More and more producers are adding automation to their operations – not only with new plants, but also as part of retrofitting existing operations. Automation can provide anything from basic machine control to a high level of process control to maintenance and service control. Moving beyond single-machine control, a whole-plant system automates the entire plant so that all of the equipment, from the primary to the final conveyor, communicates well with each other – essentially acting together as one machine.
Total plant automation includes feed control, startups and shutdowns in the proper sequence, and automatic plant monitoring for problems and data collection. Running the plant manually can be difficult. The operator must pay close attention to plant flow and monitor everything manually because he doesn’t have all of the data that is available. In comparison, an automated system monitors all equipment and catches issues quicker than an operator can, and it can stop the plant – in the proper sequence – before any catastrophic damage occurs and without the risk of messes and cleanups.
Whole-plant automation packages help improve plant efficiency through real-time monitoring that maximizes productivity and reduces downtime. It does this by helping identify bottlenecks, tracking equipment performance, and troubleshooting problems. From a proactive maintenance standpoint, an automated system helps schedule and plan preventive maintenance. From a service standpoint, data trending helps operators troubleshoot and then plan a plant shutdown and order parts before a failure occurs.
A whole-plant automation system can certainly be specified and built into a new plant, but a retrofit on any plant is possible. Most existing operations that choose to automate their plants discover the automation package can be installed with little or no modification to the existing equipment.
“‘Why should I automate?’ used to be the main question received by producers when we would meet about potential projects,” says Matt Etheridge, president of Etheridge Automation. “We used to have to sell the concept more. But most producers, at this point, know it is better to have it — from the standpoints of efficiency, production, safety, and maintenance.”
According to Arnold Connelly, Jr., area manager of aggregates for Tilcon New Jersey, “With the old school way of operating equipment manually, the operator would use amp draw in combination with ‘slugging crushers’ in deciding whether to tighten the crusher to maximize key products. But it’s not a reliable or efficient operating method, and it often requires longer operating hours. A totally automated plant will usually lower your operating hours and increase throughput.”
Credits – Mary McCaig-Foster
Contributing Editor, Aggregates Manager Magazine.