For thermal-processing industries that need to maximize their productivity in a sustainable way, it’s important to think ahead before investing in new process-automation systems. The goal is to replace purpose-built solutions with an integrated, cloud-based platform for enhanced combustion control and performance monitoring.

Companies that don’t make the leap to a modern, integrated automation system risk high energy costs for day-to-day operations, plus penalties for failing to meet environmental standards. Isolated, purpose-built solutions for process control also make it difficult to increase production to meet customer demand.

This article describes how the latest integrated technology solutions help optimize thermal processes by securely connecting production assets in the cloud for enhanced control and performance monitoring, which makes critical asset data available anytime and anywhere.

 

Demands on Manufacturers

With rising energy costs, reduced profit margins and increased demands for product quality, manufacturers with thermal-processing operations need to increase productivity and reduce operating expenses. Their primary objectives include:

  • Increased plant efficiency
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Lower energy consumption
  • Less unplanned downtime
  • Fewer emissions
  • Enhanced safety

However, the retirement of engineers, operators and technicians familiar with thermal manufacturing processes is creating a shortage of proven know-how, also known as the skills gap. There are fewer specialists across the industry, and the remaining plant personnel are responsible for more tasks than ever before.

 

Need for Effective Controls

Process control is the ability to meet certain parameters over time by using inputs from the process and controlling outputs for desired results. Today’s sophisticated automation technology allows users to make better decisions related to the process itself, productivity, quality and safety.

Thermal-processing personnel must implement real-time controls to measure and control critical process variables, develop methods to remotely monitor these variables and find ways to predict future behavior of thermal processes.

Industrial heating operations of all types depend on state-of-the-art automation technology to stay competitive. Those who resist change will be left behind, wondering why their business is declining, and will be surpassed by growing global competition. Those who embrace the opportunity that advanced systems provide will continue to grow and prosper.

 

Value of a Connected Solution

Many companies in the thermal-processing industry continue to rely on disparate, purpose-built solutions to run their critical production processes. They use individual components from multiple vendors, as well as separate platforms and protocols. Complicated wiring schematics and programming sequences are the norm in this environment.

With multiple vendor systems in place, each step of the process may involve manual data exchange between systems, which increases processing times and the risk of failure. In that case, it is hardly possible to monitor and control the entire process because it is fragmented across incompatible solutions.

Conversely, the implementation of a single, connected architecture for industrial heating reduces the control “footprint” in most facilities and enables remote monitoring and troubleshooting of crucial production equipment. With control strategies supported by one integrated solution, all stakeholders are connected in one automated workflow with access to the same consistent data. The process is continuously monitored, and potential deviations can be alerted in time.

By taking a single integrated-system approach, manufacturers can realize the benefits of improved operator effectiveness, increased plant availability, reduced maintenance costs and lower lifecycle costs. They can also leverage the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of operations across a single plant or across several plants.

An IIoT infrastructure provides secure methods to capture and aggregate data and apply advanced analytics. Furthermore, it leverages domain expertise and allows end users to utilize this information to determine methods to reduce or even eliminate manufacturing upsets and inefficiencies.

With a larger, consolidated set of useful data – provided by experts who understand the unique characteristics of thermal-processing applications – manufacturers can apply higher analytics for more detailed insight and scale the data to meet the varied needs of single-site or enterprise-wide operations.

A connected automation solution delivered by a single, experienced supplier can include everything from combustion controls, thermal-transfer solutions, fuel-delivery systems and complete engineered-to-order systems to post-installation training and services. This ensures the best possible overall solution for a given industrial heating application.

 

Putting the Technology to Work

Thermal-processing companies can harness the power of greater connectivity and information-sharing to transform their operations. They can use connected devices and integrated systems to capture real-time process information to:

  • Understand their equipment to improve asset productivity
  • Identify variability across production processes
  • Establish remote monitoring and operations capabilities
  • Implement manufacturing best practices
  • Enhance safety and regulatory compliance

Industrial heating operations now have access to innovative automation solutions, which are focused on turning data into insight to help improve their bottom line.

For example, the new breed of flexible combustion system combines configurable safety features with programmable logic in a single, modular burner control platform. This type of system reduces the footprint on control-room panels and is easily customized for virtually any combustion application – in less time and with far less complexity than traditional solutions. Instead of utilizing separate controllers for different functions, plants can purchase only the modules they need for combustion control and choose how to use them with simple wiring commands. With fewer assets to support and maintain, they also have a lower total cost of ownership.

In conventional control systems, a control panel often contains a programmable logic controller (PLC) combined with separate safety devices such as burner controls. In this case, the safety devices are separately responsible for the operation and safety of critical equipment. Safety modules operate as discrete and self-contained controls.

Previously, data produced by safety devices was connected to what the control is doing. If the control function included communication, then the PLC captured and interpreted this information using specialized customer software. In the latest generation of combustion control systems, all safety-module status data and all non-safety control of safety modules are fully integrated into the programmable logic. The base module provides communication and user-programmable logic, and non-safety digital and analog I/O modules provide inputs and outputs for that logic. The programmable logic can be used to create any non-safety features needed by the equipment that the combustion control system is controlling. This allows an application designer to implement customized and differentiating features in their controller using a configurable touch-screen display.

Thermal-processing operations also have the option of employing microprocessor-based burner-control platforms, including SIL-3-capable solutions for sequencing multiple burners. Additionally, they can incorporate DIN-mounted universal digital controllers, which provide functionality for setpoint programming, fast scanning and on-board diagnostics.

Some current combustion-management solutions are prepared for remote monitoring. It is now possible to connect thermal-processing equipment in a secure cloud environment, making critical data and performance analytics available when and where they are needed. This approach enables engineers and operators to receive real-time alerts on a smart phone or tablet when key parameters are outside normal limits and track historical data over time to identify when and why something happened.

The visualization of current operating values in both text and graphic form ensures there is a comprehensive overview of the thermal-processing asset, as well as convenient and cost-effective remote monitoring. The availability of combustion-focused data helps non-seasoned staff troubleshoot problems more effectively. This thermal-related information contrasts with current remote-monitoring solutions, which provide non-contextualized data as opposed to truly insightful and actionable information.

Getting the right thermal-specific information into the right hands via remote monitoring helps keep thermal processes running as safely and efficiently as possible. Troubleshooting is more effective since maintenance technicians can bring the right parts and tools the first time. Furthermore, technical experts can more easily provide remote guidance and stay ahead of problems by identifying nuisance fault trends and potentially predicting impending failures.

Finally, some major automation suppliers now provide engineered-to-order offerings, which include thermal-processing systems and expert services, all incorporated in a complete turnkey solution from start to commissioning while ensuring compliance with local codes and standards. This solution allows heat-treating facilities to focus on core competency and save valuable in-house resources.

 

Benefits to End Users

The deployment of an integrated control and monitoring solution for thermal-processing applications delivered by a single competent supplier makes combustion part of an overall connected strategy aimed at a smarter and safer facility. Industrial organizations can now see, analyze and improve the competency and productivity of their people, the efficiency of their processes and the performance of their assets.

With a connected-plant solution, manufacturers are able to bring together historical and real-time process data from different systems and connect to cloud technologies. The data is then easily accessed, retrieved and analyzed by all key stakeholders.

Thanks to this approach, end users can reduce the complexity of their thermal-processing control installation – and optimize its performance – and thus realize valuable benefits such as:

  • Lower energy and environmental costs
  • Reduced risk of related taxes and fines
  • Increased availability of heating systems
  • Reduced likelihood of process downtime
  • Increased productivity to meet customer demand
  • Faster ROI due to significant operational savings

In an age where there are fewer skilled resources to engineer, operate and maintain combustion controls, the connected approach provides manufacturers with a system that is more intuitive, less complex, easier to maintain and more integrated across the enterprise.

 

Conclusion

The latest technology developments are providing powerful potential to connect people, assets and information across the industrial enterprise. Now, rather than having to integrate, support and maintain purpose-built solutions for combustion control and monitoring, thermal-processing operations can utilize proven connectivity solutions to optimize their production capabilities and business results.


For more information:  Contact Amy Davidson, Connected Products Offering Leader, Honeywell Connected Plant; Honeywell Process Solutions, 1250 West Sam Houston Parkway South, Houston, TX 77042; tel:  800-822-7673; e-mail: honeywellthermalsolutions@honeywell.com; web:  www.honeywellprocess.com/hts