaging system designed to support services oriented architectures (SOAs), enterprise service buses (ESBs), and other integration requirements regardless of the level of demand. Its Java Messaging Service (JMS) front-end ensures messages are delivered in a standards-based format. A Microsoft DB2 database connects with the JMS system and holds the recycling production data.

Other criteria important to Stillwater included: low cost of hardware, programming, software at startup; long-term maintenance and upgrades; and data integrity.

Stillwater turned to BitWise Computing (Great Falls, MT) to come up with a solution. BitWise recommended the eATM tManager appliance transaction module from Online Development, Knoxville, Tenn. (www.oldi.com).

The eATM tManager appliance simplifies data exchange between factory floor controllers and enterprise, business and plant computer applications. The product is designed to enable data exchange without custom programming, or the use of a middleware computer. For Stillwater, the appliance installs in an existing ControlLogix PAC and connects to a weigh scale controller through the PAC’s backplane. The enterprise system is connected to the eATM module via standard Ethernet cabling.

“Easy data configuration between the JMS system and the Allen-Bradley PAC was key in making the decision to use the eATM module,” says Darren Schwehr, Bitwise president. “The module’s GUI (graphic user interface) made it quick and simple to select data, group it in projects and set parameters for exchange. It saved a lot of time compared to custom programming.”

Because precious metals processed in the plant must be rigidly accounted for, data integrity was important. BitWise configured the eATM appliance’s failover capability to transfer data to an alternative database if the main database becomes unavailable. 

Red Hat JBoss JMS (www.redhat.com)

Online Development, Knoxville, Tenn. (www.oldi.com)

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