Get the Lead Out

Yuasa Inc. (Sumter, S.C.) is America's largest manufacturer of industrial motive power batteries and chargers, stationary batteries, and electric vehicle batteries. The company also manufactures motorcycle and small engine starting batteries. Function Control Systems Inc. (FCS, Greenville, S.C.


Yuasa Inc. (Sumter, S.C.) is America's largest manufacturer of industrial motive power batteries and chargers, stationary batteries, and electric vehicle batteries. The company also manufactures motorcycle and small engine starting batteries. Function Control Systems Inc. (FCS, Greenville, S.C.) was instrumental in providing the right control solution for a wastewater system crucial to one of Yuasa's battery plant operations. Battery production uses large quantities of lead, an element that both Yuasa and local governments want to keep out of community wastewater systems.

Some 1,700 tons of lead ingots are delivered to the South Carolina facility every month to make a variety of energy storage products referred to as "stationary/motive power batteries." These batteries have a wide variety of applications. They power lift trucks, rail crossing signals, telecommunications equipment, and military applications, such as the Patriot missile and aircraft engine start-up equipment.

The ingots are melted, formed into battery components, then washed with process water. Additionally, this water is also used to cool the batteries being charged. An extensive array of drainage pipes brings the contaminated water into the facility's wastewater system for lead removal. The water is cleaned at the rate of 150-250 gal/min. Approximately one-third of the water is then reclaimed and returned into the plant with the rest discharged into the community sewer system, eventually finding its way to the municipal wastewater plant.

However, with the introduction of stricter state environmental protection requirements, the plant's 20-year-old, original wastewater system was unable to handle the new maximum limit, 64 milligrams of lead per liter. When a new wastewater system was installed with state-of-the-art lead recovery technology, it was decided to also upgrade the original controls, which had become obsolete with scarce replacement parts.

It was initially proposed by a contractor that Yuasa use a programmable logic controller (PLC) with a third-party graphics package. However, as envisioned, the PLC wouldn't provide the enough I/O points for Yuasa's integrated system, closer control and analytical purposes. Costs were nearly $35,000, significantly more than budgeted. Also, configuration time was estimated at nearly 300 hours, a substantially long time for the task at hand.

Yuasa asked FCS Inc., supplier of the plant's instrumentation products, for any alternative control system in its price range. FSC Inc. suggested ABB Automation Inc.'s (Wickcliffe, O.) Freelance 2000 compact computer system.

Freelance 2000 has graphics and analytical features similar to a distributed control system (DCS) and architecture much like a PLC. The major difference is it operates on a global database, which is extremely helpful during development and later when changes are made to the system. The system is designed to economically handle a wide range of applications.

Initial cost for the compact control system was approximately $22,000, well within budget limits. Helping to minimize the expense was use of an off-the-shelf operator workstation from Dell running Microsoft NT 4.0. Configuration time was about half that of the proposed PLC.

System enhancements

The wastewater system is one of the most crucial processes at Yuasa, because if it is down for any significant amount of time, production must be halted. With the operation producing 2,000 batteries a day to meet a high-demand market, any interruption could have a major impact on revenue.

To keep control system costs within budget and help ensure a high level of reliability, Yuasa had FCS Inc. install a redundant processor in the Freelance 2000 system, so that if the main processor ever went down, the back up would take over. The control system was also upgraded so that, via modem, remote diagnostics could be carried out at the FCS Inc. offices 150 miles away. Even with these enhancements, the system investment was still under $30,000.

To meet growing demand for its products, the Yuasa facility has initiated an expansion program to increase battery output by 25%. Another expansion under consideration, but not part of the program, is to have Freelance 2000 monitor select utilities serving the plant. This can be accomplished without adding modules to the system cabinet. However, if that were ever needed, Yuasa made sure the cabinet installed was 40% larger than otherwise required.

For information on FCS Inc., ; ABB Automation Inc., www. or visit Comments? Email

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