Efficient boiler control programming
Jimmy Bruner smiled. The control systems manager at Hurst Boiler and Welding surveyed the three 24-in. monitors before him. Moving back and forth between the screens, he made a change first on one display, then on another, programming the controls for the company’s latest custom boiler order easily and quickly.
Bruner’s satisfaction with his work stems from a number of recent developments at his company, but firmly at its root is a newly adopted control programming software package. Thanks to Hurst’s application of this technology, Bruner’s job has become simpler and more efficient, and his overall business is growing and expanding.
The Coolidge, Ga.-based firm has been a major supplier of gas, oil, and wood-fired boilers and boiler-room peripherals for nearly half a century. Since 1967, the company’s product line has included coal, solid waste, biomass, and hybrid fuel-fired steam and hot water boilers and packaged systems from 6 to 2,500 bhp and pressures to 450 psi. A family owned business that serves a global market, Hurst has undergone several expansions, most recently in 2007, and the company presently covers 17 acres. About two years ago, the Hurst controls group began to investigate integrating Siemens offerings into its product lines, largely because it felt the automation leader’s global presence would be an asset to the boiler manufacturer’s growing international market.
Benefits: Simple, quick, easy
The transition to the new software has provided a multitude of benefits for Hurst. Overall, it has allowed the company to be more efficient, to do more with less. Specifically, the solution has improved boiler controls programming in regards to engineering time and complexity on all the company’s product lines, primarily because of three capabilities: integration, reusability, and scalability.
- Integration: With an integrated engineering framework, the TIA Portal components are seamless; its software can be integrated in practically any system environment. Navigation through HMI screens is fast and references are always up to date. Powerful undo and redo functions streamline tasks further. According to Bruner, the quick and easy navigation has saved significant development time. “We’ve reached the point now where it is so easy to transfer knowledge between programs and between different kinds of products,” he said.
- Reusability: Clear layout and intuitive operation permit tried-and-tested components to be saved in libraries and reused at will. The solution lets the user build needed libraries and then share them with other applications by simply dropping them in. For example, objects may be transferred from one controller to another quickly and easily, and used just as easily on HMI devices, from panels to SCADA applications. “Drop-and-drag features are more readily available and easier to use than some other products,” said Bruner. “You can drop an entire program into a PLC or an HMI by just dragging it over. These features help me keep similar material together in folders. Once building blocks are complete, they can be collected and set aside until they are needed again. I don’t have to worry about them. They are out of sight, but still accessible whenever I need them. We are an OEM, but much of what we build is custom, so those libraries—and the ability to reuse them—are very helpful.”
- Scalability and vertical compatibility guarantee security of investment. Software allows easy upgrades at any time from compact controllers with HMI panels all the way to PC-based SCADA systems. Integration and openness are supported at the same time so when an upgrade occurs, existing projects may be easily transferred and integrated to the next product level.
“We were looking for a more diverse product line,” added Bruner. Siemens’ TIA (totally integrated automation) Portal “offers us a multitude of solutions and gives us the scalability we needed. And as we start networking more and more pieces together, the TIA Portal has made it much easier to make connections. It’s an intuitive point-and-click package. Configuring networks used to take several hours; now it can be done in a matter of seconds.”
Rolling out the new package
Hurst has found the software to be a simple, quick, and easy solution that provides clear direction, easy-to-use wizards, and a step-by-step approach that helps its engineering staff create successful configurations. The comprehensive, sophisticated tool had been in development for more than five years, the end result being an advanced solution that facilitates the configuration and management of automation solutions easily from a single screen. Highly intuitive graphical displays and the Microsoft Windows interface give the user complete command over every aspect of configuring, managing, diagnosing, and maintaining a system, improving efficiency and productivity. The package lets the user concentrate on engineering without having to slow down to learn new software.
Hurst had been contemplating a change for some time because it was no longer getting the results it wanted and needed as an OEM from the system it had been using. It began rolling out the new package in May 2011, with help from AWC Inc., a Siemens distributor.
The learning curve was quick at Hurst, observed Brett Hammonds, AWC product specialist. “Part of our job is to get a customer up to speed as quickly as possible with as few frustrations as possible. With Hurst, we found that the time it took to move from launch to being able to move around the software freely with a minimum level of support was significantly less than typical.” He attributed that to the software’s ease of use and the Hurst team’s knowledge of PLCs and logics.
Bruner said, “With the old way, it was not unheard of for us to spend two or three days on a project,” he explained. Now, “we can do it in 4 or 5 hours. We can do so much more with our existing staff. In terms of engineering time, we’re saving some 30% to 40%,” he continued. “We weren’t able to get to some projects before.” With new software, “we can develop parts and pieces and share them across product lines. They are available to mix and match in more places. It will allow us to expand our product line, apply more automation, and do more with less.”
Hurst uses the new software with all product lines, quickly transferring “existing knowledge into the new system quickly and easily,” said Bruner. “Many things were cumbersome to do before; now they are not. You can’t really make an apples-to-apples comparison here between the old and the new….the previous method was a legacy product that had been around for years with only minor improvements.” The new software has features unavailable with the old product line.
Framework for efficiency, innovation
At this point, Hurst has developed many of the programs and building blocks it needs to support its present product lines. “We’ll soon have everything we need until we move into something new, or—and this is more likely—expand present lines to meet changing customer demands,” said Bruner. “We’re shipping around the world, with global support from Siemens,” he said.
New software is helping Hurst move its business forward, enabling the boiler manufacturer to give its customers more capability. “For example, our biomass boilers—the solid fuel end of our business—need more controls per unit,” explained Bruner. “We sell a higher volume of gas and oil products, but the biomass products are our most controls-heavy offering. Over the years I’ve been at Hurst, we’ve taken those systems from basically relay replacement to full monitoring and analysis. It’s easier to add points now, to generate alarms, chart performance, and such. The more sensors we can put on our boilers, the more we can learn about what those boilers actually do. We can identify where the losses are and improve the efficiency. Our customers are seeing the advantages that advanced controls, and the monitoring information available to them, are a key component in their energy management strategy. Computers and automation let us connect with our boilers around the world. Through these same advanced controls, we can perform remote diagnostics over the Internet. Those capabilities are available on every one of our systems now.”
Without a doubt, the benefits have been many: efficiency, speed, innovation. The new software has let Bruner and his engineering team maximize the power of advanced technology, and it has made Hurst Boiler & Welding more competitive and profitable. “The more I work with it, the easier it gets and the more I find better ways to do things,” said Bruner. “And I know there is still a whole lot more there to discover.”
Gavin is product marketing manager, engineering software, Siemens Industry Inc.