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A Day in the Life of … Part 1

Here at Hexagon, we have engineers and product developers with lots of real-world experience. We know our customers want software and services that will directly make improvements in operational performance. But how do you evaluate the often confusing and nebulous claims made in product brochures?

Here is the first in a short series showing how Hexagon products assist some typical industrial roles in coping with daily challenges and achieving better performance. Let us know what roles you would like to see covered in future installments!

Today we look into the work done in a typical day by a unit production engineer and a site control systems engineer. 

A Day in the Life of … a Production Unit Engineer

Your name is Cran, and you are a Production Unit Engineer in a large chemical plant. You are responsible for a subsection of the plant that makes a variety of specialty chemicals, using different feedstocks and running the equipment in campaigns.

It’s Monday. You remember that a few years ago you would have to go into the plant at least once every weekend to check on the operation. Thankfully no more, you can see all the real-time performance on your laptop at home, via PAS InBound®. And you can read the operator’s shift handover notes using j5 Shift Operations Management. This weekend you received a couple of customized alerts on your phone because the distillation section had been running very close to being off-spec for a few hours. This was a custom boundary you had set up to be automatically monitored. Sure enough, the newest operator was on duty. A quick phone call and a bit of coaching probably avoided some product recycling next week. That’s good because we are in a sold-out status.

Back in the office, you check the latest alarm system report from PAS AlarmManagement™ software. This report comes out automatically every Monday morning and covers the prior week plus running monthly summaries of several KPIs. You remember when the alarm improvement project started a couple of years ago – alarm rates were over 10,000 a day! Basically, the system was ignored by the operators. So much better now. Hmmm … a couple of instrument failures and a couple of temperature-related issues making Product C. Looks like the operators responded well, but what’s going on with that?  You call up the historian and look at some trends on the primary heat exchanger. Yes, looks like a slow decrease in heat transfer. Bet it is starting to foul again. You make a note to discuss that with the reliability group when you meet later this week.

DING! A message in Microsoft Teams comes through. It’s from Linda, the production planner.

Linda, via Teams: Got a couple of minutes to talk?
Cran: Yeah. (You open the video.)
Linda: Remember last year we made that special high-purity test run of Product C for that computer chip maker? 
Cran: Yes, it ran a bit slower than the normal Product C and used some special additive. Why?
Linda: They really like it. They want a full tank car in 6 weeks. Can we do it again?
Cran: Let’s see – let me check the inventory levels on my screen – yes, we have the additive and an empty tank to keep that product separate.  You know, we are making Product C now, can I tack it on the end of the current run in 3 weeks? It will extend the run a couple of days.
Linda: Yes, I checked that in my planning model, no problem. Also, they want a tighter spec on the hydroxyl impurity. They want a max of 0.5% rather than 1%. Problem? And they said if this works out, they will switch to it totally next year and will need a tank car every month then. Possible?
Cran: No problem on the impurity, that’s easy. Just a second on the rest …  (You use HxGN SDx® to call up the spec sheet and run the plan you made for that test last year. Yes, that was straightforward and there were no concerns on the safety or environmental reviews.) Linda, I’m going to make some mods on the spec and sent it to you for checking before we make this special batch. We can handle these for a couple of orders without a new tank, but for that volume you mention we’ll need a new tank by mid-next year. Send me an email with the details, with the extra price we get for that spec and the anticipated volume, and I’ll have Engineering do a cost estimate for us for a new tank. Shouldn’t be too bad, we have room for it. I’ll let you know.
Linda: Will do. Believe me, we’ll make enough money from this new variation to pay for a whole tank farm! Email to follow!

You make a quick list of things to do about this opportunity, since you have a staff meeting soon.

Let’s see … revise the current run plan to add this to the end. Recheck the MOC we did for that prior run and see if anything has changed. Call up and modify the product spec for this updated high-purity version and send that in the revised plan to the operators and to the lab. Sure is easier now that all this is findable in HxGN SDx! Hmmm… I remember that we also needed to temporarily change some alarm settings for that test run last year. Since then, we got that additional module for our alarm management software adding state-based alarm capability. I’ll just have Samir (the control engineer that supports several units) add this new product as a run state on that system and give him the list of alarm alterations from the last time, and he can get that MOC going and update the Master Alarm Database and the product selector control graphics. 

We will need to update the operator training docs and batch procedure to include this new product variation. Hexagon's knowledge management system, AcceleratorKMS, will make all this easy to do. And after the boss agrees, I’ll forward Linda’s email to Bill in Engineering to get working on a cost estimate for a new tank. Maybe there’s one in salvage we can repurpose.

After the staff meeting, you always like to go spend some time in the control room with the operators. Before heading over, you do a check of your section’s real-time production performance vs. plan. Everything’s still within the boundaries! Then you call up the latest control system performance report from PAS ControlWizard™. This shows any loop performance issues, but today there are none. A key thing to check is the list of active controllers in your unit being run in manual mode, that are designed to be run in auto. You can remember when that list ran over two pages and the operators were having to make process moves constantly! That’s a sure path to process upsets, high energy use, and off-spec production. But then Samir installed that monitoring software and after just a few weeks he’s made that system run the way it was supposed to! So let’s see … six controllers are in manual today. The first two make sense – cleanup mode for the filtering section – but those other four aren’t familiar. I’ll ask about them in the control room. “The process runs best when the operators can have their feet up!”

A Day in the Life of … a Site Control Systems Engineer

Your name is Samir and you are a control systems engineer at a large chemical plant. You support different types of control systems in different production units, and work on both small and large projects. Business is good, some of the units are expanding, and things have been very busy.

One of your duties is continuous improvement in the performance of the plant’s control systems. That requires some detailed knowledge of the different control system makes and models used in the plant. (Sigh … if only we had standardized! Oh well …) Your group is always shorthanded, so several months ago you obtained ControlWizard product. Wow, what a difference! It easily and immediately identified dozens of control system problems and poorly performing loops. Quite a mess, one that would have taken you months of detailed effort to just scope out, much less fix.

The software also provided detailed recommendations for solving each problem found. There were many control valve hardware issues to be fixed, loop tuning that had never been done, and a fair amount of loop reconfiguration for improved performance. It was amazing how quickly a regular effort of tackling the worst-performing loops made a big improvement throughout the plant. The payback was immediate and significant improvement in production for the whole plant took only a few months.

Now, it has become easy to find new problems early and solve them quickly. You look at the ControlWizard automated weekly reports for each unit and spend an hour making a work list. The top few worst-performing loops are your usual targets. In the past, often finding a single bad loop led to a solution that could improve a dozen similar loops – a big return on a small investment of time! 

Now you’ll go out to the unit and spend some time at the console with the operator, confirming a few of the issues shown in ControlWizard. You do a quick check in j5 to see if that unit’s operators have flagged any other control system issues, but there are none. When your list is final, you’ll run it by that unit’s production engineer and schedule a time to make and test the configuration changes, and then update the MOC system.

You also have a half dozen small projects you are working on, and you are supporting one medium-size capital project that is in the early design stage in central engineering. It is a unit expansion. They’ve sent you a document with the additional I/O counts and types that the project needs. They want to know what will have to be done to expand the existing DCS control system to accommodate these new loops.

In the past that would have meant crawling around in the back of the equipment room, checking junction boxes and calling up lots of obscure screens on the DCS to check for point assignments and look for spare I/O. For this list, that would have taken at least 3 days’ work. None of that is necessary anymore. PAS Automation Integrity™ software regularly imports the current configuration of every DCS and identifies/tracks every change. Using it, you can examine the configuration in several different ways. You can see all the spare I/O slots and cards and capabilities that are available. You can even “reserve” slots and designate them to some of your smaller unit-based projects, so they won’t get preemptively used by the capital project. It takes you less than an hour to scope out that the capital project will need three additional racks and a couple of dozen I/O cards dedicated to it, as well as a new, redundant comm node. You even check the control network loading – yes, it will be fine for this additional capacity. A couple of hours instead of three days? That’s a no-brainer and the software helps you every week on similar things. 

DING! A message in Teams comes through. It’s from Cran, one of the production engineers you work with.

Cran, via Teams: Hey Samir - got a few minutes to talk?
Samir: Sure. (You open the video.)
Cran: We’ve been kicking around an idea here in the unit about putting the recycler on closed loop temperature control. We’re pretty sure we could save some energy. Right now, we just have temperature indication, and the operator runs the steam harder than needed to ensure meeting the minimum temperature. I ran a heat balance and I think we waste a fair amount of steam.
Samir: Interesting. Do you have the ID for that indicator?
Cran: Yeah, it is TI-1407-01.
Samir: Let me call it up … It only takes a few seconds for you to call up the loop diagram, spec sheet and P&ID using HxGN SDx. You share the images with Cran. This one?
Cran: Right! So we would have to change it from just an indicator to a controller and add a new control valve to the steam line. The steam input line is 2-inch so likely a 1.5-inch control valve, with a bypass. We can fit it in downstream of that first block valve you see. I can give you the flow specs for that – but is there anything we are overlooking?
Samir: Could be. Hold on a minute …
You think, what are the ramifications of this change? Where is that existing indicator point used elsewhere in the system, that could be affected if it becomes a controller point? You call up that point using your Automation Integrity software. A click generates a control map of the indicator. Jackpot! That single point is used in three different programs, a paymeter compensation calculation, four control graphics and goes through the historian as a factor into two monthly reports! You share that control map with Cran and tell him this.
Cran: Wow! I had no idea!
Samir: Yes, and we’ll have to account for every one of these uses in making the change you want. But now we know all this in advance. So that would be only about a TENTH of the work needed, compared to me making the change, and then having all these things break, and then you calling me out on the weekend to pick up the pieces!
Cran: Yeah, I’ve been there, too …
Samir: OK, so send me a work request with the details and a rough sketch of what you want, and I’ll work it into a small design package for you. You can show me the exactly where you want it later this week. When are you thinking about installing it?
Cran: By the end of this year if possible. The boss needs to get some efficiency improvements in place for next year’s targets.
Samir: No problem meeting that from my part of it. I’ll have to get a piping design from the mechanical section. 
Cran: OK, I’ll get the request in. Thanks! That’s some pretty slick software you have. I want to stop by and have you show me what else it can do. It’s giving me a couple of ideas… 
Samir: OK, see you later! And you think, “How did I ever get along without these tools?”

Your plant can’t be more productive, efficient or profitable without smart employees equipped with the right tools. Do your engineers have the tools they need to know exactly what is going on, and to make innovative improvements quickly? At Hexagon, we can help. 

About the Author

Bill Hollifield is the Hexagon Principal Alarm Management and High Performance HMI consultant, with more than 25 years of experience in the process industry in engineering, operations, and control systems, and an additional 20 years in alarm management consulting and services for the petrochemical, power generation, pipeline, mining, and other industries. He is a member of the ISA-18.2 Alarm Management committee, the ISA SP101 HMI committee, the American Petroleum Institute’s API RP-1167 Alarm Management Recommended Practice committee, and the Engineering Equipment and Materials Users Association (EEMUA) Industry Review Group. In 2014, Bill was named an ISA Fellow for industry contributions in these areas. Bill is also the co-author of The Alarm Management Handbook, First and Second Editions, © PAS 2010 The High Performance HMI Handbook, © PAS 2008, The ISA book: Alarm Management: A Comprehensive Guide, Second Edition, © ISA 2011 and The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) guideline on Alarm Management for Power Generation (2008) and Power Transmission (2016). He has authored several papers, articles and ISA technical reports on Alarm Management and High Performance HMI and is a regular presenter on such topics at API, ISA, and Electric Power symposiums. He has a BSME from Louisiana Tech University, an MBA from the University of Houston, and has built his own plane (an RV-12) with a High Performance HMI.

Profile Photo of Bill Hollifield