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Case Studies > Control Systems Can Now Be Debugged Prior to Decommissioning

Control Systems Can Now Be Debugged Prior to Decommissioning

Simulation software - which allows system integrators to not only design, but also to test a process control system on a PC before it is installed and, at the same, both detect and eliminate potential problems before start-up and commissioning - is currently being put to good use by one of the UK’s leading control system engineering companies, Industrial Technology Systems Ltd (ITS).

Developed by Woodhead Connectivity, the SST PICS I/O software can simulate multiple controllers within a single package and also import variables from popular controller programming packages and any delimited file formats. Apart from taking advantage of a library of predefined device templates, it can also create and wire multiple devices in an external spreadsheet, incorporate material handling tracking features, and import bitmap backgrounds from other applications.

Said to reduce the cost and time of control system installation by taking software development and testing off the critical path, the SST PICS simulation software allows the detection and elimination of software bugs before start-up and, it is claimed, this can create a 30% drop in overall programming, installation and debugging time.

At the same time, the simulated environments possible through PICS, enable operators to be trained and safely experience running production in real-time on a “live” control system under full load. It can also create emergency and fault handling scenarios that would otherwise be impractical or too dangerous for operators and actual equipment.

The SST PICS software is already being used by several system integrators and software design houses in the UK. One, solution provider ITS, whose head office is in Middlesbrough, specialises in not only creating the programming and configuration required for complicated control systems, but also continually seeking new and more precise methods of controlling plant performance.

With today’s manufacturing environment becoming increasingly competitive for both manufactures and suppliers, the need to improve efficiency, reduce costs, achieve greater flexibility, and maximise production are paramount for corporate survival. ITS claims to be at the forefront in recognising and managing these challenges.

Since its investment in the PICS simulation package, ITS has recognised the benefits that the system can provide in meeting the growing requirements of its customers. One of these benefits - the fact that PICS software can assist an engineer to create a dynamic model on a PC that duplicates the behaviour of the actual process and provide simulated device feedback - enables engineers to perform testing and training before a system goes on-line. The importance of this technological advancement has been recognised in an Integrated Manufacturing Technology Roadmapping (IMTR) study which stated, “Modelling and simulation are emerging as key technologies to support manufacturing in the 21st Century. No other technology offers more than a fraction of the potential that M&S does for improved products, perfecting processes, reducing design-to-manufacturing cycle time, and reducing installation costs."

Having used the simulation software on several major control system contracts, including those involved in the safety critical nuclear, pharmaceutical, and medical device industries, and now specifying the software on a full time basis, Andrew Mazzetti, ITS’ project engineer, says, “ITS recognises the importance of testing to ensure that our customers are completely satisfied with the system installed and that they meet the strict industry guidelines. PICS simulation software benefits both solution providers and customers. It reduces the cost of installation and allows the engineering team to test thoroughly before a system is installed.”

One example of how the PICS software has helped ITS reduce the time required to conduct tests before a system goes on-line, can be seen from a project undertaken for its client, Elementis Chromium, a major chemical producer based in Stockton-on-Tees. The project involved the installation of several control systems for the build of a new sodium sulphate plant at its UK site. The system installed provided Proportional Integral Derivative (PID) loop control and sequence control, from both the Salt Plant control room or the remote Chromic Acid control room through two MX32 SCADA terminals. The project required 384 I/O which, tested using traditional switches and cable manual process, would have taken ten hours to set up. ITS engineers, experienced in using PICS, reduced this time to two hours.

PICS has also played a significant role in ITS’ work in highly regulated industries.  The rise in regulatory bodies and standards, including the FDA in the pharmaceutical industry and IEC 61508 for the nuclear industry, has led to the need for more rigorous testing regimes and greater accuracy in system installations. After investing in the PICS simulation package in 1998, ITS engineers have been able to keep abreast of these regulatory issues and, at the same time, experience the immediate benefits. Today, all systems implemented by ITS use the PICS package, so customers can be confident that the systems will be implemented effectively with minimal disruption to their process.

The greater flexibility of modern manufacturing process has also resulted in the need for complex, lengthy testing regimes. Again, ITS engineers believe that the PICS package can play a major part in such situations, in as much as the system can be left unattended to test in real-time for a specific period. For example, if a plant’s operational process varies, engineers need to test the system to detect and resolve errors over a period of time. Consider the cost implications of an engineer testing a system for a seven day/168 hour week? With PICS these costs can be dramatically reduced. Unattended, the software detects and records any faults, simply enabling the engineer to analyse the findings and make the necessary changes after the testing is completed.

Prior to the installation of the system for Elementis, PICS helped ITS to identify a fault with the design of the processing system. As Andrew Mazzetti again explains, this saved time for all parties, “The identification and correction of errors is faster than ever. PICS provides engineers with an ability to conduct more complex tests, such as PID loops. It can also expand the testing process and, for example, enable engineers to repeat tests and achieve 95% accuracy compared to the 70% accuracy of traditional methods.”

He continues, “As the testing process is so thorough, on-site commissioning time is reduced as faults have already been identified and rectified. The cost of downtime is also reduced considerably in the process. The installation of the Elementis system involved zero downtime and minimal losses for the client.”

Steve Williams, E/I Engineering at Elementis, is similarity impressed with the installation. As he says, “We were delighted by the speed and accuracy of the ITS installation. I would recommend PICS to any company undertaking a similar project.”

ITS also believes that implementing the PICS simulation software offers other considerable benefits such as a reduction in equipment requirements, increased flexibility, greater clarity and client confidence, simplified training processes, and maximisation of production processes.

For example, engineering teams avoid the clutter and untidiness of the traditional testing methods involving switches and cabling. The only equipment requirement of PICS is a PC and a PLC with a processor to run the real-time simulation of a plant.

The flexibility of PICS means that the design capability is unlimited and additional functionality can be added at the click of a mouse. This allows ITS to serve the needs of all of its broad range of clients, including those in industries as diverse as food and beverage, pharmaceutical, medical device, chemical, electrical and public utilities.

By providing graphical representation that is easier to explain, clients are at ease because they can understand and relate to the plant process. The greater clarity that PICS provides therefore generates high levels of confidence for all parties.

ITS also believes that PICS can provide a cost-effective training tool for the end user as it offers operators the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the plant’s process and the effects of various activities. This is further endorsed by E/I engineering manager, Steve Williams, who says, “If we were investing in a major new plant we would definitely purchase PICS as a training tool for our operators.”

The capability of PICS does not, however, stop at training functionality. Operators can also use the simulation to determine the effects of changes to the production process in order to maximise productivity.

Malcolm Knott, Managing Director of Industrial Technology Systems Ltd, firmly believes that the PICS simulation software package should be viewed as a long-term investment and not simply in terms of initial cost. He says, “When the costs of a PICS license are compared to the benefits that both solution providers and the end user can achieve, it is evident that the latter significantly outweighs the investment. Through the use of PICS, ITS has enhanced its performance and reputation in the competitive industry.”


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