Automation Aids Plant Support
It’s important to make sure software updates are followed and provide regular checks for security risks — this is done to avoid risks of viruses, hackers, and even accidental harm from an employee downloading a game. The risks grow when the plant is connected to an Intranet or the Internet. In the latter case, manufacturers usually recommend the implementation of a firewall. Also, as a rule of thumb, Microsoft seems to come out with a new Windows operating system approximately every four years. New functionalities and features might mean there is a need to update software or hardware for the system — before it becomes obsolete.
The advantage of remote service capabilities is that the customer avoids downtime and the cost of a field service call, while usually realizing higher performance of the automation system. A DSL, fiber optic, or cable Internet connection is best for remote access to the automation system, although this is not always possible, given the remote nature of some aggregate operations. In this case, a connectivity solution could be provided through radio link or satellite connection.
System maintenance begins with the order
Without a doubt, an automation system helps to maintain aggregate processing equipment. But in an arguably dirty environment, what’s the best way to maintain the automation package itself? Who watches the watchdog?
Maintenance of the automation system begins at the ordering process. Producers should be familiar with the location and operating climate within which the system will work. Specify this information to the automation manufacturer or contractor so he or she can design the correct type of enclosure for programmable logic controllers (PLC) and terminals. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) provides ratings for panel seals to indicate their resistance to such environmental concerns as wet or dusty conditions. The main or mobile command center (MCC) building can also be protected against the environment. Keep temperatures in mind — for the high end and low end of tolerances. Additional environmental control features can be added for the system, such as heaters for winter and air conditioning for hot climates, which could indicate a need for specific ductwork.
When specifying the order, producers should keep in mind, as well, where the human-machine interface (HMI) will be sitting — whether in the central control room or in a remote area. Location can determine a need for a climate-controlled enclosure. And while it might seem that a PLC would be more cost-effective, keep future needs in mind with the automation order. For example, a touch screen monitor is actually easier to swap out down the road than a manual panel that needs diagnostics and greater work at replacement.
At the planning stage, good communication with the system developer will make the installation go more smoothly for everyone involved — when both parties know not only what is on site and the facility’s climate, but also what’s being integrated with the automation. Communication will ensure return on investment, ultimately protecting equipment assets down the line.
Good housekeeping should start with the installation. For purposes of smoother installation, and easier inspections over time, make sure the contractor installs and clearly labels the cables. It might take a little longer to neatly lay in all the cables, but it will pay off in the long run if a need arises for troubleshooting.
Today’s sensors are actually very rugged sensing elements. Different sensors are made for different environments, so as long as the designer/manufacturer knows environmental parameters, the system’s sensors should be designed to take the daily abuse dealt out in any given setting. But no matter how rugged a sensor might be, misuse or abuse will cause failure. Something as simple as a hose rubbing a sensor limit switch will ultimately ruin the sensor. Make sure that, during the installation, sensors are placed in an area that will minimize their contact with the environment. It’s understandable that there are some limits to where sensors actually can be placed. An enclosure for them is the best scenario.
Regular maintenance tips
Daily: As part of a pre-startup routine, verify that the system is reading and providing information; verify that there are no issues between the sensor and the HMI system — i.e. the computer. Basically, any parameter that might cause the machine to shut down should be checked daily within the system — such as lubricant pressure.
Weekly: Monitor trending. For example if a bearing temperature is rising, it could signal impending failure. Schedule the maintenance before it causes unplanned downtime. Check for dust buildup, corrosion, and other environmental effects on sensors, controls, and equipment units. If the controls and/or sensors are dirty, clean them.
Monthly: If control enclosures are exposed to any sort of climate extremes, whether heat, cold, or moisture, do a thorough visual inspection on a monthly basis. And keep general housekeeping in mind as time goes on. Protect all cables and lines not only from dusty environments, but also other equipment. For instance, dripping oil on cable labels will disintegrate the labels and render them unreadable when it comes to troubleshooting or maintenance needs.
Annually: Every installation is different because every application is different. From the size of the material to be processed, to the environmental and climate conditions, all of these parameters work together to create different conditions for the automation system that helps to run the processing equipment. Most manufacturers recommend an annual preventive maintenance visit for automation systems. During a maintenance visit, the specialist will test system functionality, revise configurations if necessary, adjust and calibrate the system, update the software, and provide additional training for the daily system users.
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