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Sitting in a traffic jam can be frustrating and is rarely a productive use of time. Likewise, the delay caused by waiting for Common Systems can erode the productivity of a step in a sequence operation, the completion of a batch, and eventually total plant operations. Whether the overburdened Common System is a utility, raw material supply header, set of service equipment, or some other pinch point, rush hour can have a costly impact on efficiency. For instance, six reactors, spending an average of ten minutes waiting on a Common System while completing a batch turns into a full hour of lost production. Significant production is lost when this cycle is repeated through thousands of batches a year.
Build Another Road?
Just as the cost of new roads can't always be justified, adding costly new equipment, especially if the Common System causing the traffic jam is otherwise adequately available, may not make sense. In exploring value opportunities for our clients, we will often avoid the lost production by either avoiding the traffic jam altogether or by automating a response.
Avoid the Traffic Jam
Have you ever received that call from a friend, "don't take the interstate home today, it's all backed up!" Just like that call, your plant's automation systems can warn you when a backup is coming and take steps to prevent the jam.
In the age of lean manufacturing, production order is set by frequently changing demand. But nor should the plant be run inefficiently. By using state of the art tools, we can help you automate the response by:
Taking these steps to avoid or eliminate the cause of unnecessary downtime can have a significant impact on your bottom line.
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All of the Avid family was deeply saddened by the news of the horrific Central Texas fertilizer plant explosion on Wednesday evening, April 17th. Our hearts are heavy for those that lost their lives, lost loved ones, lost homes, and those injured.
There will be many months of reviewing the accident to help find any insight on preventing such a tragedy again. Just as in previous cases, sometimes better solutions are found, and unfortunately some of these tragedies are accidents that could never be prevented. Regardless of the findings, it is a reminder of how safety should be at the forefront of all of our work.
The first email that I received the morning after the accident was from a respected colleague. A few of his words:
For those of you who have known me for a while, you know the most sure fire way to get me excited, upset, engaged, and emotional, is to talk about process safety issues. As many of you know, I cut my teeth as an engineer at various large chemical plants.While we were never perfect and accidents did happen, there was also an incredibly strong culture of safety that permeated everything we did. I could list examples for paragraphs about the different ways this affected how I did my job from day to day. Even more important than that was the culture it instilled in me personally. Much the same way as an honest person speaking about their faith and religion will admit that they fall short every day in their pursuit of being the best "worshiper, follower, etc.," they always know where their compass is pointing, and at a minimum they know what they should be doing and this guides them no matter the circumstances. I feel the same way about safety and related issues. While I may not be perfect every day with respect to safety issues, at least I know my true north with respect to what is right, and what I should expect from myself and my co-workers.
As an Automation Systems Integrator, I'm not nearly as concerned about knowing how to tune a loop or understanding what a heat exchanger does. I'm much more concerned about people having what I refer to as an appropriate level of respect and downright fear for the process right outside the control room door.
The uncomfortable fact of the world we live in, and more specifically the industries we operate in, is that accidents happen. When accidents happen, it's not just operators that get injured or die. It's secretaries, and janitors, and the delivery guy that was just bringing bottled water to the control room. They are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, best friends, husbands and wives, fishing buddies, neighbors, Sunday school teachers, volunteer firefighters, ladies who work the soup kitchens on the weekends.
I really want that to sink in for every one of us. The next time you are trying to get something wrapped up and out the door because you have a t-ball practice to go to, or a buddy to meet for beers after work, or you need to hustle home to get packed so you can get started driving to your beach vacation, remember that the work you do matters. The work you do keeps people safe. The work you do makes sure Bubba and John and Sally Joe and Fred make it home safely to their families at night.
Safety is personal, and safety is a community. In fact, safety is one of four core values at Avid. We are to live that value and hold others accountable. It's not only a value for engineers, but also for support staff and corporate leadership. As indicated above, our employees are passionate about safety and expect the same from each and every colleague.
The same colleague challenged each and every employee to do a few things to increase safety awareness. I think the same applies to everyone in the industry. Study major industrial accidents to increase awareness and knowledge. Ignorance isn't bliss. Do something every day to affect safety in a real way before you go home. Small actions have great impacts.
To quote our colleague regarding safety actions, "It's a mindset and a culture, not a task to check off because that's what you were told you had to do. Be safe and take care of those around you."
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Forging a long-term partnership with a system integrator, beyond the immediate scope of work, keeps complex control systems functioning at peak performance.
The time has come for an upgrade, greenfield project, expansion or additional engineering support for your organization. What are you looking for when you hire a system integrator? Does an ongoing trusted relationship factor into your process? Or do you hire strictly for the job at hand? If you ignore the relationship factor, you may be missing out on optimal performance.
To illustrate this point, consider the world of medicine. The heart is obviously a critical organ not only to our daily survival, but also to our quality of life. When the heart is not performing to its designed optimal performance, the patient turns to an expert in the field of cardiology to fix the problem. Let's say that problem is a blockage that needs to be removed. Sure there is a scope of work that needs to be done, but typically to return someone to optimal health there is much more involved. The patient and the doctor form a relationship that is ongoing and are partnered together to achieve the best outcome.
"The interconnection of control systems with the processes they control is very complex and its performance can be affected by seen and unseen variables."
Beyond the immediate scope of work on clearing the blockage, there are also diagnostic tests to see how the heart is functioning; there is counseling on diet and exercise that should be followed; and prescriptions for medication that will assist the heart to function properly. If there were no ongoing relationship and only the blockage cleared, the likelihood of the best possible outcome would be in doubt. More than likely, the patient will end up back on the operating table.
Control systems are the heart of your processes. They keep the equipment operating in rhythm to produce the end product. Yet, the typical course of action from many integrators when these systems require attention involves some limited scope of work with little to no ongoing relationship. The principle of how the heart works is simple, but how the heart ties into your facility is very complex and can vary from day to day depending on operations and how other related systems are functioning.
The interconnection of control systems with the processes they control is very complex and its performance can be affected by seen and unseen variables. Just as a doctor who gets to know her patient's history, tendencies and daily routine through spending time together can better treat the patient's condition, so can the integrator better serve the client through an ongoing relationship. This allows the integrator to truly learn their client's needs-needs that even the client at times may not be aware of including:
We believe in building relationships through a process called OBE (Outcomes-Based Engineering). Our goal with each project is to help uncover hidden opportunities and establish ongoing partnerships. This allows us to not only cover the immediate need in the scope of work, but to also help our clients understand how to most effectively leverage their control system for the best performance possible. Don't trust the "heart" of your business to just any integrator; seek one who sees the value of ongoing partnerships to maximize the value of your control system.
**Originally posted on Automation World Blog
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A few days ago, we heard a story about solving engineering problems and the tendency to over engineer a solution. The story was along the lines of:
A toothpaste factory was occasionally shipping boxes without the tube inside.
Understanding how important this was to customer satisfaction, management hired an external engineering company to solve the empty boxes problem. Six months and thousands of dollars later they had a practical solution, on time and on budget.
They solved the problem by using high-tech precision scales that would sound an alarm whenever a toothpaste box weighed less than it should. An arm would push the empty into a reject bin past the scale. Problem solved!
But three weeks later, the Chief Engineer for product quality mentioned that the number of defects picked up by the scales had fallen to zero. Puzzled, management traveled to the factory to inspect the installation. A few feet before the scales, someone had placed a $20 desk fan on a table and pointed it at the conveyor belt. As they watched, an empty box came down the line, and the fan blew it off the belt and into a bin.
"Oh that," replied one of the workers when queried. "One of the guys put it there because he was tired of hearing the alarm."
Albert Einstein had a maxim that "everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler." As engineers solving complex problems, we can forget this very important point and end up with very complex solutions to simple problems. Both Occam's razor, the equivalent of the law of succinctness, and the KISS principle ask that we offer the simplest solution or explanation when we solve problems. The KISS principle, according to the author of the acronym, stands for "Keep It Simple Stupid," with the "Stupid" referring to how things can go wrong when applying unnecessary complexity.
As we solve problems in a high technology field, we want to continue to ask the question, "Can this be accomplished with a more elegant or simple solution?" In the aforementioned story, the engineering company solved the problem with a very high tech solution but missed three crucial steps in their project to arrive at the solution.
Initially, they forgot KISS and Einstein's maxim and pushed forward with a high precision scale solution where a simple fan would have been sufficient. Secondly, and more importantly, they forgot to talk in detail with the operators of the equipment. The operator who installed the fan had infinitely more experience with the process, giving him a much different view of how to solve the empty box problem. Anytime we are automating one piece of a process or retrofitting a complete system, the operators are a key resource for ideas about system improvement, simplification, and optimization. They operate the equipment and processes on a daily basis, giving them a very detailed knowledge of how the system should operate.
Lastly, the engineering company failed to ask the most important question - what is causing empty boxes in the first place? While both solutions keep the boxes from getting to the customer, solving the real problem would do even more for the company by saving the waste generated from every empty box (energy, time, reprocessing, etc.). Don't treat the symptoms, treat the cause.
Our engineering team regularly reviews processes for our customers, looking for optimization potential. Part of this review includes an interview with several operators for their point of view on potential optimizations within the process. We look forward to the opportunity to review your plant processes for cost reductions or production improvements and to interview the experts, your operators.
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Many people have heard of Gordon Moore's Law, where the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles about every two years. Mr. David House, also of Intel, linked this trend to performance, stating the performance of the hardware doubles every 18 months, the combination of more transistors and higher speeds. Enter our manufacturing equipment into this environment. Output from factories tends to grow more linearly than exponentially. The electronic data rate required to support that growth will be similar. However, computer performance has improved exponentially. A natural result of this development is a massive increase in the availability of data.
This extra data can be leveraged to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and improve quality. Factory software solutions developed with communications data rates exceeding 10mbps do not have to be designed to be inherently efficient, as was true in the past. After all, the equipment being controlled and monitored does not require even one tenth of the network speed. We can over-sample the process equipment uniformly and continue without running out of bandwidth. This provides many benefits for diagnostic capability formerly only available from dedicated systems applied as separate equipment. High speed measurement of a process yields opportunities for efficiency and quality improvements, driving profitability. So everything is great, right? Not always.
As electronic equipment becomes obsolete, the replacement choices available often include a proper joining of both old and new technology. When this is the case, a thorough understanding of complete networks is required. For example, the seemingly simple replacement of a Human-Machine Interface (application of year 2010 technology to 1980's equipment) can provide totally unexpected results. One such instance resulted in such an overload of the control network, the equipment operation almost halted. Avid Solutions has expertise in control systems over a wide range of manufacturers and vintages. Our experience can be useful in matching your needs with the capability of your equipment and determining the limits of your current installation before you invest in upgrades and retrofits.
We can provide a thorough analysis of your existing industrial control equipment, including:
From this information, we can project the probable impact of a contemplated change or upgrade before the investment has been funded. We all understand the upside of that kind of preparation!
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Abraham Lincoln once said, "History is not history unless it is the truth." How is your history - truthful or skewed? We're not talking about your family history, your country's history, or world history, but rather your process history! Is your historian telling you the truth? Would you know if it wasn't? There are several pitfalls that can plague a data historian - pitfalls that typically come to light only after an event occurrence in which we are left scratching our heads and asking, "what in the world happened to our process?"
Data historians are powerful tools that serve us in multiple ways. They record how our plants and processes run for the purpose of process analysis, process improvement, historical record keeping, regulatory compliance, and event reconstruction. But our analysis and records are no better than the quality of our data. Understanding where our historians can let us down is the first step in proactively addressing these potential pitfalls.
The first area to examine is simple analog trending. There is nothing more frustrating for the process engineer than going back in time to look at a process variable and finding a flat line trend - flat lined because the deadband or deviation exception settings were too large or because the analog input filtering was too excessive. Proper tuning of historical data collection involves balancing the needed resolution of the data with the available data collection bandwidth, online storage requirements, and available disk space. These criteria can be satisfied simultaneously, but it takes some upfront analysis and engineering to set the historical data collection parameters correctly - and we want them set correctly the first time - before the data is needed.
A second and more challenging area is a Sequence of Events (SOE) analysis. What was the triggering event for a plant evolution? What happened in what order? More than one process engineer has been confounded by their historical data until they realized their alarms were time-stamped in the process controller, but their analog and discrete data were time-stamped in the historian - making an exact correlation between the two impossible. For critical process evolutions that may require SOE analysis, different coding techniques need to be employed within the control configuration itself in order to accurately reconstruct a sequence of events.
Your historian is your tool for knowing your process history, but it must be configured properly in order to tell you "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." If you need help analyzing your historian to ensure accuracy and functionality, we're happy to provide you with support in this area. We'll make sure you not only know your history, but you can be confident it's historically accurate as well.