Testing Throughout an Automation Integration Project is Key to Success

Testing Throughout an Automation Integration Project is Key to Success

For any size automation integration project, testing is vital to a success. Planning for testing in the design phase and developing your code to allow for proper testing will lead to well-executed factory and site acceptance tests, as well as successful startups. This article will focus on testing throughout new or upgraded programmable logic controller (PLC) and human machine interface (HMI).

Design phase lays the groundwork

The design specification will specify what devices will be tested and how the process will be tested. Even with experience in the industry, communication with the client early in the project is essential for a proper plan. While writing your design specification, including details on how processes are supposed to work will assist you when writing the test specification later in the project. If the thought process for testing begins early in the automation integration project, the transition to the test specification and code development should be easy.

Testing During Development

Development of code will begin after the design specification is complete and approved by the client. Testing during this phase is aided by your simulation logic. How each device is simulated is where you can get creative. The more you can simulate and integrate the process into the simulation, the better.  

You usually add the simulation logic  after you complete most code development and download the PLC. Start with basic devices like valves, motors and switches. Write simulation code for each, then verify the simulation works correctly. Once proven, you can add the same simulation for the rest of these common devices. Adding the process simulation at the end will ensure that all the valves and motors that trigger the process value changes work. This is where the creativity is; making sure that everything flows properly is essential.

For example, if you are adding a material into a container, and if a conveyor slows down, a valve closes, or pump stops you want your simulation logic to reflect that. When filling a tank, if the control valve allowing product into the tank closes a certain percentage, your simulation logic should slow the filling rate based on the control valve percent change. If the process is transferring 50 pounds of raw materials from one vessel to another, your simulation logic should subtract 50 pounds from the source tank and add 50 pounds to the destination tank. This type of detailed simulation code will aid greatly in commissioning of the real world process.

Simulations help in integrating PLC and HMI

Integration testing between PLC and HMI will begin parallel with the simulation logic development. This will help ensure that you programmed HMI correctly and all devices work as designed. When the PLC and HMI have been tested, the integration of batch software, historians, and other third-party software typically begins.

Testing to prove the design specification is accurate will begin once the simulation code is entered. It can be tough to test properly since you are typically the one that develops all the code for the process. You know what button to press when and what not to do. You will have to go through many rounds of starting and stopping, triggering alarms and faults, and operator interventions. The more rounds you do, the more robust your system will be.

Rehearse FAT for flawless functionality

At this point, your system has been tested thoroughly and you just need to have the client verify it during a factory acceptance test (FAT). You will create your test specification based on the design specification and have it approved by the client. Conduct trial FATs beforehand with colleagues to ensure proper function.

During the FAT, the system should run flawlessly, except during your intervention to prove the design/test specification. The client should leave the FAT feeling confident that the system will perform how it is intended. Before the site acceptance test (SAT), create another test specification as a guide for onsite testing. This will be the final testing with actual devices to prove the system works as designed. The SAT should be very similar to the FAT, where applicable and safe to do so. Following these steps will pay off when you start supporting production. 

Bottom line

Laying out a plan for testing during the design phase and simulating automation integration during code development leads to successful acceptance test and startup. Matrix Technologies has extensive experience in designing, testing, and installing successful automation projects.

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 Bill Warnke, Senior Consultant.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Digitizing Field Data Collection Provides Instant Access to Information

Digitizing Field Data Collection Provides Instant Access to Information

Paper records present a challenge to manufacturers, especially when performing maintenance checks and rounds. Filing paperwork or performing data entry when some notes are illegible, the pen ran dry or the paper got weathered just makes things difficult and sometimes inaccurate. Using a digital device with data entry selections can help overcome these challenges and enable better data collection, analysis and management.

Many clients have similar challenges. For example, they may have a process where operations personnel write down their data and check the boxes for numerous devices on the daily shift log. Operations personnel perform this process every shift every day. The logs are kept in the control room and used to enter data into the human machine interface (HMI) logged entry when personnel note deviations. The logs are then filed in a file cabinet. Sometimes the logs are not readable and sometimes the paper logs do not make it to the file cabinet as expected.

Matrix Technologies has developed a mobile application that runs on devices that can be synchronized to a central database repository to overcome these issues. The Matrix design team created a WPF.NET application that runs through any desktop or mobile device and stores data into a Microsoft SQL Database on the client side. The client runs a background service to synchronize the client with a central database server whenever connected to the plant network. The user interface is built to mimic the paper based forms but offers a user friendly experience with tool tips, suggestions, range validation and scanning capabilities. This enables quick user adoption and consistent data collection.

By logging into the application, the operators are able to enter tracked data into a simple form. The application also tracks and timestamps operator logins that helps with recordkeeping. The application saves the operations staff nearly a half hour a day in data entry and automated checking to remove human errors. The data is also available for reporting across systems and available directly to the control room HMI for any deviations or alerts, once the data is synchronized. The solution also offers extensibility where the form questions and entry fields can be updated through configuration.


The mobile data logging application allows information to be entered quickly and accurately for fast response to problems. It eases data entry and reduces data entry time while providing consistent and accurate data. Data is available on a timely basis, allowing management and operations personnel the ability to quickly see trends and analyze issues.

Matrix’s ability to provide solutions helps our client partners solve even the most difficult business problems. Our knowledge of various manufacturing industries and technologies enable our staff of experienced engineers to deliver quality and value with every project.

If you are interested in custom data collection applications and solutions, feel free to contact an information engineering consultant to see how Matrix can help.

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 John Lee, Senior Manager of Manufacturing Intelligence.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Managing a Decaying Industrial Utility System

Managing a Decaying Industrial Utility System

Manufacturing, refining and specialty chemical facilities across North America are facing utility infrastructure challenges. Large campus sites and facilities have utility networks that are comparable to small municipalities, complete with sewer, water distribution, power, communications, natural gas and water/wastewater treatment systems.

On top of the basic utilities, most manufacturers have advanced utility systems, including high-pressure firewater, steam, process cooling, industrial waste, nitrogen, compressed air and air handling systems. Each system is unique and requires an in‑depth knowledge to properly design, construct, maintain and repair.

Many sites have been in operation for over 50 years and have an aging infrastructure that is nearing or exceeding its service life. These manufacturers can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on repairs, which does not include the cost of lost production. Furthermore, these sites incur a higher risk for property damage and personnel injuries while these systems are out of service and repairs are being made under emergency conditions.

Facilities with newer systems can also experience operational issues, inefficiencies or premature failures if not planned or designed properly. This can range from not designing for water hammer prevention in a cooling water system to not considering soil corrosivity when specifying metallic pipe for buried services, for example. All of these considerations may seem trivial early in a project but can be costly over the life of the system.

If you are responsible for managing a decaying utility system, it is difficult to know where to start and how to approach a major infrastructure rehabilitation program. Matrix Technologies has completed numerous infrastructure studies and master planning programs for our industrial clients over our 40-year history. We start by working with facility stakeholders to understand their goals and develop a custom approach tailored to their needs. In general, our infrastructure evaluation, rehabilitation and replacement strategy consists of the following phases:

  • Presenting a business case and justification
  • Data gathering and condition assessment
  • Identifying options for rehabilitation or replacement
  • Master planning and capital forecasting
  • Detailed design and construction
  • Documentation and maintenance

As an independent partner for our clients, Matrix Technologies can guide and manage a program from start to finish, while providing recommendations on selecting vendors and contractors. These services often include initial studies, master planning, preliminary design, total project cost estimating, detailed design, procurement support, construction management, and even full engineer-procure-construct (EPC) services, depending on what level of service you need. Here at Matrix, we lean on our in-house experts to ensure you have the best team and a cohesive approach with no gaps in knowledge between each phase or between owner, engineer, vendor and contractor. Our goal is to provide the right level of service to fit the needs of each project.

Future articles in this series, “Managing a Decaying Utility System,” will guide you along each phase of the process and provide considerations for designing and building specific utility systems.

Part 2 of a multi-part series “How to Justify a Utility Replacement Program”.

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 utility system design and master planning services, contact Todd Green, PE, SI, CFPS, Senior Manager in the Mechanical and Facilities Design Department.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.