Smart Compressors Drive Efficiencies
New HMI and control systems allow Quincy Compressor to enable networked compressors, desktop data portals, and other innovations.
For Quincy Compressor to make its next technological leap in the commercial-grade air compressor market, the company had to consider its choice of next-generation control system carefully. Engineers needed a control system that would improve flexibility for customization, but not compromise reliability and quality.
Quincy compressors often sit in the back room of a factory, where it may be months before a routine maintenance check is done. It’s the ultimate compliment for an equipment manufacturer.
“The fact that our machines often operate 24/7 out of sight and out of mind speaks volumes about our quality and reliability,” says Steve Centers, the manager of electrical engineering at the Bay Minette, AL plant. “But even a Quincy compressor needs a little maintenance once in a while.”
Centers, who has nearly 30 years’ experience in the air compressor industry, says, “many factories are so lean today they’ve got one person performing maintenance. Our equipment must be able to give them a heads up so they can schedule service and prevent problems. Downtime is not an option.”
Quincy is constantly enhancing its line of rotary screw air compressors to meet customer needs, and it recently decided to integrate new automation into many of its models to improve on its already established commitment to reliability and speedy customization. Centers says Quincy designed its new control system around the Siemens Simatic S7-200 Micro PLC and TP 177B touch panel human machine interface (HMI), which provided multiple built-in functions applicable to modernizing the product line while ensuring high quality systems.
Quincy’s high-end QSI model now features the TP177B HMI, which is a virtual instrument panel that offers flexibility and a real-time window into the compressor operation. Using Siemens WinCC Flexible software, the HMI enables the QSI compressor to deliver more functionality and intelligence as customer applications grow.
Built-in Web interface
A built-in Web interface allows the compressor to publish trending and operational data directly from the onboard Siemens S7-200 series programmable logic controller (PLC) that’s running and monitoring the compressor. If an air filter is clogged or pressure gets too high, for example, the PLC will automatically alert maintenance via email delivered to a laptop or cell phone.
Quick-read status updates can also be set up for daily or weekly deliveries and stored on a server, helping Quincy customers monitor operations and avoid air compressor-related plant shutdowns. With the PLC on board, Quincy compressors can be tweaked on the fly. They also offer plug-and-play integration with a customer’s SCADA system.
Currently, email is delivered using a Siemens 243IT Ethernet module. But two powerful software upgrades from WinCC Flexible called Siemens Smart Services and Smart Access will soon offer a portal to detailed email reports and remote access to a compressor from anywhere.
“Emailed status reports cover more than 20 parameters with date stamped readings on compressor conditions ranging from hours of operation to air and fluid temperatures,” says Centers. “It’s a reliable snapshot of the compressor operation for plant managers and maintenance specialists who are often too strapped for time to proactively monitor machines and do checkups. Now our machines will tell them when they need attention.”
Quincy compressors are quieter, smaller, and more durable than units from just a few years ago, allowing them to be used on the factory floor. Such advances help ensure Quincy’s newest machines will be top of mind when it really counts.
“Quincy has built a real differentiator with customization,” says Paul Moffat, a Quincy engineer who sees huge benefits in the new platform. The new PLCs and HMIs “give us some real off-the-shelf flexibility and reliability that’s readily available worldwide,” he says.
“This is next-generation stuff. We’re able to take customization to a whole new level by offering a high level of control, affordably and effectively. That’s sweet,” says Eric Blaha, one of the engineers on Centers’ team using Siemens’ Step 7 programming platform to develop innovations at Quincy. “Today a customer may not think they need to see their compressor on their desktop or network machines together, but sure enough they’ll call for those capabilities someday soon, and that key functionality will already be programmed in.”
Blaha is working on integrating a series of Siemens touch screens into Quincy’s product line. “WinCC Flexible [software] offers a much more streamlined HMI development [environment],” he says. “It’s simpler, and lets me develop in stages. I couldn’t do a lot of what I want to do with the product without [it.]”
Centers says that by “moving away from do-it-yourself, proprietary control to the PLC world, Quincy has opened the door to exciting possibilities for our customers.” He holds a host of patents for their homemade, embedded control systems that ran many of Quincy’s products for more than 15 years. “Embedded control parts become obsolete on a regular basis, so we were constantly trying to find replacement parts. We would often find ourselves all alone in supporting our own control solution, and now we’ve got Siemens behind us,” he says.
That’s very important to the control engineering group responsible for giving Quincy an edge in a competitive market.
Centers says “it would be a stretch for us to get everything done without the support of Siemens and local aide provided by Siemens’ senior sales engineer Bryan Swearingen. “Bryan is well versed in what we’re building here, so he’s able to keep us informed of new products that may help us fulfill our vision of customized efficiency. He brought the Siemens PLC and HMI to our attention, for example.”
The new controls are enabling Quincy’s air compressors to meet “growing customer demand for smart efficiencies,” says Swearingen, who personally oversees control system parts inventory on the assembly floor. Trending screens provide easy-to-read graphs and charts fed by data gathered from the PLC over a period of time. If a manufacturer discovers it needs to expand compressor capacity, the PLC on the overworked compressor can be linked with as many as 16 additional PLC-controlled Quincy compressors on a single network.
Quincy uses its own technology in the production of its compressors. Air lines dangle from the rafters high above, feeding everything from wrenches to skids. At first glance, assembly tech Charles Bell looks like Superman, as he pushes a 1,500 pound compressor to the paint shop for a signature coat of “Quincy blue.” Look closer and you’ll see that big machine is floating on a cushion of Quincy air. “I’m just guiding the compressor and letting the air do all the work. Think of all the Wheaties I’d have to eat to do this on my own,” laughed Bell.
Edited by Renee Robbins, senior editor of Control Engineering. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org .