AMP upgrades to edge controllers
Largest U.S. rotary heat-treating facility modernizes controls and automation with tight database integration.
- See how an upgrade includes sensors, controls and drives.
- Recognize a five-stage design with controllers for each.
- Learn how controls enable integrated recipe management as part of the design.
Automation upgrades were needed to ensure reliable operations at American Metal Processing (AMP), which specializes in rotary heat treatment for deep case carburizing, carbonitriding, and neutral hardening processes.
However, with control system components dating back to the late 1990s, some experiencing regular failures, others approaching end-of-life, and no automation staff on-site to support them, “We knew we were on borrowed time,” said Grant Pinkos, president of AMP.
Realizing the need to modernize, Pinkos also saw an opportunity to make the system better than before. “We wanted it to be more than a control system,” he said. “We wanted it to be intelligent.”
For AMP, this meant addressing the need for automated interlocking and alarm notification as well as integrating their backend structured query language (SQL) database, which served as the repository for material tracking and process recipes.
Controls upgrade: Sensors, controls, drives
Given the scope of its controls upgrade — including computerized weighing, burner control, and drive control — along with these other opportunistic improvements, AMP knew it would require a custom solution. After researching the state of the art, they decided an edge programmable industrial controller would offer the most value and versatility.
Even without controls expertise in-house, Pinkos was confident taking on the task. “I could see the pieces coming together… When I realized I could do data logging with [an edge controller], that checked another box for me. Once we found a way for our lot tracking database to use REST calls to extract data from the [controller], then we had a complete solution.”
In just a few months, and at a fraction of the cost of traditional solutions, AMP had a design that was ready to deploy when one of its existing programmable logic controllers (PLCs) finally died.
Five-stage design with controls for each
Each of AMP’s seven furnace lines consisted of five stages (feeding, washing, heating, quenching, and conveying), each run by separate control devices. Pinkos’s design incorporated many of these control elements into one program. Then, using the controller’s embedded human-machine interface (HMI) server, he created a unified operator interface incorporating additional data sources: IP camera feeds, process trends, and alarm notifications.
Then, in addition to signaling process alarms with light and sound beacons around the furnace perimeter, AMP connected the edge controller to the company PA system. They used the controller’s embedded IoT engine to query the company’s operations database for alarm occurrences, generate a string representation of each (for example, “Temper furnace 204 overtemp alarm”), and send the string through a text-to-speech (TTS) function, creating unique audio announcements that directed operators to the specific piece of equipment needing attention.
Controls enable integrated recipe management
With the furnace line’s controller connected to the company database, Pinkos was able to put the final piece of the puzzle in place by integrating recipe management and work order tracking into the control program and HMI. Instead of requiring operators to manually copy recipe parameters from a separate computer, the controller queries the database for the appropriate process values (feed rate, retort speed, temperature, oscillation period, and more) and feeds them to the control program. Work order information entered by the operators is then recorded back into the database along with process data captured from the run.
Many of AMP’s customers are Tier 1 and 2 suppliers to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the automotive industry, so AMP knew investing in tight integration would be important in the long run. These changes also helped reduce operator error, streamline 24/7 process monitoring and improve customer confidence. “The new system is easy to understand and even easier to visualize,” Pinkos said, “which builds confidence with existing customers and helps attract new ones.”
KEYWORDS: Industrial controllers, edge controllers
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