Simple Steps to Make Your Facility More Sustainable

Simple Steps to Make Your Facility More Sustainable

The word “sustainability” means different things to different people. In business, making a profit is vital to keeping a company sustainable and open for business. From an environmental viewpoint, sustainability means protecting the earth by reducing the use of natural resources and waste.

These two perspectives come together when a company looks at ways to reduce its energy consumption—which saves money and is good for the environment.

The essence of sustainability is doing more with less. As the saying goes, “waste not, want not.” So let’s look first at making your facility more sustainable by reducing your energy costs. After all, the cheapest kWh of energy for your plant never used.

Conduct an Energy Audit

Start reducing your energy consumption by performing an energy audit. ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) has set standards for conducting three different levels of audits.

Level 1 is often called a walk-through analysis of a facility by an experienced professional. The goal is to identify opportunities to save energy.  This usually involves a review of utility bills, interviews with key staff, and a walk through the facility to spot obvious areas of energy waste or inefficiency.  Afterward, a report is prepared that details any no-cost or low-cost solutions the plant can take immediately, areas that may need further study, as well as potential capital projects that should be considered if a more detailed audit is conducted.

Level 2 builds on the Level 1 audit by providing a more detailed analysis of energy efficiency measures that require spending but are relatively low cost.  This audit includes estimates of energy savings and capital costs, which allows plant management to prioritize any capital investments.  A Level 2 audit can also suggest operational improvements that will save energy.

Level 3 audits provide a detailed financial and engineering analysis of capital intensive projects and modifications. Field data is typically gathered, and some equipment may be metered to determine energy consumption patterns.  This helps establish an energy baseline for comparing operations before and after project implementation.

What Your Audit Might Recommend

Here are some of the best ideas for harvesting the low-hanging fruit on the energy tree.

Reduce peak power demand: If your utility bill includes “demand” charges based on the maximum amount of energy used during a short period time during the billing period, reducing these peaks can save you money.  One simple way to do this is to install variable speed drives (VFDs) or soft starts on large motors, such as pumps, compressors, or fans, to reduce motor  peak demand.  To learn more, go to How to Lower Your Facility’s Electric Bill.

Reduce your power factor penalty:  Plants with large motors loads, or other inductive loads, typically experience low (lagging) power factors.  Utilities penalize power factors that are less than 90 – 92%, and these penalties can be significant.  Adding power factor correction capacitors or replacing older motors can improve the power factor and reduce the utility penalties.  This also is a good time to look at your facility’s harmonic footprint as well.

Use variable speed drives (VFDs) to reduce energy consumption on pumps, fans and other motors that do not have to continuously operate at 100% capacity.  For example, a fan motor on a VFD is a better method for controlling air flow instead of a throttling damper.

Upgrade older lighting systems by switching to bright and energy efficient LED lighting. Also consider more task lighting, as well as daylight harvesting, occupancy sensors, and enhanced lighting controls to reduce overall energy use.  And minimize lighting when no one is working.

Waste heat capture: The exhaust from ovens, air compressors and other hot operations could be used for facility heating, oven make-up air, pre-heat air for a dryer or another operation.

Compressed air improvements: Think smaller.  Examine your facility compressed air requirements.  The best goal is to reduce overall compressed air requirements.  Replacing a large central system with smaller distributed systems may be a better fit for your facility. Piping system improvements and leak reduction can significantly reduce the compressor duty cycle.  One client commented that his budget for air system improvements is the cost of one mechanic for one year because he has the equivalent of one guy chasing air leaks in his plant full time.  Reducing the piping may be as significant as compressor improvements.

Other Sustainable Actions That Can Save Your Plant Money

If you are buying water, take a close look at reusing it before discharging it. Some plants pay $30,000 a month or more for water—and would benefit greatly from a reuse & recycle project.  Cooling tower installations or improvements can both reduce the water usage requirements and improve pump and motor performance.

Electric solar cells may be cost effective depending on your electrical usage and pricing. While the cost of solar cells has dropped by half or more in the last 10 years, the government tax credits have all but disappeared.  Still, it may be worth considering, even with its long payback, because its ROI is fairly consistent and its impact is immediate.

Finally, involve employees to explore more ways to save energy and reduce waste. Together you can make your company more economical, more sustainable, and an even better corporate citizen in your community.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation, engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our sustainability and multidiscipline engineering, contact Doug Medley, PE, Project Technical Manager 2, Capital Project Planning.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Flexibility Key to Speeding the Build of a Duplicate Chemical Plant

Flexibility Key to Speeding the Build of a Duplicate Chemical Plant

Many manufacturing facilities have to consider the impact of a natural disaster on their operations—whether tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, or wildfires. And sometimes customers raise concerns about whether their supply source can deliver regardless of what Mother Nature is up to.

In 2012, a chemical manufacturer had a client that wanted “delivery reliability” of the product regardless of natural or man-made disasters.  Simply expanding production at their current facility or a nearby location wouldn’t provide the needed production protection.

Matrix Technologies was approached to develop a conceptual plant design for a duplicate plant on a new site geographically removed from the existing plant.   Besides doubling their production capacity, the forces of nature would be different in each state and not overlap.

The design included underground installations, storage tank farms for raw materials and products, process reactors, piping, utilities, rail loading and unloading facilities, a wastewater plant, concrete foundations, processing buildings, and full automation of the process controls.  Besides the manufacturing facilities, the site also needed an office building and a warehouse.  From this design, our client was able to estimate the construction costs and prepare a budget for a $50 million project.

The 50-plus acre site required bulk acid storage tank farms.  Specialized materials of construction were used for the piping, equipment, and floor coatings to provide proper resistance to the corrosive environment.  Wastewater treatment and vapor scrubbing were designed to maximize recovery of product and minimize environmental effects.

Matrix Technologies also developed all of the controls and automation, including redundant Allen-Bradley ControlLogix PLCs.  The operators can control the plant equipment from the central control room or from two local HMIs, and some equipment can be controlled locally

Normally, a project like this would not start until all the detailed engineering was completed.  But shortening the project timeframe was critical for the client’s customer, and for generating income from this investment as soon as possible.

This required flexibility in releasing drawing packages to accommodate the client’s schedule.  For example, Matrix worked with the client to finalize the preliminary design of the tank farm and start ordering storage tanks, which would be installed at one end of the property.  By the time the tanks arrived, the detailed engineering and construction drawings for foundations and piping was complete.

The entire project proceeded in this manner in stages, with final design and construction drawings completed before that phase of the project began. This allowed for an aggressive schedule where, for example, concrete could be poured in one area where everything was well defined, while conceptual design was continuing elsewhere.  As a result, the detailed engineering was essentially complete within a year after completing the preliminary engineering.

Detailed Engineering

Matrix Technologies was able to seamlessly complete all of the multi-discipline engineering activities necessary for the successful completion of this project.  Our Project Management team coordinated the efforts of our Civil, Structural, Architectural, Process, Piping, Mechanical, Electrical, Structural, and Automation disciplines to facilitate this aggressive construction schedule.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation, engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our manufacturing operations management capabilities and manufacturing process control solutions, contact Jeremy Runk, Department Manager of the Process & Electrical Design Department.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

What to Consider When Choosing A Database Solution

What to Consider When Choosing A Database Solution – When is “free” the right price?

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and control systems engineers sometimes find free express editions of popular database engines installed as the data backbone of an existing system. Other times they’ll be asked if an express edition can be used for a new or replacement installation, mainly because the software is free to use. While it is certainly possible to use an express edition for production purposes, it isn’t always a good idea. To determine if the free version is appropriate for the job, it is important to analyze each option for its potential limitations around key factors such as data management, advanced analytics, and availability and encryption.

What Options Are Available?

Matrix Technologies primarily uses Microsoft Windows installations that include integration with pre-packaged software, including database engines offered by Microsoft, Oracle, or both. Built-in connectivity with popular open-source database solutions, such as PostgreSQL and MySQL, are not yet prevalent in the industrial space even though these database products provide many similar capabilities for free. A system might appear to be rather expensive when choices are limited to purchased Microsoft or Oracle products, but other options exist.

Microsoft and Oracle each offer express editions of their database engines free of charge, an option that is quite attractive to budget-conscious managers as the licensing fees for the “full blown” versions can reach several thousand dollars. The zero-dollar price tag, however, does come with limitations.

Limitations and Considerations

Microsoft distributes several versions of their SQL Server database engine, the most limited of which is “SQL Server Express.” Oracle Corporation also offers a limited version of their popular database engine called “Express Edition,” or “XE.” This software is free to download, install, and use, but the trade-off is restrictions on the application’s capabilities. Some of the key factors for a data backbone solution that Matrix Technologies reviews are:

Processing throughput, memory, and storage needs

How much data is going in and out of the database, and how quickly is it moving? How complex are the rules for storing and retrieving the information?

SQL Server Express supports up to four CPU cores, a maximum of 1.4 gigabytes of memory, and a maximum database size of ten gigabytes. In addition, the Reporting Services component is limited to four gigabytes of RAM. Oracle XE imposes similar limits: processing resources equivalent to one CPU, one gigabyte of RAM, and four gigabytes of storage.

On top of the physical constraints, the user-friendly software tools for managing database performance are not available for the lightweight installations. Microsoft’s Tuning Advisor and Oracle’s Tuning Pack are excluded from their respective express editions. Microsoft also limits the ability to easily schedule database jobs by excluding Agent, so automating backups and other data clean-up tasks is a bit more challenging.

The free versions still offer a lot of “horsepower” and functionality, but the resulting system offers nothing near server-class performance. Often, these restrictions alone don’t offer enough to handle a production workload. A system moving and manipulating large amounts of data, especially very quickly and with many inserts, deletes, and updates, would quickly outgrow the restraints of the free database distributions.

Availability and Encryption

Does the database need to serve up accurate information at any time, even if there are network or hardware problems? Is the data highly sensitive? Will information be exposed outside of the corporate firewall?

If so, express editions are not appropriate for the job. Neither Microsoft nor Oracle express editions support “high availability” features that hide the effects of hardware or software failures to avoid downtime. Likewise, advanced security options such as file encryption are not part of the free offering. Websites, even those available only to a small number of people, should never rely on the security provided by express edition databases because the necessary protection is not built in.

Advanced Analytics

What types of reports are needed? What kind of information are you trying to extract from the data?

If the answer is straight-forward data relationships and simple reports, then the express editions are still an option. If a system needs online analytical processing (OLAP), data cubes, full-text searching, or data mining, only full editions should be considered since they offer this level of service. In general, advanced features are not included in free versions of SQL Server or Oracle.

Remember: the express editions that Microsoft and Oracle offer are meant for situations that call for limited processing power, memory, storage space, and functionality. This means basic input and output operations without the “bells and whistles” that make the additional features worth paying for.

When Can I Expect to Use Express Editions?

With all these limitations and more, are the free database engines offered by Microsoft and Oracle even worth considering at all?

The answer is yes. There are many practical uses for these products that are suitable for production settings, and Matrix has often been able to leverage the advantages offered by the no-cost express editions.

For example, Matrix has successfully demonstrated the use of express edition databases in these situations:

  • As a reliable data store to pass data between disparate servers;
  • To save and forward data from an independent device that’s not always connected to a network;
  • To reliably perform steady data I/O on a “mini” system;
  • For testing database functionality in a closed environment;
  • To maintain configuration and processing information for multiple systems.

In other cases, Matrix has decided to use the paid licenses for additional functionality:

  • When providing data storage and processing for factory control systems that operate continuously;
  • To store a large volume of device readings over a long period of time;
  • For generating complex reports over a broad range of information;
  • To distribute large amounts of data reliably and efficiently across different systems;
  • To protect against data loss in the event of an unexpected outage;
  • For automatically purging older records and distributing reports.

Plant personnel often want to save money by using a free distribution of a popular database engine. It is no secret that the basic functionality and dependability expected of a Microsoft or Oracle database system is provided in the express versions these companies offer. Sometimes this functionality is adequate; other times it is not. The key to selecting the database suitable for a factory-based application is to ask the right questions about the system that the database will support. Only then is it possible to determine if the limitations of a no-cost database can provide appropriate long-term support for the installation’s information backbone.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our manufacturing operations management capabilities and manufacturing process control solutions, contact David Copi, Senior Consultant, Manufacturing Systems and Solutions.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

An Asset Management Solution focused on your Automation System Can Reduce Downtime

An Asset Management Solution focused on your Automation System Can Reduce Downtime

If you are involved in the engineering, operation, or maintenance functions of your company, you probably have heard the term Asset Management System (AMS), often associated with monitoring and maintaining the equipment up and running, and helping a plant reduce downtime.  This article describes how AMS software focused on your Automation System does that, find better use of available resources, and also improves other processes, including operational security.

Industrial automation utilizes dozens and even hundreds of smart machines and devices that are either configured or programmed—such as PLCs, HMIs, variable frequency drives, robots, managed switches, and instruments. These devices are often connected to an Ethernet network. Also called automation assets, they are critical to keeping your facilities running. Sometimes, things happen to these assets that disrupt operations, and quick recovery is important to reduce downtime and product loss.  Some of the most common problems include:

  • Operators changed multiple parameter values on a machine during the week and didn’t log the changes. It’s difficult to determine the optimum operating settings after a process upset.
  • A maintenance engineer is troubleshooting a failure and changed the program in one machine during the weekend. The machine started up properly but through the week starts behaving poorly. Nobody knows what the engineer did and what version was running before the changes.
  • Managing authorizations and privilege settings across the workforce for the myriad assets is a challenge. Giving the right people access while restricting others is a cumbersome activity.
  • Devices need to be reconfigured after an emergency shutdown or replacement after failure. But your backup system was not automated, and the last good configuration file is not well identified.
  • Also AMS releases Automation Engineers from tedious tasks, allowing them to focus on more productive activities. There is a constant challenge of doing more with less and an AMS can help you with this.

An Asset Management System can solve these problems and more.  One example is the FactoryTalk AssetCentre that is part of Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk software suite.  Other companies such as Schneider, Siemens, and MDT Software offer similar solutions. What software to use depends on the end user most common brands and the specific functionalities offered for those platforms.

An AMS provides the following capabilities to manage the automation assets.

Archive critical files and documents. The system provides an electronic repository with version control for configuration files, program files, recovery plans, Word and Excel files, CAD drawings, and pdf manuals. When edits are made to any of these resources, a version history tracks the user name and the edit date.  The most recent revision is saved, and the user sets the number of backup versions that are kept.

Automate “disaster recovery”.  The AMS software makes it easy to schedule automatic backups of configuration files.  Those files are compared to the device’s master file.  When the uploaded software is different, any revised files or new versions are stored, the master file can be updated, and an event is registered in a database.  The differences that were detected are assembled into a report that can be automatically emailed to a list of users.

Track or audit all changes to operating settings.  Whenever a user changes a parameter value or a setpoint in a controller, for example, that event is automatically captured in a centralized audit log showing the device, user, time, and action taken.

Centralized security across the assets.  Users can be allowed to view certain devices in the plant or resources in the archive based on their responsibilities and need to access certain information.  While maintenance personnel may be able to get a configuration file to restore a machine, only Engineering would be able to actually edit the file.

Other perks of an AMS. It’s possible to scan the operations network and add new assets to the AMS automatically.  Software packages for workstations can be tracked and uploaded easily.  Security scans can be run across multiple devices.  Assets can even be tracked from a mobile device.

Some of the clients that Matrix Technologies has helped with AMS

A food manufacturer had excessive downtime because unauthorized people were making online changes to the controllers. They implemented FactoryTalk AssetCentre to manage access and provide disaster recovery with automatic backups. These measures allowed them to reduce unplanned downtime events by at least 5% , and reduce waste product from equipment stoppage by 7%.  As a bonus, management had better audit reports and an archived repository that helped them develop a more formal change management process.

A chemical manufacturer had multiple plants, over a hundred controllers per site, multiple OEMs, and over 20 engineers. They had multiple multi-year startup projects, and had to track the versioning of the projects through commissioning and production. Their AMS solution eliminated the manual backup process, and they now had an audit trail to report non authorized changes.

A pharmaceutical manufacturer already a Factory Tack Asset Centre and wanted to incorporate the Calibration Management Agent to its system. By implementing this functionality, the plant was able to reduce the time related to keeping the instrumentation validated by approximately 20%. Just going from paper to electronic records represented a big improvement. On top of that, to be able to generate a report on the GMP status of each instrument offered a great advantage during audits. For the regulated industry, an ASM is a must.

Matrix Technologies has experience with helping manufacturers establish Asset Management Systems. The benefits include reduced downtime, better use of resources, better security, system auditing, and automatic backups.  Let us know how we can help you with your manufacturing needs.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation, engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our industrial automation solutions, contact Victor Bertorelli, Technical Consultant, Industrial System Division.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.