Instrumentation software offers device setpoint confidence, remote monitoring

Control Engineering International: Challenged with device documentation? A chemical manufacturer in Switzerland uses a software application to ensure accurate remote monitoring of field devices and remote monitoring, among other benefits, according to a Control Engineering Europe report.

03/10/2014


For one chemical intermediate manufacturer in Switzerland, instrumentation devices software has provided peace of mind that its measurement device setpoint documentation is always up to date, improving data monitoring, lowering risk, and better enabling remote diagnostics, according to a report from Suzanne Gill, Control Engineering Europe. It also allows easier use of devices from multiple manufacturers.

The Swiss site of the SI Group, a developer and manufacturer of chemical intermediates, phenol resins, alkylphenol resins, and alkylated phenols, is based in Pratteln, where the company produces a range of intermediates for the plastics industry. The site relies on FDT (field device tool) technology used in the Endress + Hauser Frame Application FieldCare, the plant asset management tool. FieldCare enabled with FDT technology provides this site with access to the majority of its field measurement devices, providing diagnostic data from a central location.

Janos Horvath, head of instrumentation and control for the SI Group in Pratteln, explains how this came about: "Our introduction to FDT was really through the use of Endress + Hauser's FieldCare plant asset management tool," he said. This FDT-based asset management tool was the first to pass the FDT Group's conformance test. It offers a solution to configure intelligent devices and a simple method of checking the continuing health of devices that support FDT. The tool provides a range of functionality-from device parameterization to engineered condition monitoring. Using device status information, it is able to provide a simple tool for checking the health of a device.

The plant installed its first radar level transmitters that supported FDT technology more than 10 years ago. Horvath went on to explain that the facility also uses the manufacturer-independent PACTware software (process, automation, configuration tool). Its independence is possible because of the standardized interface description of the FDT concept and using an appropriate DTM (device type manager) to set up and adjust field instruments including pressure transmitters and radar level sensors.

"We find this tool to be easy to use, and it makes it easy to document the setpoints, etcetera," said Horvath.

"Work processes have changed for engineers at the plant," continued Horvath. "In the past we would take measurements manually or would need to use different tools for each instrument. With FDT-enabled solutions we are able to use just one tool for almost every device. The capability of FieldCare and the DTM to be product, supplier, host system, and protocol independent makes it a universal tool allowing standardized work processes."

Remote measurements

"We now take field device measurements remotely, usually from the central office at the facility, so we do not have to travel around the facility to the same extent that we did in the past and data is more quickly available to use," Horvath said. Because the Pratteln facility consists of three production buildings and two infrastructure buildings, being able to access data remotely can offer impressive personnel time-savings.

For Horvath, the real benefit, however, is not the time saved; the fact that the last setpoints are now properly documented is one of the biggest benefits of the system. "We are always confident that we have the latest setpoint data," he said.

To access and collect data, a four strong engineering team uses two laptops for data collection around the facility, and one fixed PC for use when in the office.

"We are now able to connect with every part of the plant from the office," said Horvath. "This is a particular benefit because some areas of the plant are hazardous areas, and a permit is needed to access these areas to collect data manually." Not sending personnel into hazardous areas also can lower risk and improve safety.

At present, around 70% of plant measurement devices at the facility are connected to the FieldCare asset management tool. Although the plant does still employ some older equipment, and some very specialized devices used for water treatment, most devices used in the facility are now supported by a DTM or have available DTMs, and this percentage is growing.

"Today, when we look at purchasing new devices, we will look more favorably on devices that support FDT. Currently we are changing around two or three devices every week," he said.

The fieldbus independence offered by FDT technology was also a bonus for Horvath, who explained, "One of the benefits of FDT is that we can use one tool across a wide range of different devices, which means that we are not tied into one vendor for our device selection. Having this independence makes it easier for us to choose the best device for us for each application. Being FDT enabled is not our main requirement when specifying new equipment. However, it is a big bonus-and we will generally choose a device with an available DTM, where practicable. We do need to choose the best device for an application and the fieldbus is not our main criteria. So, it is a benefit for us if all our devices can use the same independent bus.

"I have also found that FDT devices are cheaper than, say, similar Profibus-enabled devices. Of course, with a DTM-enabled solution you usually have a maximum of four readable process measurements while Profibus can offer more possibilities. However, with a pressure or temperature transmitter, we are really only interested in getting one measurement, so the FDT technology adequately meets our needs."

Diagnostics, proactive maintenance

Moving forward, Horvath hopes to be able to use FDT more proactively to gain further value from the technology that already exists in devices at the plant. He said: "We are currently looking at using more of the diagnostic capabilities offered by the intelligent device and using FDT technology to access it. A diagnosis tool that will alert us automatically if a device is going to have problems will enable us to ensure that it is replaced or fixed before it has an effect on productivity. Making better use of this capability will allow us to be more proactive with maintenance."

Offering a specific example of the benefits this could offer in his plant, Horvath said:

"For example, we have some temperature transmitters with two PT100s, and if one is damaged, it will automatically switch to the other, without letting us know that the change has occurred. The diagnosis tool in FieldCare will alert us to the fact that one of the PT100s has been damaged, and will give us an opportunity to ensure it is changed when the plant is next shut down." 

Changing work habits

Although the engineering team at SI Group in Pratteln do appreciate these benefits, the move to remote working was a drastic change for many technicians. Horvath explained, "Any IT or network issues can be frustrating for the engineers as they are not IT experts and may not recognize the problem or be able to rectify it. However, we do need them to work with the equipment to ensure that we do not lose the latest setpoint data. It would be very problematic if a device needed to be replaced, and we did not know which setpoints to use. The documentation element of the system is vital, and this is the reason that we insist that the engineers always use the remote technology supplied to them, even if they are out in the plant and standing next to the device they are working on."

- Suzanne Gill is editor of Control Engineering Europe. This article originally appeared at www.controlengeurope.com and was edited for the Control Engineering International pages for the North American edition of Control Engineering. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske(at)cfemedia.com.

Key concepts

Chemical manufacturer sees benefits with instrumentation device software:

  • Up-to-date documentation and setpoints
  • Data monitoring is improved
  • Remote diagnostics is possible along with greater ease of use and interoperability.

Consider this

Are you still sending people into hazardous locations instead of monitoring remotely? Why?

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The article as it appeared on the Control Engineering Europe site.

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