Engineers at Praxair Technology recently received a notice from the company's automation vendor that a smart valve positioner accessed locally by a configuration/calibration/diagnostics software tool could—under certain unusual conditions—reset the communications card and knock out both of the card’s ports. In a worst-case scenario, it could shut down the plant. Plant engineers immediately downloaded a firmware hot-fix and as quickly as possible flashed it to all cards in three plants.
The notice was part of Emerson Process Management’s proactive service. Before the service was put into place, it may have been weeks before Praxair, a supplier of industrial gases, would have found the warning. Praxair Technology Inc., of
In another example, one processor controller in each unit in Praxair’s control system redundantly configured serial communications cards to relay data between the unit’s programmable logic controller (PLC) safety shutdown system and the process automation. The safety system has no human-machine interface, so the only view into it is through an automation workstation. An actionable notice stated that it was possible for the serial communications back-up card to not alarm. Again, Praxair downloaded a firmware hot-fix and flashed it to the three plants’ serial cards.
“So far, these actionable notices we’re received have pertained to what-if situations,” says Jason Solomon, control systems engineer at Praxair. “We can’t say that any have positively prevented a control or process failure, but knowing that each fix hardens our automation system a little more is certainly reassuring.”
The automation systems manager is faced with significant
challenges with short product lifecycles, new regulatory oversight and asset management demands. Typically, plant managers are managing these challenges with smaller staffs. So they’re turning to their automation vendors for help in maintaining maximum uptime.
“System managers should expect the maintenance services from their system vendors to address the full panorama of availability, sustainability, security and asset management,” says Kim Van Camp, Guardian Support program manager for Emerson. “Automation vendors are transforming their technology expertise into timely action-oriented information and planning advice for end-users.”
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